What Happens When You Stick Your Head Into a Particle Accelerator

"Ra-di-a-tion. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling everybody it's bad for you. Pernicious nonsense."

Bugorski was a researcher at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino.  Specifically he worked with the Soviet particle accelerator the synchrotron U-70.  On July 13, 1978, Bugorski was checking a malfunctioning piece of equipment.  As he was leaning over the piece of equipment he stuck his head through the part of the accelerator that the proton beam was running through.  Supposedly, he saw a flash that was "brighter than a thousand suns" at this point.  Interestingly, he did not feel any pain when this happened.

The beam itself measured 2000 gray as it entered Bugorski's skull and about 3000 gray when it exited on the other side.  A "gray" is an SI unit of energy absorbed from ionizing radiation.  One gray is equal to the absorption of one joule of radiation energy by one kilogram of matter.  An example where this is commonly used is in X-rays.  For reference, absorption of over 5 grays at any time usually leads to death within 14 days.  However, no one before had ever experienced radiation in the form of a proton beam moving at about the speed of light.

As you can see from the picture, the beam entered the back of Bugorski's head and came out around his nose.  Shortly after this happened, Bugorski's left half of his face swelled up beyond recognition.  He was taken to the hospital and studied as this was something that had never been seen before and so they closely monitored him thereafter, fully expecting him to die within a few days at most.

Although the skin on the part of his face and back of his head where the beam hit eventually peeled off over the next few days, Bugorski did not die as they thought he would.  The beam also burned through his skull and brain tissue along with the afore mentioned skin.  However, ultimately he came through it all surprisingly well.

Despite the beam going through his brain, his intellectual capacity remained the same as before.  The few negative health drawbacks he did experience were not life threatening either.  He lost the hearing in his left ear and experienced a constant unpleasant noise in that ear from then on.  The left half of his face slowly became paralyzed over the course of the next two years.  He also gets significantly more fatigued with mental work, though he did go on to get his PhD after this incident.  The remaining side effects were occasional absence seizures and later tonic-clonic seizures, though these didn't show up right away.

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13 Responses:

  1. Pavel says:

    "Interestingly, looking at Bugorski now, you'd see the right half of his face looks like a normal wrinkled old man, but the left half of his face looks as if it was frozen in time 19 years ago."

    I tried googling around, but all I found was the same black-and-white diagram, as well as some random pictures of naked mens. Oh, internet.

    • Elusis says:

      Presumably this is due to that side of his face being paralyzed - if you can't move it, you can't wrinkle it.

  2. Noah says:

    I said "protEIn injections", you idiot!

  3. sclatter says:

    I assume this was for my benefit? We really don't know how much dose I took last week though probably not very much. I don't wear a dosimeter up there. I'll let you know if I start getting absence seizures.

    In political news, my boss says if the Senate approves the budget the House passed the Light Source facility where I do my experiments is likely to be shut down. Awesome.

    • jwz says:

      Come on, you don't cut the budget of anyone with a Proton Cannon... just pat it gently and point out how it would be a shame if anything were to Happen to their Hemispheres...

      • David Konerding says:

        He's not the only person to put his head in a synchrotron beam. I worked in the same department at Berkeley with a well known prof who looked into the synchrotron (and published a paper about). Of course, they did it without all the usual human subject committee's you'd have to go through today, and they were quite careful to reduce the overall beam strength a huge amount (down to a few particles a second). They still observed light flashes, which isn't surprising given retina can detect single photons (although it takes a few per second to be observed)

        http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v239/n5369/abs/239209a0.html

        • Stuart says:

          I have a detached retina in my right eye which the surgeons described as "rolled up and hanging off" . I "see" these long ropes of very bright almost neon light rolling round the eye when the retina is stressed. In my left eye where the retina was reattached twice i have the flashes at the top and bottom . The light is very intense and very white. It is hard to put the retina back perfectly and so it is not smooth anymore. I describe it as putting an old carpet back on to the floor after it has been kicked about for a while.

      • gryazi says:

        Too soon.

        [Is it possible to go to hell for saying 'Too soon?']

  4. A Country Farmer says:

    "... he did go on to get his PhD after this incident."

    What a fucking bad ass!

  5. Jim Sweeney says:

    *pff* ...wuss.

  6. JK says:

    I must ask, in the context of this post, what on earth "6 people liked this" can even mean.

  7. amehaye says:

    Bugorski the proton dodger?
    Really puts Boris to shame.