Have you ever wondered what would happen if you stuck your head inside a particle accelerator? No? Well, neither did Anatoli Bugorski, but he found out anyway. And lived to tell the tale.
Anatoli Bugorski was a Russian particle physicist who worked at the U-70 synchrotron, the largest particle accelerator in the Soviet Union, in 1978.
One day, he was checking a malfunctioning piece of equipment when he accidentally leaned over the beam path and got zapped by a 76 GeV proton beam. That’s about 200,000 times more powerful than a dental X-ray.
You might think that such an encounter would instantly vaporize his head, or at least turn him into a super-villain with mind control powers. But surprisingly, Bugorski felt no pain and saw only a flash of light “brighter than a thousand suns”.
He didn’t even realize what had happened until he noticed that his face was swollen and peeling off.
He rushed to a hospital in Moscow where doctors expected him to die within days from radiation poisoning. But Bugorski defied all odds and survived.
He did suffer some serious side effects though: he lost hearing in his left ear, his left half of his face was paralyzed, and he had frequent seizures. But his intelligence remained intact and he even completed his PhD and continued working as a physicist.
How did he manage to cheat death? Well, there are several factors that may have contributed to his survival. First of all, the proton beam was very narrow and focused, so it only damaged a small area of his brain and spared his vital organs.
Second, the beam was moving so fast that it didn’t have time to deposit much energy into his tissues. Third, Bugorski received prompt medical attention and care that helped him recover.
He does suffer the following aftereffects:
– The left side of his face is paralyzed, giving that part of his features a perpetually youthful appearance since the incident occurred 42 years ago.
– He lost hearing in his left ear and now experiences constant tinnitus.
– He has experienced at least six grand mal seizures.
– He continues to experience periodic petit mal seizures.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should try this at home (or anywhere else). Getting hit by a proton beam is extremely dangerous and can cause severe radiation burns, cancer, or death. Bugorski was extremely lucky (or unlucky) to experience such an event and live to tell about it.
Because of the nation’s policy of maintaining secrecy, particularly with nuclear related issues (which would later be a significant factor behind the worlds worst ever Nuclear disaster, the Chernobyl explosion in 1986) Bugorski did not speak publicly about the accident for over a decade.
He also became somewhat of a celebrity among radiation scientists who studied him for years after the accident. He was dubbed “the man who saw the light” by some media outlets.
He also had an unusual souvenir: an X-ray image of his skull showing the path of the proton beam through his brain.
Bugorski’s story is one of those rare cases where reality is stranger than fiction. It shows us how unpredictable life can be and how resilient humans can be in facing adversity. It also reminds us not to stick our heads into places where they don’t belong.
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