The hypothetical of what happens when you rear your head inside a particle accelerator became more than an imaginative quest to a certain Russian particle physicist who, on the night of July 13, 1978, exceeded speculative grounds. While performing a maintenance check on the U-70 Synchrotron, an accelerator which speeds up charged particles and channels them into a beam, as well as the most powerful particle accelerator in the USSR at the time, Anatoli Bugorski noticed the lights from the synchrotron were malfunctioning and decided to take a closer look without realizing the machine was still running. In less than a second, a proton struck his head with a mere 300,000 Rads (Radiation Absorbed Dose). Having claimed to have seen a flash “brighter than a thousand suns,” Bugorski insisted he did not feel any pain.
Aftermath of the Incident
According to experts, the approximated amount of radiation in the proton which entered through the back of Bugorski’s head and exited through his nose was at least 250,000 rads. Exposure to ionizing radiation causes cell damage to living tissue. In high acute doses, it will result in radiation burns and radiation sickness, and lower-level doses over a protracted time can cause cancer. The U-70 Synchrotron produces ionizing radiation, high frequency radiation which is concentrated in a small beam, such as those found in x-rays and neutrons. This concentration allowed for the proton to enter and exit Bugorski’s body without derailment. The following days resulted in the peeling of Bugorski’s face, tracing the protons beam’s path, which burned through bone and part of his face. He later lost all hearing in his left ear and developed paralysis on the left side of his face, which remained frozen in place. He continued to visit the Moscow Radiation Clinic at least four times a year during his 18-month recovery period for the prevention of any wellness mishaps.
Although Bugorski’s story seems like guaranteed charisma for media immediacy, his story remained concealed by the USSR until the unions eventual demise, at which point it was revealed by Bugorski himself a decade after the incident. He seamlessly continued his career at the Institute of High Energy Physics, later completing his PhD and eventually gaining the position of coordinator of physics experiments.
Although tragic, his story allows for the adverse effect of mishap mindfulness, one where hypotheticals exceed calcium confines, and the irrational loses its subtlety. Anatoli Bugorski, at the age of 79, is still alive today.
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