Science 4 min read

Anatoli Bugorski: The Man Who Took a Proton Beam to the Face

Thanks to a Soviet accident, we now have scientific evidence of what happens when a human is hit square in the face with a set of particles travelling at the speed of light. | Image By TTP999 | Shutterstock

Thanks to a Soviet accident, we now have scientific evidence of what happens when a human is hit square in the face with a set of particles travelling at the speed of light. | Image By TTP999 | Shutterstock

Anatoli Bugorski has survived a strong proton beam passing through his head. Here’s what happened to him.

According to physicist Stephen Hawking, the particle accelerator is the closest thing to time machines humans have built, comparing them to a time travel train.

As a technical concept, particle accelerators go back about a century ago, with the first machines developed as early as the 1930s.

Currently, there are thousands of accelerators of different sizes and shapes (circular or linear) operating all over the world.

The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) runs several particle accelerators with the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), a 17-mile ring near Geneva (Switzerland), being the largest, most powerful, and most famous instrument.

Applications of particle accelerators experiments are those of particle physics, like astronomy, medicine, environment, and several industries, through the study of subatomic behaviors of matter.

Read More: Researchers Prove the Decay of Higgs-Bosons Into Bottom Quarks

Brains Should not Collide With Charged Particles

While their design has changed, particle accelerators are still based on the same principle suggested by their name: they shoot beams of charged particles, electrons or protons, at staggering speeds nearing that of light.

These beams are accelerated using increasing electric fields and have to hit an obstacle, or another beam of particles, to produce a collision that makes the subject of research.

In one unfortunate case, the target that got in the way of a proton beam was the head of the Russian scientist Anatoli Bugorski.

Anatoli Bugorski, a scientist at the Soviet Institute for High Energy Physics, nearly lost his life when he stuck his head into a particle accelerator. But he survived this one of a kind accident.

Anatoli Bugorski was one of the researchers working with a proton synchrotron (a type of particle accelerators) known as the U-70, still operating as the largest accelerator in Russia.

On July 13, 1978, then 36 years old, Bugorski popped his head into the machine to check a malfunction when a safety system broke down and was unlucky enough to be hit by a beam of charged protons.

The beam penetrated Bugorski’s skull from the back, burnt its way through his brain, and exited from his nose.

The Aftermath: Forever Young Half Face

The unfortunate man, who suffered from swelling in the face and hair loss where the beam entered his head, reported seeing a flash of light “brighter than a thousand suns”, though he didn’t feel any pain.

He also retained all his cognitive abilities. But this isn’t what surprised doctors who examined him. He should’ve dropped dead right on the spot.

Bugorski got 200,000 rads of radiation in a single shot straight in the face, while it’s estimated that only a couple of hundred rads could be fatal to a human.

The world, however, wouldn’t learn about Bugorski’s case until years passed, because of the secrecy of the Soviet regime, and the confidentiality rules that prevented Bugorski from speaking.

Bugorski was able to finish his studies, and is still alive and kicking.

The strangest phenomenon that happened to Bugorski in the years following the incident was that the half of his face that got beamed was paralyzed, and to this day it looks like it was frozen in its 1978 state.

As fascinating as these events are, they are ones that should not be replicated — the unpredictability of charged particles is exactly why their study is at the center of modern physics.

Do you think that using a particle accelerator may somehow stop the aging process of human cells?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

Comments (2)
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  1. Profile Image
    Claire Smith April 20 at 7:19 am GMT

    What happen to Anatoli Bugorski is a miracle, indeed.

    • Profile Image
      Humbal bin Asad April 02 at 4:43 pm GMT

      indeed, and a revolutionary change in the history of physics and biology

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