Why sticking your head in a particle accelerator has a 100% survivability rate - The story of Anatoli Bugorski.


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Article by: Kanawas Sriprab (Khun), on 3 August 2023 at 02:37 am PDT

A particle accelerator is a device used by physicists to produce a "beam" of high-velocity atomic and subatomic particles. The device itself is mainly used for research into nuclear forces, atomic structure, and nuclear research - along with radiography and radiation therapy; not typically an apparatus a scientist would stick their head into. Yet, in 1978, Dr. Bugorski did just that, and the results were interesting…

The accident:

On the 30th of July 1978, in the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, Russian SFSR (now Russia), a group of physicists, including Anatoli Bugorski were working on the U-70 Synchrotron, the Soviet Union's largest particle accelerator. While checking on a malfunctioning machine, the safety mechanisms failed, therefore leaving the machine on with his head inside.

Within this short period of time, he was hit with a 76 GeV proton beam; receiving 200,000-300,000 Roentgen of exposure. The beam he was hit with delivered 2000 gray of radiation and left his body at 3000 gray due to collisions inside his head. The lethal dosage to humans was only 5 gray. During the event, he reported seeing a blinding light but suffered no pain. The beam passed through his face, brain, and bones before exiting his body.

The results:

Immediately rushed to the hospital, his face swelled up to an unrecognizable size and his skin peeled off, revealing the areas where he was hit with the beam. Doctors believed that his death would be imminent and that the only thing they could do was study his body for the effects of radiation.

Miraculously, he survived this accident, though he lost hearing in his left ear, and the left side of his face became paralyzed due to nerve damage. His intellectual capacity was not diminished by the accident, however, and he went on to complete his Ph.D., though indicated that mental activities caused more fatigue after the accident.

Being the only known man in the world who went through this process (and survived), his survival results in a 100% survivability rate, and the story of his survival continues to attract the interest of scientists to this day.

So what happened?

Today, the cause of his survival, and what truly happened to his cells are relatively unknown, (fortunately) due to the lack of cases similar to his. Radiation at this level usually results in the destruction of the chemical structure of our cells, and therefore organ and tissue failure. Researchers assume that his survival may have been due to the concentration of the beam in a small area, resulting in damage to only his brain and areas of his face, or perhaps simply due to the fact that proton beams may interact with animal cells in a different manner than say alpha or beta particles.

Today particle accelerators are used in healthcare, among other research, with proton beams being aimed at tumors and cancerous cells in order to kill them (proton beam therapy). The procedure has and continues to save many lives to this day, thanks to the contributions of engineers and scientists like Dr. Anatoli in the research of particle accelerators.

Experiment source: Discover Magazine

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