The man who put his head in a particle accelerator

The U-70 synchrotron control room.

On July 13 1978 Anatoli Bugorski, a physicist working on the U-70 synchrotron at the Institute of High Energy Physics in Protvino, Russia decided to put his head into the particle accelerator whilst it was running. Presumably he did not know it was running at the time, and presumably there were some safety features that should have prevented him from doing so but which had failed.

Nonetheless, Bugorski somehow managed to put his head into a beam of 76 GeV protons (for comparison, the LHC accelerates protons to an energy of 3500 GeV).

The beam caused a flash in Bugorski’s eyes “brighter than a thousand suns” and the left side of his face swelled up beyond recognition. He was later taken to a state hospital that specialised in treating radiation injuries where it was expected he would die. Amazingly, despite the huge dose of radiation, Bugorski survived; probably due to the fact that the radiation was confined to a very small area.

A photograph of Bugorski taken for Pravda in 1998.

With the left side of his face paralysed, with no hearing in his left ear and suffering from seizures, Bugorski still managed to complete his PhD and became the coordinator of experiments at the U-70 accelerator.

(I’d like to point out that the original title of this post was going to be In Soviet Russia, Particles Accelerate You [source] but I resisted.)


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