The Man Who Survived A Proton Beam To The Brain

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Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.

On July 13, 1978, Russian scientist Anatoli Petrovich Bugorski became the only person to ever stick his head in a running particle accelerator. A researcher at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, Bugorski was checking a malfunctioning piece of equipment on the Soviet particle accelerator, Synchrotron U-70, when he accidentally put his head directly in the path of the machine's proton beam. He reported seeing a flash that was “brighter than a thousand suns,” but did not feel any pain when this happened.

The beam itself measured 2000 gray as it entered Bugorski’s skull and about 3000 gray when it exited on the other side. A “gray” is an SI unit of energy absorbed from ionizing radiation. One gray is equal to the absorption of one joule of radiation energy by one kilogram of matter. Absorption of over 5 grays at any time usually leads to death within 14 days. However, no one before had ever experienced radiation in the form of a proton beam moving at nearly the speed of light.

The Effects

The beam entered the back of Bugorski’s head and came out around his nose. Shortly after this happened, the left half of Bugorski’s face swelled up. He was taken to the hospital and closely monitored; doctors and other scientists fully expected him to die within a few days.

But that didn't happen: Although the beam had burned through his skull and brain tissue and caused the skin in the areas it touched to peel off, Bugorski survived and actually came through it all surprisingly well—his intellectual capacity remained the same as before. The few negative health drawbacks he did experience were not life threatening either: He lost the hearing in his left ear, but experienced a constant unpleasant noise in that ear from then on. The left half of his face slowly became paralyzed over the course of the next two years. He also gets significantly more fatigued with mental work, though he did go on to get his PhD after this incident. The remaining side effects were occasional absence seizures and later tonic-clonic seizures, though these didn’t show up right away.

The most bizarre side effect that occurred has to do with his face. Looking at Bugorski now, you’d see the right half of his face looks like a normal wrinkled old man, but the left half of his face looks as if it was frozen in time decades ago. Apparently Botox has got nothing on a particle accelerator’s proton beam for stopping wrinkles.

Check out more interesting articles from Daven over at Today I Found Out and subscribe to his Daily Knowledge newsletter here.

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November 27, 2012 - 1:30pm
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