CERN

What would happen if you stuck your head inside a particle accelerator?

Don’t try this at home.

JOSH HRALA
19 APR 2016
 

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been making news since its conception back in 1984. Throughout the years, it’s provided us with a treasure trove of discoveries in the world of physics. It’s truly a feat of engineering that has helped and is still helping us understand the fundamental rules of the Universe at an alarming rate.

While these discoveries are great and all, there's still one question you might be wondering: what would happen if you stuck your head inside of it?

 

While it might seem like a style of execution reserved for super villains in a comic book universe, we actually know what would happen because someone already stuck their head in one back in the late 1970s.

According to Daven Hiskey from Today I Found Out, the odd story starts back on 13 July 1978, when Russian scientist Anatoli Petrovich Bugorski was working on the Synchrotron U-70, a Soviet particle accelerator.

During what was probably a routine day at the office, Bugorski leaned into the accelerator to check on a troublesome piece of equipment, when he accidentally ran his head through a beam of speeding protons, which caused him to see a flash of light "brighter than a thousand Suns".

Despite this strange vision, he reportedly felt no pain, but the damage was already done.

To fully understand the amount of damage the beam did on Bugorski’s head in a matter of seconds, we first need to talk about a unit of measurement called a gray (Gy). 

"A 'gray' is an SI unit of energy absorbed from ionising radiation," Hiskey explains. "One gray is equal to the absorption of 1 joule of radiation energy by 1 kilogram of matter."

 

Typically, Hiskey continues, it only takes about 5 grays to kill a person - a fate that usually takes shape about 14 days after exposure.

The beam that went through Bugorski’s head was rated at 2,000 grays. When it exited, the beam read 3,000. At that insane level, it should have left him with a hole right through his face like a laser gun would in a movie, but it didn’t.

Though he seemed fine at first, this powerful blast of particles caused the left side of his head to balloon out of control and some of his skin to peel off at the site where it entered and exited his skull. It also burned a line straight through his brain, though he experienced no mental decline.

Despite many of the doctors telling him he would likely die at any moment, Bugorski lived. He's still alive today, but of course, there were complications.

He eventually lost hearing in his left ear, started to experience seizures, and half of his face became paralysed. Amazingly, none of these stopped him from later earning his PhD.

One of the weirdest discoveries deduced from the incident is that proton beams could prevent skin wrinkles, because the half of Bugorski’s face that took the brunt of the beam looks like it hasn’t aged a day since.

So the short answer is that sticking your head inside a particle accelerator should cause a burn hole straight through your skull. Or, if you’re lucky like Bugorski was, you'll skip the head hole and just have to deal with a slew of other health problems. But the moral of the story is clear either way: please don’t stick your head inside a particle accelerator.

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