Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Hit by a Particle Accelerator Beam

AnatoliBugorski3 Anatoli Bugorski was checking a component of the U-70 synchrotron particle accelerator when he accidentally put his head in the beam’s path. It was the fatidic fateful day of July 13, 1978, and as the safety devices failed, Bogorski later told that he saw a flash “brighter than a thousand suns”, as protons near the speed of light traveled right through his head. But he did not feel any pain.

The proton beam went through the left side of his head. Soon that side of his face swelled beyond recognition, and in the next days the skin fell, showing the path the particle beam had through his face, brain and cranium.

Radiation doses hundreds of times weaker are fatal, and Anatoli Bugorski was therefore taken to a hospital in Moscow where the doctors could watch his inevitable demise. But this was Soviet Russia, where particles accelerate YOU!!

Bugorski not only survived, but completed his PhD without virtually any damage to his intellectual abilities, except for a marked fatigue, loss of hearing and having the left side of his face paralyzed. He married and has a son. He was interviewed by Wired around ten years ago.

He did not get any superpowers either. Not as far as we know.

Given the relatively huge size of protons – nearly 2,000 times heavier than electrons – they don’t dissipate much when they hit the body, and are therefore used in radiotherapy. Bugorski’s incident was an accidental demonstration of this fact. Although the radiation dose was enormous, it was composed of a narrow beam that didn’t disperse much as it traveled inside his head.

The case is reminiscent of the classic neurological story of Phineas Gage, though Bugorski didn’t report any behavioral changes.


We don’t know if the flash he reported was real, that is, if it was the result of particles and radiation stimulating his eyes, or if it was only subjective, either by his nerves being fried or perhaps entirely imagined.

But it’s interesting to note that a small group of human beings who, like Bugorski, were subjected to a high dose of particle beams also reported seeing flashes of light.

We are talking about astronauts more vulnerable to cosmic rays when in orbit. The Apollo 11 folks were the first to walk on the Moon, but they were also the first humans to report periodical bright flashes coming from nowhere. Further investigation of the subject, going from Apollo and ongoing to this day established that these flashes are not product of imagination. In space, the cosmic rays going through the astronaut’s eyes can stimulate the retina either directly or via secondary radiations.

We can guess that were you to be hit by a highly energetic particle beam, one of the first – or last – things you would see would be a flash “brighter than a thousand suns”.

[hat tip RicBit]

Bonus track
Being hit by a particle accelerator beam is therefore somewhat different from the intro of “Out of this World”:

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Posted in Science | 15 comments

15 Comments so far

  1. Hamletmaschine (Hamletmaschine) September 17th, 2008 7:42 am

    Hit by a Particle Accelerator Beam http://is.gd/2KAp

  2. Helio September 18th, 2008 10:10 am

    Because of this, I am sure a lawyer will demand that a sign be posted on ALL accelerators that say something like, “Warning, unless you are killing a female terminator from the future, do not stand near the machine when it is on.”

  3. […] by a Particle Accelerator Beam Crazy super science stuff. Link: Hit by a Particle Accelerator Beam | forgetomori Hit by a Particle Accelerator Beam September 16th, 2008 by Mori Anatoli Bugorski was checking […]

  4. Got Freedom? September 18th, 2008 8:11 pm

    […] forgetomori […]

  5. DaveO September 19th, 2008 12:25 am

    What would anyone working in Soviet Russia expect, when dealing with a country where safety protocols are not a major concern? I bet the Russian version of OSHA recommended cosmetic-makeup mirrors placed on technician’s heads to deflect the beam, after the accident occurred.

  6. DOC September 19th, 2008 2:10 am

    The accidents that happen ,no matter where are not something to make fun of,the U.S has had thousands of mistakes that the general public know nothing about…Doc

  7. Steve September 19th, 2008 8:07 am

    The accidents that happen ,no matter where are not something to make fun of,the U.S has had thousands of mistakes that the general public know nothing about…Doc

    That Maybe, But nothing like chernobyl.


  8. phil shanahan September 20th, 2008 6:19 pm

    I’m amazed the guy didn’t die.

  9. John September 21st, 2008 3:12 am

    Damn, no superpowers.

  10. [links] Link salad for a busy Sunday | jlake.com September 21st, 2008 2:16 pm

    […] Hit by a particle accelerator beam — A modern-day Phineas Gage. […]

  11. ddenney (ddenney) September 22nd, 2008 3:30 pm

    @dlandes The snarks are here on twitter. As for Tau Cannon:
    http://tinyurl.com/4gr8us (“BOOM – HEADSHOT!”)

  12. Obama as Deity « Lemur King’s Folly October 2nd, 2008 2:50 pm

    […] Who knew that particle beams actually are bad for you? […]

  13. Remembering Forgetomori ’2008 | forgetomori December 31st, 2008 7:48 pm

    […] Our second pick of the month: Hit by a particle accelerator beam. […]

  14. no way January 31st, 2009 10:50 am

    ive done this in plenty of games, nice to see it can happen in real life to. nif=ce that he didn’t die for our entertainment as well.

  15. Giorgio Ganis August 9th, 2012 5:56 am

    Looks like the beam hit occipito-parietal cortex in the back. So, no surprise there may have been visual sensations…

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