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When Protons Are a Negative Force

Anatoli Bugorski has the distinction of being the only person known to have placed part of his body in the path of a high energy proton particle beam ...and lived. At the time, he was working as a researcher at Russia's Institute for High Energy Physics, on the U-70 synchrotron. While troubleshooting a malfunctioning piece of equipment on 13 July 1978, he stuck his head directly in the path of the proton beam. Mr. Bugorski reported that he saw a flash "brighter than a thousand suns," but did not feel any pain. The scenario reminds me of the story I've told before about a guy I worked with in the USAF who inadvertently put is head in front of a transmitting S-band radar antenna feed horn and reported hearing a loud hum in his ears. In both cases safety interlocking mechanisms were believed to have been properly engaged, but were not.

My fellow airman had no lasting effects, but Anatoli was not so lucky. The left half of Bugorski's face swelled up beyond recognition, and over the next several days, his skin began peeling off, revealing the path that the proton beam had burned through parts of his face, skull, and the brain tissue. The thumbnail image shows the approximate path of the beam. Aside from occasional seizures, some facial paralysis, and a persistent ringing in his ear, he survived in spite of experts predicting his certain demise. In fact, Mr. Bugorski eventually completed earning his Ph.D., married and had children, and even and held the post of Coordinator of physics experiments. Due to secrecy and security policies surrounding nuclear programs, it was more than a decade before a report of the incident was made known to the outside world.

Someone, probably not Mr. Bugorski, created a Facebook page for him.

Posted  June 2013

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