Thursday, October 09, 2008

Places not to stick your head

After the initial hullaballoo with the Large Hadron Collider going online, it quickly - in a move that wasn't reported with nearly the enthusiasm - was taken offline for repairs before it even had a chance to destroy the world in a black hole.

While the team is tinkering around inside the LHC, it gives us an opportunity to follow up on AC's recent "what would happen if..." post. In this case, what would happen if you were hit by the beam of a particle accelerator?

Believe it or not, it's happened before. Thirty years ago, Anatoli Bugorski was working on the Soviet U-70 synchotron repairing malfunctioning equipment. He stuck his head into the area where the beam was running, but apparantly the safety mechanisms were not. He saw a flash of light "brighter than a thousand suns" but the initial encounter with the beam was otherwise painless. WIRED magazine has more on the outcome:
The left side of his face swollen beyond recognition, Bugorski was taken to a clinic in Moscow so that doctors could observe his death over the following two to three weeks.

Over the next few days, skin on the back of his head and on his face just next to his left nostril peeled away to reveal the path the beam had burned through the skin, the skull, and the brain tissue. The inside of his head continued to burn away: all the nerves on the left were gone in two years, paralyzing that side of his face. Still, not only did Bugorski not die, but he remained a normally functioning human being, capable even of continuing in science. For the first dozen years, the only real evidence that something had gone neurologically awry were occasional petit mal seizures; over the last few years Bugorski has also had six grand mals. The dividing line of his life goes down the middle of his face: the right side has aged, while the left froze 19 years ago. When he concentrates, he wrinkles only half his forehead.
According to his wikipdia entry, Bugorski lost the hearing of his left ear and the fatigue of mental work increased, but despite the accident he was still able to finish his Ph.D. Still, I hope the scientists at the LHC really have it turned off before stepping in there.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beam me up Scotty

Anonymous said...

A synchotron to the head and NO SUPERPOWERS?!? Clearly the Russians are hiding something.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Amazing case study, thanks!