Soviet Man Who Survived a Particle Accelerator Beam

By Anupum Pant

Not even the world’s greatest researchers are too sure about what really happens when you put your hand in front of a particle accelerator beam.  And yet, we know what happens (not always) when you stick your head into a particle accelerator.

The Accident

That is because a Russian scientist named Anatoli Petrovich Bugorski, in the year 1978, working at U-70 synchrotron at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, accidentally put his head into a particle accelerator while checking for a dysfunctional part in the equipment. His head came in the path of a high-energy proton beam moving at a speed that was just slightly less than the speed of light. The beam entered his head from the back and came out from somewhere around the nose. Only he knows what he exactly saw when that happened. Apparently, he saw a very bright light, a light brighter than thousand suns and felt no pain.

Post Accident

The left part of his face, where the beam had passed, started swelling beyond recognition and people were certain that the man would soon die due to radiation poisoning. The proton beam had travelled through his head, burning all the living tissue in between and caused the skin at entry and exit points to peel off. The beam had passed a part of his brain and had burnt a considerable amount of brain tissue too. The picture below shows the path where the beam travelled and burnt all the living tissue.

particle accelerator beam head picture

Miraculously, he survived after being exposed to about 200,000 rads of radiation dose (enough to nearly kill the toughest bacterium)! Hell, even 500-600 rads are lethal for human beings. That was mostly because the beam was very thin and only a fraction of tissues out of the whole body that  got exposed to the beam were severely damaged, it left most of the remainder of the body exposed at pretty low levels of radiation.

Not just that, his mental performance showed no signs of degeneration. He even went on to complete his Ph.D after this accident and still lives a fairly healthy life. However, the accident did leave him with a dysfunctional left ear and a permanently paralysed left side of his face. Notably, the left side of his face became frozen and also never aged. At the same time, the right side of his face ages normally.

At that time this accident was buried by the Soviet Union and was branded as top-secret. It was only a couple of years later the whole world came to know about this.

Anatoli remains to be the only person to have ever done this. Most shockingly, he also survived it and still lives a fairly healthy life today.

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Ming – A 507 Year Old Organism Killed By Scientists

By Anupum Pant

A few years before Leonardo da Vinci started painting the Mona Lisa, somewhere deep in the ocean, in the year 1499, a clam was born. When it stepped into this world, it was also the period of Ming Dynasty in China, so several years later the clam was named ‘Ming’ (Scientific name: Arctica islandica) by scientists. Ming was the 507 year old organism that unfortunately got killed.

Like crocodiles, clams are also one of those biologically immortal organisms. This one lived on for 507 years till the year 2006, when it was discovered by a group of researchers in deep oceans. Unaware of its age, researchers stored it like all the other 200 clams they had gathered, using refrigeration, which killed it (and the others). It was an unfortunate accident; definitely not intended in any way.

World record: Ming the clam was recorded as the oldest individual animal ever discovered. The record mentions “Individual” because often colonies are recorded to live for really long times. By those measures, this clam would have stood nowhere in comparison. For example the deep-sea black and gold corals 2700 years old have been found. But, scientists are pretty sure that there are older individual organisms [than Ming] still living out there, waiting to be discovered.

Why do they live so long?

Their genes, extremely slow oxygen intake and very slow metabolism are some of the known factors that enable these clams to live for centuries. Their age is measured accurately by using Radiocarbon dating.

The Rings: But more importantly these clams have rings on their shells. These rings are like our fingerprints, unique for each clam. The number of rings on the shell also gives a pretty accurate estimate of their ages; like rings on a tree stump help us to find the age of a tree. Initially, a few researchers, using these rings, wrongly estimated the age of Ming to be around 400 years. It was corrected later by others.

The oxygen isotopes present on the rings can be detected too. These measurements give scientists a useful insight about the climate changes that must have happened over the years.

Author’s Note: This is the 50th post by me here which marks a 50 day anniversary. By now, I’ve become a happy blogger with more than 12K views already. Thanks all. Do take some time to check out the archives.

Pope John XXI – A Man of God and Science

by Anupum Pant

Pope John XXI was the only pope ever, who had an illustrious medical career alongside his work as a theologian. He was also a fruitful writer, who wrote on subjects like logic, physics, philosophy and medicine. Before being elected as a Pope, he served as personal physician to Pope Gregory.

In medicine, he contributed towards great advances in female reproductive system and wrote about a few remarkably effective methods of birth control, during times when the Catholic Church condemned contraception. He also taught medicine at the University of Siena.

As men with thoughts ahead of their time are always labeled as heretics, John was also called a magician after his death. His death was announced to have been caused by “an act of god”.

The unfortunate accident

His brief papacy [of 8 months, 1276-77] ended with a tragic accident:

As a man of the science, he dabbled in astronomy and had a special room built in the papal palace. He loved spending hours in this special room, where he could observe the stars at night. It was in this room, where he sustained severe injuries, when the roof of his palace collapsed. He died six days later (on May 20, 1277).

Stephen Hawking’s interpretation

In 1277, Pope John XXI’s declared ‘laws of nature’ to be heresy because they conflicted with God’s omnipotence. Several years later, Hawking and Mlodinow, with their book, The Grand Design, caused quite a stir when they wrote – “Pope John was killed by the effects of the law of gravity a few months later when the roof of his palace fell in on him“.

Bonus Death Fact: Jack Daniel, the founder of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey distillery, died in very peculiar manner:

Unable to open the safe in his office, Mr. Jack kicked it in frustration. This blow broke his toe and infection set in, leading to his untimely death in 1911. – [Source]