Soviet Union, 1978: Russian scientist Anatoli Boegorski investigates a defect in the most powerful particle accelerator in the world at that time. But he does not know that the device is on and that his life will never be the same again.
The proton beam hit Anatoli Boegorski in the back of the head and went out through the left nostril.
When Anatoli Boegorski now looks in the mirror, he sees two different people. One side of his face bears the signs of the 75 years he has lived, but the other side is frozen in time and does not seem to have been a day older since July 13, 1978.
On this fateful summer day in 1978, the Russian scientist fell victim to a unique accident in world history.
Boegorski worked on the Soviet Union's most powerful particle accelerator at that time, the Synkrotron U-70. This huge device accelerated protons to almost the speed of light, after which they collided. The scientists investigated the result of those collisions.
On July 13, 1978, a number of experiments were performed with the U-70 when the machine reported a fault in an accelerator tube. Anatoli Boegorski was called in to solve the problem and investigated the defective part of the device.
The Synkrotron U-70 was the world's most powerful particle accelerator when it was built. It is located in Protvino, 100 kilometers south of Moscow.
However, Boegorski did not know that a number of U-70 security mechanisms had been disabled. While he was investigating the device, it was running at full speed.
Convinced that the machine was switched off, Boegorski put his head in the accelerator. He shouldn't have done that. A beam of protons shot into the back of his head and came out again near his left nostril.
The proton beam consisted of a few high-speed protons. The effect of such a beam is very similar to that of laser weapons from science fiction films: the protons burn their way through everything.
The unfortunate investigator remained conscious and felt no pain after the accident. According to Boegorski it felt as if he had been hit by a beam of light from 1000 suns.
Face swelled like a balloon
With 2000 gray the beam hit the head of the Russian, and with 3000 gray it came out again. Gray is the unit of amount of absorbed radiation. 1 gray equals 1 joule of absorbed energy in 1 kilo of matter. 5 gray is usually enough to kill an adult within two weeks of exposure to the radiation.
The doctors in the hospital where Boegorski was treated, therefore, gave him little chance of survival. They thought he had two or three days, and would observe how he died.
The beam had burned a hole in Boegorski's brain. He had ugly burns on the back of his head, where the jet had entered, and in his face, where he had come out. In addition, half of his head was seriously swollen. But to the surprise of the doctors, the scientist did not die.
In fact, he was getting better and better, and although the beam had gone right through his brain, there were no signs of brain injury.
Boegorski recovered quickly from the potentially fatal accident.
Young forever on his left
Boegorski was released from the hospital. There was nothing wrong with him, but in the years that followed he had to contend with serious side effects from the radiation.
Over time, he no longer heard anything with his left ear, the side where the beam had hit him. The hole in his brain slowly grew, leaving the left side of the scientist's face paralyzed.
He also had epileptic seizures, which got worse and worse, and doing research and thinking exhausted him.
Another, more enigmatic side effect also occurred: the left side of Boegorski's face does not seem to age. When he frowns, he does not get any wrinkles on the left side of his forehead.
The consequences of the accident did not prevent Boegorski from writing his thesis.
Boegorski wants to go to the West
After the fall of the Wall, Boegorski wanted to be declared partially disabled due to the accident. The Russian authorities refused: he was not sick enough.
In the mid-1990s, he expressed the wish to be examined by specialists in the West. However, he did not have enough money to leave the science town of Protvino 100 kilometers south of Moscow.
Since then, little has been heard of the Russian with the two faces. He can, however, boast that he is the only one in world history who has been shot at by a particle accelerator.
Sources: Gizmodo, Wired, Science Alert