What would happen if the human body were hit by a beam of subatomic particles?

To study subatomic particles, physicists use particle accelerators. These are machines that use strong magnetic or electric fields to propel charged particles at speeds close to the speed of light.

The accelerators are mainly used to study the basic interactions between these particles. By studying collisions, researchers can study physics in an environment that does not exist in nature. At least on earth.

Instruments that help to better understand particle physics

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN went into operation in 2008 and is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world. The instrument was built in a circular tunnel nearly 27 km in circumference and has already helped solve some fundamental questions related to particle physics.

In 2012, for example, he contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson, a particle that has been sought since the 1960s. Note that the Higgs boson is important in that it can explain why certain particles have mass as opposed to others.

A subject that remains unclear

Now back to our question. What would happen if someone were hit in the face by a particle beam at a speed of 300,000 km / s? Scientists, at least, ignore the consequences of such an experiment.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world. Photo credit: Shutterstock / Belish

In a video posted online in 2010, members of the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nottingham, England say they have no idea what would happen if you stuck a hand into a particle accelerator. While experts aren’t sure what would happen if we did, an incident involving Soviet scientist Anatoly Bougorski in 1978 offers some clues.

A discharge of more than 70 billion volts of electrons

On July 13, 1978, Bougorski’s skull was accidentally crossed by a proton beam of 76 billion electron volts during the inspection of the U-70 – the largest particle accelerator in the Soviet Union – as part of his diploma thesis! In comparison, the energy used in proton therapy, a cancer treatment in which protons are used to destroy tumors, is “only” 250 million electron volts.

While he would have felt no pain in an interview with Wired magazine in 1997, the Russian physicist claimed to have seen a flash “brighter than a thousand suns”. Granted, the man is still alive, but as a result of this drama, half of his face is paralyzed, so part of it looks strangely young. And Bougorski is not only deaf in one ear, but sometimes suffers from an epileptic seizure.

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