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A Russian scientist who was struck by a particle accelerator beam (wikipedia.org)
172 points by thisjepisje on July 27, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments

It seems like the reason his intellectual capacity stayed the same may be because the beam did not touch his frontal lobes, but passed through his midbrain all the way to the back of his head, and appears to have exited near the occipital lobe. The occipital lobe is where the visual cortex is located, which could explain why he saw a light brighter than a "thousand suns." I'd be curious to know what his visual-spatial capacity and perceptual acuity was after this accident, though as a physicist he would probably rely on these systems heavily.

Someone with a better neuroscience background might be able to confirm that this is why the beam seems to have left his personality and intellectual ability in tact. Anyone?

The brain is incredibly plastic. In different degrees, it has been observed that neurons around a destroyed area mitigate the problem by taking over lost function.

In addition, abstract processing in the brain occurs over larger areas (think large neural networks). It is not established how exactly. It can be reasoned that to achieve some form of thought, followed by action, multiple sensory modalities have to be integrated. For this large, spatially divided, parts of the brain are necessary. Personality and intellect are therefore likely an emergent property of the entire network, not so much restricted to the frontal lobe.

It's a shame he is not thoroughly studied. I'm curious to see the actual extend of the damage. I hypothesize that his seizures are a product of plasticity around the damaged areas.

Yes, alterations elsewhere could most certainly have an impact on personality and intellect - but certainly a person with severe frontal lobe damage suffers more profound personality changes and working memory deficits than someone who experiences damage elsewhere, correct? I'm reminded of the story of Phineas Gage who had severe injuries to his frontal lobes, and according to people who encountered him displayed poor judgment/impulsivity for the rest of his days. There have been challenges to these reports, with some saying that Phineas Gage was very functional even after the accident. I'm inclined to believe that the truth is somewhere between "Severely disabled" and "Perfectly functional," which means some aspects of reports about his personality changes are accurate.

Yep, that seems fair to say. Must note that it seems that the damage that Phineas endured was much more substantial.

Considering the complexity of personality and behavior and our lack of understanding of their representation in the brain, I wonder how far we would get than this type of anecdotal evidence if given the change to investigate. Personality tests are mostly, if not completely useless.

So I tried to find a more recent picture after reading the article. I stumbled upon this Gizmodo article which indicates that the left side of his face hasn't wrinkled since the accident, due to the paralysis caused by the beam. You wouldn't guess that he was struck by a proton beam based on the picture in the article...


This gizmodo article reeks of sensationalism. They go so far as to say half of his face got "older and wrinkly," while the other half stayed "exactly the same," even though it's plainly obvious that all of his face has aged, both sides have wrinkles, and the half that was struck by the beam isn't the same as it was since the accident. At the very least I'd love to see more information substantiating the claim.

An article explaining part of the reason why I'm suspicious: http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/07/24/i...

This doesn't seem all that crazy to me. The Wikipedia article says that the left side of his face is paralyzed because the corresponding nerves are destroyed. The left side of his face may not wrinkle because the muscles do not contract. This is similar to the mechanism of Botox, which interferes with nerve terminals at the injection site.

EDIT: Also, one of the symptoms of Bell's palsy, which is a form of paralysis of the cranial nerves, is fewer wrinkles on the affected side of the face.

I was told by staffers at Fermilab that it was once not uncommon for experimenters to stand in the experiment blockhouses and manually position detectors in the beam. Sometimes maybe even traversing the beam in front of the beam-dump. Not the main ring beamline of course, that would probably be fatal, but the at the Meson Test Beam line. Nowadays those areas are locked out such that breaching the area would shut off the beam before you could reach it. Of course, it was probably locked-out then as well, but now you'll be thrown off the premises if you break the lock.

Somewhat similar: during the early nuclear bomb design work, people would sometimes perform criticality experiments by hand on plutonium cores. There were, naturally, accidents, with two people dying immediately and several others dying years later likely due to the radiation exposure.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon_core

The fellow holding the plutonium hemispheres apart with the tip of a screwdriver http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Slotin had previously distinguished himself by going swimming in an active nuclear reactor. Possibly no-one will ever surpass his achievements as likely the greatest eejit in the history of nuclear engineering.

Known as "tickling the dragon's tail". Naturally Hollywood has it's own take on the situation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Zg69OlFOac

Off topic: I've heard people refer to Hiroshima/Nagasaki as a "bluff" in that there was no third (fourth) bomb to drop if Japan hadn't surrendered. This article indicates otherwise. The Demon Core would have been the next bomb to be dropped, and was ready to go. So the USA wasn't bluffing, and was in fact prepared to keep dropping bombs one after the other.

Yes, a good read for anyone interested in codes for safety-critical applications.

So, that must be where the plot of Another World came from.

"Phineas Gage for the Nuclear Age!"

Is this the origin story of Doctor Moscow?

In Soviet Russia, proton splits YOU

That would be funny if protons were splittable

I'm confused. Protons are "splittable" in the sense that they are not elementary particles, but are instead comprised of multiple quarks. The Large Hadron Collider [0] "splits" protons. In fact this is how they claim to have observed the Higgs boson. See the image caption:

   Simulated Large Hadron Collider CMS particle
   detector data depicting a Higgs boson produced
   by colliding protons decaying into hadron jets
   and electrons
[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Hadron_Collider


This is actually more delicate than that. It is not possible to split a proton into its constituent quarks because quarks can never exist on their own. As far as we know they only appear in pairs or three at a time as in the proton.

There is also the issue of baryon number conservation. This is physical law (as far as we know) that says that the number of baryons must be constant. A proton is a baryon and neuron is a baryon but there are lots more. Anti-particles count negative so we can destroy a proton by combining it with an anti-proton, if we would happen to have one. But we cannot outright split the proton into some smaller set of parts as with an atom.

>It is not possible to split a proton into its constituent quarks because quarks can never exist on their own.

In the same way that the atom was not divisible 100 years ago?

The explanation I was given was that the binding energy of the quarks in a proton is greater than the energy it takes to create a new set of quarks. So before you can pump enough energy into a proton to split it, you've pumped enough energy in for new quarks to appear, and you end up with two particles but no naked quarks.

Back then scientists didn't have a model for what is inside an atom though, while we do have a model for what is inside a proton.

>Back then scientists didn't have a model for what is inside an atom though

Yes, they did:


From 1913.

Not a complete model, as we now know, but nonetheless, scientists did have a model of the atom 100 years ago.

Gahh but that's not how quarks work. Paired up, always.

i'm not saying we're able to do it, but it seems doable:


"We hear dat... you have 'split banana'. Could we, eh... ice cream shop, yes?"

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