Why you shouldn’t stick your hand in the Large Hadron Collider
Sticking your hand into the particle beam of the Large Hadron Collider sure seems like a bad idea, but before you try it, it’s important to know just how bad of an idea it is. There’s no consensus among scientists as to what exactly would happen, but there is a consensus on the end result: not pleasant.
At full power, each of the two particle beams generated by the Large Hadron Collider contains about 10 trillion watts of energy, which is enough to flash-roast a frozen pizza in 30 billionths of one second. That is, to put it mildly, rather a lot of energy to interrupt with a part of your body, but if it’s still something you’re thinking about doing, take four minutes and listen as a bunch of scientists with British accents tell you why you probably shouldn’t try it:
Believe it or not, somebody has actually done this, accidentally, with their head. In 1978, a Soviet researcher named Anatoli Bugorski was working on a piece of the U-70 Synchotron (a 70 GeV particle accelerator, which is about a hundredth the power of the LHC) when his head entered the beam gap. He saw a flash “brighter than a thousand suns” and the beam drilled a hole completely through his skull, exposing him to about 300,000 rads of radiation in the process (1000 rads is generally considered fatal). Anatoli managed not to die (!) and in fact went on to complete his Ph.D.
Anyway, the upshot is that while you’d probably hurt yourself, you’d definitely hurt the machine, which would be the real tragedy.
Considering the “extremely high destructive power” (CERN’s words) of the particle beam, the machine comes equipped with its own system to stop the beam if necessary, called a beam dump. Using magnets, the beam gets redirected and spread out to lower its energy density, and then guided 700 meters down a transfer tunnel into a into a 10 ton graphite tube contained in a water-cooled steel cylinder buried under 1000 tons of concrete and iron shielding.
Of course, there’s always a chance that it’ll give you superpowers instead, so maybe it’s still something to consider.