Mental Floss

The Quick 10: 10 Mad Scientists

Stacy Conradt
strangelove /

1. Herophilos was a Greek physician who probably introduced the experimental method to the world. It's been written that he vivisected at least 600 living prisoners to see what they looked like inside during his lifetime, from 335-280 B.C.

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Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. This phenomenon has been remarked by all those finding themselves in the same conditions as myself for observing what happens after the severing of the neck... I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. [...] It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: 'Languille!' I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions "“ I insist advisedly on this peculiarity "“ but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts. Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again[...]. It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement "“ and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead.[

3. Johann Konrad Dippel. As Miss C. pointed out this morning Dr. Dippel (say that. It's fun.) may have been the inspiration for Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein. Dippel did live at Castle Frankenstein in Germany, and he definitely did strange experiments. But they weren't without merit "“ he did end up inventing Dippel's Oil, which was used for a while as a medicine, an animal repellent and insecticide. It's not used much any more. He also sort of accidentally created the dye that makes "Prussian blue", which was great for artists "“ previously, the only way to make that color was either prone to fading or extremely expensive.

So it's clear that he was frequently experimenting with animal bones and the like, but it's possible that he dug up cadavers to experiment on them, too. There were rumors at the time that he was trying to transfer the soul of one cadaver to the body of another. This has never been verified"¦ but it sure makes for a good story.

4. Andrew Ure was a Scottish doctor in who practiced in the 19th century.

He used the corpse of a local murderer, who was executed by hanging, to see if people who had died certain ways could be brought back to life. Based on his trials, he concluded that anyone who died of suffocation, drowning or hanging (anything that restricted breathing, I suppose) could be brought back to life if the phrenic nerve was stimulated. I'm not entirely sure how he concluded this, since he clearly was never able to bring anyone back to life, but he concluded it nonetheless.

5. Was Alfred Nobel a mad scientist? Well"¦ kind of. At least, people viewed him that way. After discovering that nitroglycerine would work to create dynamite, an unstable version of it exploded in their family-own factory. It killed his little brother and a few others who were working at the time. After this, he started to become known as the "Merchant of Death." It was even the title used when a local newspaper mistakenly printed his obituary "“ "Merchant of Death Dies." Upset by this moniker, Nobel used his vast fortune to found the Nobel Prize and distract people from the bad things that had happened because of his invention. It worked "“ to this day we associate the award with the most brilliant people in their fields.

6. In 1955, Time magazine reported that Vladimir Demikhov had successfully grafted the head of one dog onto another dog. Here's the original, rather disturbing story or you can skip that and read a few choice quotes here:

Dr. Demikhov started in a small way by replacing the hearts of dogs with artificial blood pumps. Next, he planted a second heart in a dog's chest, removing part of a lung to make room for it. The extra heart continued its own rhythm, beating independently of the original heart. Sometimes the original heart stopped beating first. Then the second heart carried the burden until it failed too. Encouraged by his successes, Dr. Demikhov tried the reverse operation. He removed most of the body of a small puppy and grafted the head and forelegs to the neck of an adult dog. The big dog's heart pumped blood enough for both heads. When the multiple dog regained consciousness after the operation, the puppy's head woke up and yawned. The big head gave it a puzzled look and tried at first to shake it off. The puppy's head kept its own personality. Though handicapped by having almost no body of its own, it was as playful as any other puppy. he host-dog was bored by all this, but soon became reconciled to the unaccountable puppy that had sprouted out of its neck. When it got thirsty, the puppy got thirsty and lapped milk eagerly. When the laboratory grew hot, both host-dog and puppy put out their tongues and panted to cool off. After six days of life together, both heads and the common body died.

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But he did do plenty of stange things in his personal life that would classify him as a little bit odd. He probably had OCD "“ he did everything in threes or in numbers divisible by three. He was actually physically disgusted by jewelry, especially pearls. He was definitely a germophobe, although he was strangely obsessed with pigeons. He ordered special feed for pigeons he fed in Central Park and sometimes would bring a lucky few birds back to his hotel room to keep him company. He even claimed that one all-white pigeon visited him every day. He said,"Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me."
According to Tesla, she flew in through his window one night and told him she was dying. He said,

"And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her eyes - powerful beams of light". "...Yes," " was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory."

As you can see, the title "Mad Scientist" definitely fits the bill.

8. Giovanni Aldini liked to conduct electricity through corpses to see what they could do. After a murderer was hanged in London in 1803, Aldini put conducting rods connected to a battery on the corpse's face, which made the deceased's muscles contort and more. Apparently his left eye actually opened. Then he stuck a rod up the dead dude's rectum, which made his back arch, his legs kick and one of his fists punch. There's a more detailed account here, including one of his colleague's experiments with "zombie kittens".

9. Josef Mengele. A truly despicable human being, to be sure. He was an SS physician who conducted all kinds of terrible experiments on prisoners, completely unconcerned for their suffering or dignity. He was especially fascinated with twins "“ it's documented that he once sewed two Gypsy children together in an attempt to create Siamese twins. His other tests including injecting chemicals into the eyes of children to see if it would change their eye color, sex change operations and lethal drug injections. Much of this was done without anesthesia.

10. Shirō Ishii was a microbiologist who served in the Imperial Japanese Army suring the Second Sino-Japanese war. Like Mengele, he conducted horrifying experiments on captives, such as amputating limbs only to reattach them elsewhere on the body, freezing body parts and then thawing them out to study gangrene (while they body parts were still attached to the person), and impregnating women via rape and then removing the fetus to study it. And this is only the beginning of it "“ if you want to know more, Google "Unit 731" to read about all of their experiments "“ but don't say I didn't warn you. Ishii never served any time for his crimes against humanity. He was arrested by American occupation authorities when WWII was over, but he was set free in exchange for some of the germ warfare data he had learned conducting experiments. At least one source says he moved to Maryland and continued researching bio-weapons, but his daughter says he stayed in Japan.