Real Life Mad Scientists

There are people in history who go a little overboard for the love of science. These men go beyond normal processes and methods to test and prove their theories right. Well in fact, most of the inventions exist today because of the crazy ideas of these scientists.

1. Werner Frossman – He put a catheter into his heart

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During the year 1929, Heart surgery was still in its early stages and physicians were struggling to treat cardiac patients. It is the time when Frossmann had this idea that if he snaked a hollow tube through a patient’s vein, he would reach the heart. This idea faced disapproval from his colleagues at Eberswalde, Germany, claiming it would be fatal.  Determined to prove his point Werner Forssmann shoved a catheter into his heart.

One of the nurses agreed to help Frossmann only if he did the surgery on her instead of himself.  He agreed to this and anesthetized the nurse. Then, he cut his own arm, blindly guided the catheter into his heart and triumphantly (and still breathing), hobbled to the X-Ray lab to show his colleagues his handiwork.

Frossmann received a Nobel Prize in Medicine years later after he made a promise to never operate on himself or knock out a nurse again.

2. Barry Marshall – To prove that he would get an ulcer, he drank bacteria

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Back then, everyone believed that bacteria had no chance surviving in the stomach. Barry Marshal, an Australian doctor, knowing that ulcers were caused by bacteria had watched his patients recover fully after antibiotic therapy but when he tried to make his findings public, the medical fraternity rejected it.

To prove his point, Barry Marshal decided to drink some bacteria. Few days after symptoms of gastroenteritis began to show. He biopsied his stomach and isolated the bacteria which he later got rid of using antibiotics.

He won the Noble Prize in Physiology.

3. Thor Heyerdahl – You could call him, the Norwegian Indiana Jones.

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Thor Heyerdahl was an adventurer that studied geography, botany and biology. To prove his archaeological theories he goes to wild expeditions. He once sailed using a homemade reed raft across the Pacific Ocean.

Heyerdahl had an idea that tiny reed boats were used by ancient people to sail the high seas to trade. He assembled a team in 1947 and they created a bare-bones boat using bent reed. For the next 101 days, they voyaged 4300 miles across the Pacific Ocean to prove they could.

In 2011, Heyerdahl’s hypothesis was further reinforced by genetic evidence. However some mainstream anthropologists maintain that the sea stunt didn’t prove a thing.

4. Tycho Brahe – Lost his nose in a duel over mathematics

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Tycho Brahe  was an irascible and eccentric astronomer who owned a pet moose and midget jesters. He loved arguing! Especially, about math. In 1956, He got into a heated debate over a mathematical formula over a dinner party. One of his guests made a mistake of disagreeing with him and an outraged Brahe challenged him into a rapier duel. And that’s how he lost the bridge of his nose, Brahe might be gifted with mathematical knowledge but he was a poor swordsman. He didn’t stop there though and continued to exploit widgets.

He was also a famous astronomer who explored the cosmos, but he did all this while wearing a prosthetic nose that was made of precious metals.

5. Stubbins Ffirth – To show malaria is not contagious, he rubbed vomit into his eyes

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In 1793, there was an epidemic of yellow fever. A medical student named Subbins Ffirth wanted to prove that malaria wasn’t contagious. He smeared vomit that was infected onto his open wounds and rubbed it into his eyes. It didn’t affect him. He went on and sampled blood and urine from these same patients but he didn’t get the disease.

We all know that Malaria is quite a contagious disease but why didn’t Ffirth get it? Critics suspect that the vomit he used was from patients who are in their late-stage of malaria who were no longer contagious. Others think that he didn’t inject the infected blood into his bloodstream directly. He got lucky, if rubbing vomit into one’s eyes can be considered that.

6. Sir Henry Head – He surgically removed his nerves so as to study pain.

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Sir Henry, a British Neurologist, had a difficulty understanding how pain worked. He interview nerve damage patients about what they felt exactly, and failed to get exclusive description from them so he decided to try it out himself.

He ordered one of his surgeon friends to surgically remove a portion of his radical nerve. When his motor functions were severed, he conducted strange experiments on himself and recorded his pain in detail. He later received a knighthood and various Nobel Prize nominations. And above that, he got peace of mind; “I shall know a great deal about pain by the time this is over.”

7. George Stratton – To prove that the brain adapts, he wore inverted lenses to his face for over a week.

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The American psychologist, George Stratton studied sensory perception during the 1890s. He was certain that the brain would correct imbalance and turn everything right side up.

To prove his theory, He started living in an upside-down world and by the fourth day, was sick and disoriented. His vision however remained inverted. By day five, the images started turning right-side up and by day eight navigation of the upside-down world became easy to him. When he finally removed the glasses, the right-side up spun around him, and he couldn’t tell right from left till his brain adjusted. He therefore concluded that the mind can adjust senses to meet environmental pressures. The upside-down world is therefore not so confusing.

8. Elsie Widdowson – Developed the minimum wartime diet by starving herself

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Wartime rations were few and sometimes civilians were left hungry and worried about malnutrition during World War II. Elsie Widdowson, Dietician and chemist, exert efforts to find solution to this by trying to figure out minimum dietary needs required for one to survive. When she couldn’t get a solution to her problem, she stopped eating.

She subjected herself to various starvation diets and survived on only meager portions of cabbage, bread, and potatoes for a few months. To prove that this minimum rations would sustain different lifestyles, she climbed mountains and hiked trails daily. Her records of overall health throughout the regiment were eventually used as Britain’s wartime diet.

9. August Bier – Beat up his assistant to test anesthesia

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Surgery requires anesthesia. German physician, August Bier decided to develop an aesthetic technique that was better in 1898. His theory was that he could numb his patients without having to put them to sleep by injecting cocaine into the space that’s around the spinal cord. To make sure that it was a working theory, he decided to try the spinal anesthesia on himself.

Liquid cocaine was injected into his spine by an assistant but the assistant fumbled on the procedure and Bier stepped in. He numbed the leg of his assistant and continued to beat him up so as to see if he could feel pain. He burned him with cigars and used iron hammers to the shins.

By the end of the experiment, (of course) he lost an assistant but gained recognition worldwide as the slightly sadistic father of anesthesia.

10. Kevin Warwick – Turned himself into a cyborg prototype

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Kevin Warwick, British scientist and cybernetics professor, likes robots so much. He felt like robotic research was failing and decided to become the first cyborg in the world.

His first experiments were not at all ambitious. He got an RFID chip implanted onto his arm in 1998. The chip turned on lights, interfaced with computers, and helped open electric doors. By 2002 however, he went full robot. He used electronics, surgery and his fearlessness to test whether his nervous system would integrate with a neural interface. He even went ahead and tried to relay his emotions electronically to another cyborg recruit who was his wife.

The whole experiment does look like a disaster waiting to happen but Warwick reminds us that though research is risky, unsetting and transgressive, there are scientists out there who would do anything to prove their theories right.


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