Stupidly Dangerous Things Mad Scientists Did To Themselves

There are lots of real-life mad scientists in the world. Let's find out about some dangerous scientific experiments scientists performed on themselves.

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Have you ever been so sure you’re right that you were willing to bet your life on it? The world of science occasionally attracts people ready to take that test, walking the line between braveness and serious stupidity. Forget all about safety regulations, because when no one else was willing, these mad scientists used themselves as guinea pigs!

Haldane's Decompression Experiments

When it comes to self-experimentation, few scientists are as prolific as JBS Haldane. This British physician of the early 20th century conducted many experiments spanning a variety of fields, but he was particularly interested in the effects of deep-sea diving on sailors.

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He would often place himself in a decompression chamber to simulate the effects and record the results he experienced firsthand. On one occasion, the effects of rapid decompression gave him an oxygen-induced seizure, leading him to crush several vertebrae in the process.

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Undeterred, he returned to the chamber and continued his experiments, in one case rupturing his eardrum when he accelerated the decompression process too fast. In later life, he was quoted saying ‘If a hole remains in the ear drum, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment’. Sounds like he’s tried that before, and what a worthwhile accomplishment!

AVE Mizar aka The Flying Pinto Car

Henry Smolinski was fed up with his engineering job and quit to pursue his one true dream: manufacturing the world’s first commercially-viable flying car. His plan consisted of pimping out a Ford Pinto with the wings and tail of a Cessna Skymaster.

Despite there being some concerns surrounding the considerable weight of the car in relation to its new wings, the business looked set to take off. After a number of successful test flights, the launch of commercial production was mere months away.

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But while Smolisnki (alongside his company’s co-founder) was taking the AVE Mizar out for a further test flight, their dream came crashing down to earth. Due to a combination of poor welding and faulty locking mechanisms, the wing support failed, and the car plummeted to the ground. Sadly, both passenger and pilot died with your chances of owning a flying car!

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Regine Gries, The Bed Bug Bait

Anyone who’s experienced bed bugs will tell you they’d do anything to get rid of the critters. Bizarrely, that’s not the case at all for Regine Gries. She and her husband are both biologists working to synthesize a pheromone that would lure the pests away from our furniture.

However, the research process for the product isn’t for the squeamish. Since 2006, Gries has subjected herself to 200,000 bed bug bites! She fills five jars at a time, with 200 of the insects in each. She then lays them against the length of her forearm and allows them to feast.

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She’d previously tried to keep the bugs fed on chicken and guinea pig blood, but the feeding processes had been fraught with complications and issues. So, to simplify things, she decided to offer up their own blood for dinner

Bed bugs occasionally carry parasitic diseases like Chagas disease, which can cause heart failure; so the experiment isn’t just gross, it’s dangerous too! But if it’ll mean never having to worry about bedbugs again, I’m all for it.

Marie And Pierre Curie, A Radioactive Couple

The work of Pierre and Marie Curie was absolutely instrumental to our understanding of radioactive materials. But unfortunately for them, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the scientific community knew very little about how dangerous these elements really were.

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Thanks to this lack of understanding, the amount of time the married couple spent surrounded by high levels of radioactivity was staggering. To put it in perspective, modern-day researchers can only handle the Curies’ scientific papers while wearing protective clothing, and they are kept stored in lead-lined boxes the rest of the time.

Pierre was particularly reckless when it came to irradiating himself. In 1903, he was preparing a presentation for the British Royal Institution. He wanted to display the effect that Radium had on the human body for possible use in cancer treatment. So, in preparation, he taped a sample of radium against his arm for 10 hours, causing bad radiation burns on his skin.

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He presented his fresh-looking injury to the amazed scientists only to reveal that he had performed the experiment over a month earlier! These types of experiments, the severity of which was not apparent at the time, were commonplace for the married couple and led to various health issues.

Marie even kept a sample of radium in her desk, as she enjoyed the way it glowed. While Marie would later suffer and die from radiation-related illnesses, Pierre died when he was run over by a horse and cart. Neither of them ever publicly acknowledged (or, perhaps, realized) the risks of radiation exposure; they only saw its potential in treating cancer.

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John Stapp’s Rocket Sled

The motto of the US Air Force advocates ‘Service before Self’, and Colonel John Stapp certainly lived by those words. Stapp made his name studying the effects of deceleration on his body. In 1945, little was known about what damage is done to the body in the event of an abrupt stop. This was something the military was very keen to understand, to help its pilots.

So, with the funding of the Wright Air Development Centre, Stapp went about building a rocket sled nicknamed the ‘Gee Whiz’. Fully aware that he could seriously harm or even kill himself, Stapp strapped himself in and went to work.

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Over the next 10 years, he submitted himself to dangerous levels of G-force, and speeds of up to 632mph, earning the title of ‘fastest man on earth’. These wild speeds were reached in as little as 5 seconds and the sled would often decelerate to a stop in 1 second.

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Naturally, forces as high as 46.2G didn’t come without cost. Fractured wrists, broken ribs, and even lost fillings were all in a day’s work. And in 1954, Stapp even detached his retina, saying it felt ‘somewhat like the extraction of a molar without anesthetic’. Despite this, there was nothing stopping Stapp, and he would carry out 29 crazy rides of this kind.

Barry Marshall’s Bad Breath

After years of research, in 1984, microbiologist Barry Marshall was convinced he’d figured out what caused certain types of stomach ulcers. But he needed to prove it. The quickest way to do so was by infecting someone with a nasty strain of the bacteria he thought was responsible, called ‘Helicobacter Pylori’.

But the hospital ethics committee refused to give him permission to test his hypothesis on anyone, so he ingested a broth containing the bacteria himself. He contracted gastritis within days, much sooner than he’d expected.

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Despite the vomiting, ulcers, and, in his wife’s words, ‘putrid breath’, Marshall was overjoyed. After publishing his findings involving a cure with antibiotics, he was awarded with the Nobel Prize for his selfless disregard for his health and marriage. Hopefully, his next work will be devising the perfect breath mint.

Robert Lopez: Mites In His Ear

Sometimes scientists do things that just leave us scratching our heads, and that, sometimes, leave them scratching their own. In 1993, New York-based veterinarian, Robert Lopez, was posed a question by one of his clients: Can humans catch ear mites from their pets?

After a brief period of researching the phenomena, he found that, unsurprisingly, a practical study had yet to be carried out. Lopez decided to step up to the plate, transferring some of the mites from a cat’s ear into his own. He said he could immediately hear scratching as the tiny parasites headed down his ear canal.

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Soon, he was struck by an intense itching sensation that didn’t stop for weeks. It took over a month for Lopez to rid himself of the critters, only for him to repeat the experiment two more times! He thoroughly answered that client’s question and proved that, when a scientist is curious, sometimes they just have to scratch that itch!

Werner Forssmann's Self-Experiment Of Catheterization

Heart catheterization, a process where a tube is threaded through a large blood vessel all the way to the heart, is one of the most intricate procedures in all of medicine. For many years, doctors believed it would kill a patient if performed.

Enter 24-year-old Werner Forssmann, fresh out of Berlin medical school and full of confidence. The young surgeon was so sure that the procedure could be done that, in 1929, he hatched a plan. He took a urinary catheter and stuck it in his arm.

He then fed the needle 25 inches through a vein, eventually reaching his heart. Forssman then rushed over to the radiology department to take an X-ray of this never-before-seen procedure. The X-Ray technician was, understandably, horrified.

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It took 26 years before the scientific community recognized Forssmann’s brave efforts, and he was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize. Hopefully, they also awarded that X-Ray technician a nice glass of water and a blanket after that traumatic experience.

Allan Blair VS Black Widow

The black widow spider is feared for a reason. But it wasn’t until 1933 that scientists fully understood quite how dangerous they really are. A professor named Allan Blair was studying the toxicology of the female Black Widow at Alabama University.

He was particularly interested in the effect of their bite on humans. So, throwing caution to the wind, he placed the spider on the end of his finger, and let it bite him for 10 seconds.

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Over the next 24 hours, Blair was subjected to an intensely painful experience. He was taken to the hospital, where he suffered tremors, vomiting, and a stiff board-like abdomen and limbs. If you’ve ever had a cramp, just imagine that applied to your entire torso. He was finally discharged a full day later.

The original intention of the experiment was to test whether repeated exposure to the toxins would build up immunity to the bite. But Blair said he, understandably, ‘lacked the courage’ when faced with the prospect of going through the experience again.

The Needle In Newton’s Eye

Isaac Newton once said ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ But after this next experiment, you’ll wonder how he could see at all! The great 17th-century scientist may be most famous for his discovery of gravity, but he was also fascinated by the study of Optics.

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His work with glass prisms revealed that color was a property of light and could be manipulated through refraction. But Newton wasn’t content with merely understanding the properties of light. He wanted to know how humans perceive it in the first place, and how physically altering the eye could change this perception.

So, Newton took a large sewing needle, known as a bodkin, and inserted it (in his words) ‘betwixt eye and bone as near to the backside of the eye’ as possible. In case you didn’t catch that, he stuck a needle into the gap between his eyeball and skull and wiggled it around to see what happened.

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As he manipulated the back of his eyeball, he noted down the colors and shapes the compressions caused him to see. These distortions were caused by compressing certain color receptors in the eye, but this wouldn’t be discovered for many years.

The father of modern science was clearly not squeamish, as he went on to repeat the experiment a number of times, to test the differences in light and dark surroundings. He claimed it was just science, but I suspect he was just seeking some visual entertainment in an age before TV.

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Leonid Rogosov, The Man Who Cut Out His Own Appendix

In 1961, Leonid Rogosov was the only doctor stationed at the Soviet-Russian Novolazarevskaya base in Antarctica. Weather conditions were particularly bad, and when a blizzard moved in over the area, nobody could get in or out of the building.

When Rogosov began to experience severe pain in his lower abdomen, he soon identified his issue as appendicitis. But trapped inside, with the nearest Soviet base 1,000 miles away, getting another doctor to treat him was out of the question.

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Rogosov initially tried administering non-invasive measures, but when they didn’t work, he had to resort to the only option. With two colleagues holding mirrors up so he could see what he was doing, the doctor began his self-appendectomy.

Between the hours of 2 am and 4 am, he performed surgery on his own torso, successfully removing the inflamed organ. After two weeks in bed, he returned back to his duties. Leonid Rogosov undoubtedly falls on the brave side of the ‘mad scientist’ label.

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I hope you were amazed at these dangerous self-experimentations of real-life mad scientists! At least they did it for science. Thanks for reading!

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