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May 9, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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Real Life Mad Scientists

Too often do we think that the mad scientist lives only in the realm of fiction. Salient co-editor Uther Dean looks at the real-life science crazies.

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) invented a bunch of interesting and useful stuff (and was good friends with Mark Twain). Most notably he played a large part in the development of the alternating current system of delivering electricity, which thrust him into a war with Thomas Edison, inventor of the competing direct current. This war ended with the murder of an elephant, which was how scientists settled disagreements back in the 1880s. Tesla invented the Tesla coil, which basically boils down to being a sphere that generates large terrifying arcs of electricity. He carefully measured the size and weight of every meal he consumed, even fastidiously counting how many times he chewed each mouthful. He had an incredibly addictive or completest personality: he avoided reading books for pleasure because he would then have to read every other book by that author immediately. He avoided the company of women, fearing he would become addicted to one, which would detract from his science. He also tried to make a death ray and has been played by David Bowie in a film.

Harry Harlow (1905-1981) was an American psychologist who spent a lot of his career researching ideas of love, intimacy and familial connection. Which seems all well and good until you discover that almost all of his experiments seemed to revolve around torturing rhesus monkeys until they had total mental collapses. It started with his experiments in maternal care. He removed baby monkeys from their mothers and had them choose between a mother surrogate made of wire and one made of fabric. Then he’d frighten them, abandon them, or take them to unknown places. When they had their cloth mothers with them, they would cling to them. When they didn’t, they would run “from object to object, apparently searching for the cloth mother, as they cried and screamed”. Which sounds pretty harrowing, but not nearly as bad as what Harlow called his ‘Pit of Despair,’ a total isolation chamber allowing them to be fed without any contact with other living beings or natural light. There, he’d place baby monkeys for up to two years to enable him to study the effects of isolation on people. That it drove them totally insane goes without saying; Harlow came to the conclusion that, paraphrased, worked out to “Well, maybs people need to be touched by other things to not totally lose their shit”. Other devices used by Harlow included the ‘Rape Rack’ and Iron Maidens.

José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado (1915)
, a professor of physiology at Yale University, has been experimenting for years with something that can only be described as Remote Control Mind Control. A lot of his work focused on his ‘stimoceiver’, a radio device that can, due to implanted electrodes in the subject’s heads, control their emotions and behavior. He has stopped bulls mid-charge with this as well as training a chimpanzee to associate pain with cognitive thought and, thusly, think as little as possible. And, yes, he has been experimenting on humans too. He has made people experience “pleasant sensations, elation, deep, thoughtful concentration, odd feelings, super relaxation, colored visions, and other responses”, which makes it seem rather pleasant. But, actually, all those emotions are coming from fucking electrodes in your fucking skull. He has been quoted as saying that “brain transmitters can remain in a person’s head for life”. So, uh, how do we know they’re not in there now? A conspiracy theory based on Delgado’s research must surely be forthcoming.

Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834) was a professor of physics, but physics was not his true love. His real passion was for electrocuting dead things. He travelled Europe with what amounted to a freak show, ostensibly in the name of science. For the public’s edification, he would hang up human and animal corpses and galvanise them—that is to say, he ran shitloads of electricity through them, making them twitch, distort, and smoke. In 1803, he made a presentation to the Royal College of Surgeons in London where he puppeteered the corpse of a recently hanged criminal with two massive conducting rods.

Vladimir Demikhov (1916-1998)
. Basically, anything that needs to be said about this man’s work is expressed in the following excerpt from The Daily Mail, a reporter from which attended a presentation by Demikov: “Blinking unhappily in the daylight as Demikhov paraded it on its lead, this unfortunate beast had been created by grafting the head and upper body of a small puppy on the head and body of a fully-grown mastiff, to form one grotesque creature with two heads. The visitors watched in horror and fascination as both of the beast’s mouths lapped greedily at a bowl of milk proffered by Demikhov’s assistants.”

Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov (1870-1932) was a Soviet biologist and really, really wanted to make a human-ape hybrid super soldier. He first floated the idea in 1910 but only found support to actually explore the idea in 1924. He started by artificially inseminating female chimpanzees with human sperm—which every source on these experiments emphatically states was neither his nor his son’s. The female chimps, however, did not become pregnant. He then moved on to attempting his hybridisation the other way round with ape sperm being placed in human females. Only a lack of post-pubescent male apes stopped this becoming a reality before a general political shakeup in 1930 put an end to his disturbing madness. He was arrested soon after.

Joe Davis (1953) is a research affiliate at MIT in biology. If ever there was a man who could have the title ‘Mad Art Science Bastard’ applied to him, it’s this guy. He has invented the Audio Microscope, which allows you to hear livings cells. He has tested to see how E. Coli responds to Jazz. He has put a map of the Milky Way into the ear of a mouse. He recorded the vaginal contractions of ballet dancers and transmitted them into space. But, best of all, he uses his homemade steel peg leg to open bottles of beer.

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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  1. Kayleigh says:

    That’s way the bestest anwser so far!

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