Mad Science HOF – WIF Hall of Fame

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Mad Scientists Who

Went Too Far

A staple trope of popular culture, the mad scientist is epitomized by a white robe wearing, frazzle haired harbinger of technology misused and calculations gone awry. But the reality is all too true, and scientists mad or otherwise ill-informed or ill-intentioned have certainly caused chaos in the annals of research. In this account, we look at 10 must-know mad scientists who took their research a little too far, including the Russian serial dog head transplanter, a Spanish researcher who remote controlled a live bull, and the German doctor who probed his own heart.

10. Trofim Lysenko

We may all know about the so-called “Mad Monk of Russia” Rasputin and his exploits, but a mad scientist who touted bizarre theories of agro-science and applied botany led to strange experiments and research implementations on the nation’s food supply. Born in Ukraine in and educated at the Kiev Agricultural Institute, Soviet agricultural pseudo-scientist Trofim Lysenko held a strong position as a trusted agricultural adviser to the brutal dictator Joseph Stalin despite the outrageously unscientific founding principles of his work. Pioneering a technique he called “jarovization,” subsequently renamed as “vernalization,” Lysenko declared that exposing plants to harsh conditions could not only “train” them to withstand a Russian winter and that the adaptations would be passed on to the next generation.

Expert analysts later described such claims as the botanical equivalent to docking the tail of a dog and expecting tailless puppies to be born. While individual plants could become hardier through acclimatization, the claims that crops would inherit the traits and curb famine of course never came to fruition. Lysenko’s beliefs that such traits could be inherited flew in the face of everything scientific and were sharply countered by scientific reality when crops failed to respond. In the ill-founded mix of science and politics, Lysenko was the darling of Joseph Stalin for his pursuit of “socialist genetics” and crusade against believe in Mendelian genetics, a movement which was termed “Lysenkoism.” Even worse, biologists who supported traditional biological truth were censored, suppressed and in numerous cases executed under the Stalin regime in what amount to a brutal pogrom against legitimate biologists at the hands of lethally enforced pseudoscience.

9. William Buckland

The ultimate eccentric, William Buckland presents a textbook case of the mad scientist. Born in Devonshire, England in 1784, Buckland became the inaugural student of geology at Oxford in 1801 following his receipt of a scholarship. But it was in the world of biology that his greatest and most bizarre ambition resided. This British scientist had a very unusual and obsessive way of expressing his dedication to life sciences: his plan was to attempt to sample (by eating) every type of animal on Earth.

The mad scientist held a passion for learning and teaching in odd ways, becoming a most non-sequitur lecturer who yelled while brandishing a hyena skull in close proximity to students’ faces. As a member of the dubious Society for the Acclimatization of Animals, which sought to promote colonial efforts to populate Britain with beasts and birds from distant lands, Buckland did what might be normal for a member of such a society in bringing a laundry list of alien biodiversity to British shores and keeping reptiles, birds of prey, primates, and a hyena under his personal care. Curious, unafraid, and with bizarre taste, Buckland tasted as many animals as he could in his lifetime,ranging from the disgusting and potentially pathogen riddled, such as a bluebottle fly, to the bizarre, including moles and sea slugs, and the downright cruel, reportedly eating puppy flesh.

He became fond of mouse flesh on toast, trying it on repeated occasions. While focusing on tasting animals, it is rumored that Buckland got hold of the 140-year-old preserved heart of King Louis XIV of France and tasted the walls of an Italian cathedral before stating that the so-called blood of martyrs onsite was actually bat urine. Even worse, Buckland taught his son the “joys” of zoological sampling, and Buckland junior indeed went on to follow in his father’s footsteps… or, shall we say, bite marks.

8. Werner Theodor Otto Forssmann

An insanely bold medical scientist from Germany, Berlin-born Werner Forssmann(August 29, 1904-June 1, 1979) is probably the only person who can truly be said to have put their whole heart into their work… literally. Or rather, he put his work into his heart when he pioneered heart catheterization, placing a catheter that extended just over 25 inches through his antecubital vein. Being smooth and slender, the device was able to be pushed along the inside of the vein once the initial incision had been made. Performing such a pioneering procedure on his own body was clearly a high risk choice given the awkwardness of self-operation and chance of suffering a medical emergency in the process, and being unable to get help.

Nonetheless, Forssmann proceeded and then went to the X-ray department, where he obtained a picture of the catheter in his own heart, located within the right auricle. While dangerous, the result of his work was effective and led to great recognition. His efforts were interrupted by World War II when he became a prisoner of war while serving as a Surgeon-Major, held in captivity until 1945. Having survived both his extreme self-experiment and WWII, Dr. Forssmann obtained the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1956. He was previously awarded the Leibniz Medal of the German Academy of Sciences in 1954 and received honorary Professorship at the National University of Cordoba, Argentina in 1961.

7. Vladimir Demikhov

It might seem that there is a correlation between madness on the part of scientists and unfettered accomplishments in certain areas. A researcher of dubious ethics and bizarre intent, Vladimir Demikhov was born in 1916 in Russia, nevertheless becoming known as a paradigm-changing heart transplant pioneer as well as a truly obsessive “mad” scientist who made short-lived two-headed dogs. Demikhov invented the first cardiac assist device at age 21 in the year 1937, going on to complete the first coronary bypass, auxiliary heart transplant and heart and lung transplant. Yet, his reputation for live-saving innovation in medicine was sullied by bizarre experiments centering on transplanting dog’s heads onto other dogs, creating two headed dogs.

Obsessive about this specific experiment, Demikhov did this procedure a shocking 20 times. While his work was deemed unethical by a Soviet Ministry of Health review committee, who ordered him to cease the head transplants, he continued on with his brutal experiments. Miraculously and grotesquely, the doubled-headed canines lived for some time, but all died within less than one month following the transplants. While some people are known for being cruel to humans but kind to animals, the reverse is true in the case of Demikhov, who not only contributed to innovation that would save human lives through great innovation, but protected those who would otherwise be condemned to execution at great personal risk. In the course of WWII, he told superiors that self-inflicted wounds were legitimate battle injuries, sparing Soviet soldiers the death penaltyfor desertion.

6. Jose Delgado

Possibly the most Spanish way to become known as a mad scientist would be to conduct mind control experiments on a fighting bull. Spanish “mad scientist” Jose Delgado (August 8, 1915-September 15, 2011) did exactly that in 1963 when he carried out bizarre experiments including one involving the animal central in the controversial tradition of Spanish bullfighting. A graduate of the University of Madrid, Delgado worked at Yale University with electrode implants that were intended to modify animal behavior through radio frequencies. Implanting the device in a bull, he was able to halt a charge by the angry beast with his device. Not limited to experiments with primates and the“remote controlled bull,” Delgado sought to develop mind control methods that would work on human subjects.

Being less limited by ethical restrictions in Spain compared to the United States, Delgado’s work progressed to include a broad range of experiments, ranging from electrical implants and stimulation to outright mind control. By implanting “brain chips”Delgado was able to trigger, manipulate, direct, and stop a variety of human and animal behaviors. Delgado pursued work on mind control methods as a way to reduce aggression and saw ways to fight tyranny through limitation of conflict. In one case, a female monkey in a compound of his research subjects learned to press a lever, delivering aggression-supressing shocks to a monkey known as a bully. While much of Delgado’s work matches or surpasses modern work, the degree to which much of it was published only in Spanish has limited the use and understanding of his work in the scientific community.

5. Stubbins Ffirth

While a mad scientist who attempts to test and prove the efficacy of cures on themselves is understandable, one researcher took being a guinea pig to a whole new level of crazy. Stubbins Ffirth (1784-1820) was an American doctor in training at the University of Pennsylvania with a dedication to investigating Yellow Fever, which had killed around 10 percent of Philadelphia’s population. Observing a wintertime reduction in Yellow Fever deaths, Ffirth developed a theory that Yellow Fever was not a disease which could be caught through infection, but was an affliction stemming from heat and stress.

Not content with uncertainty and unwilling to wait, he decided to test his beloved hypothesis that Yellow Fever could not be caught by infection. And to do so, he went to shockingly extreme lengths to show that he could not be infected by exposure to Yellow Fever, firmly establishing his work as mad and himself as a crazy scientist. After a series of animal experiments, it was time to expose himself to Yellow Fever. Firstly, he cut himself on the arms and dribbled contaminated vomit from Yellow Fever patients onto the wounds. He placed vomit in his eyes, cooked the vomit and ate it as a pill. After failing to get sick, Ffirth tried other contaminated bodily byproducts and still did not fall ill. Eventually, further research showed that Yellow Fever is contagious; it just requires direct blood transmission through a mosquito bite to be passed on. With that fact being true, Ffirth did not die of Yellow Fever despite the rigors of his research.

4. Robert G. Heath

Pleasure and pain may be closely related, and the desire to measure both factors in human experience has led to some disturbing and bizarre experiments in this tempting area of investigation for the mad scientist. American psychiatrist Robert G. Heath was a blatantly unethical “mad scientist” who engaged in experiments that controlled peoples’ experience of pleasure and pain through receptor stimulation by electrode. His qualifications were impressive, having degrees in psychology and neurology and being the founder of the Tulane University department of psychiatry and neurology at New Orleans.

Seeking to study mental function, Dr. Heath implanted electrodes into subjects’ brains, sometimes leaving them in for months at a time. His most disturbing and ill-founded human experiments included giving a woman a 30-minute orgasm through electrical stimulation and attempting in 1970 to change the orientation of a gay man who had been arrested for marijuana possession through exposure to a female prostitute. In this especially notorious work that undoubtedly contributed to his being seen as a “Strangelovian” person, Dr. Heath combined pleasure center-triggering through electrode implants with arranged sexual activity with a “lady of the evening” who was hired for the experiment and paid $50 for her part in the “research.” Given the nature of his activities and receipt of US government funding, Dr. Heath has been suspected of having been involved in the illegal CIA MK-ULTRA research program on mind control.

3. Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov

We all know the tired movie cliché of the ape-man, but one out-on-a-limb researcher from the Soviet Union was willing to go to great lengths to try and make the concept a reality. Soviet mad scientist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was a fan of conservation, captive breeding, and zoology, pursuing a wide range of activities relating to biological diversity investigation. He was also an unethical and highly determined researcher who held the express goal of crossing a human being with a Chimpanzee. Unbounded by ethical considerations, Ivanov was originally willing to try to inseminate an unknowing human female with Chimpanzee sperm.

However, Ivanov realized that he would need consenting volunteers. He sought government backing for work to create the hybrid. Once he actually got to work on trying to make the hybrid, Ivanov began by first trying to inseminate female chimpanzees with human sperm in the hopes of getting them pregnant with the hybrid baby. When these attempts did not pan out, he then attempted to organize experiments to do the reverse, impregnating human women with Chimpanzee semen. However, before he could arrange participants and plan the project, the obsessed researcher was arrested and exiled to what has now become Kazakhstan. Apart from Ivanov’s ill-fated and unethical human hybridization efforts, he succeeded in creating other animal hybrids. These inter-special creations included a horse-zebra cross, mixed species rodent offspring, and a bison-cow cross.

2. Harry Harlow

Skirting the ethical bounds of science in a bid to advance research is something that a researcher might do secretively. But one mad scientist who ruined the lives of many monkeys through questionable and cruel research was oddly cold and unabashed in his description of his work. American psychologist Harry Harlow was known for bizarre experiments on monkeys that combined less than scientific research questions with brutal and ethically fraught methods of investigation. A researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harlow placed juvenile monkeys in isolation chambers for 1-to-2 years at a time away from their mothers. Harlow compared the psychology and behavior of those raised with a real mother with those having only a cloth doll.

Widely criticized for his brutal experiments, he was also criticized for the theoretical basis of his work in seeking to study the importance of “love” in primate development due to the unscientific nature of the term “love.” Bold in his cruel terminology, his way of talking had a sadistic ring to it. After all, he was known to openly refer to his device for artificial primate insemination as a “rape rack” and the isolation chamber in which baby monkeys were placed as the “Pit of Despair,” terms which did not seem to bother him. Not surprisingly, Harlow’s work caused significant psychological and physical distress,leading monkeys to engage in self-mutilating behaviors even after removal from the “pit.”

1. Giovanni Aldini

Many Italian superstitions involve fears of the dead coming back to Earth and have led to the creation of elaborate rituals to prevent such occurrences. And those intent on preventing the return of the dead or otherwise un-dead would not have been too happy to meet a man who appeared to do just that, albeit by “scientific” means. Italian mad scientist Giovanni Aldini was a notorious yet officially awarded and decorated Bologna-born physicist known for his bizarre and gruesome electrical experiments on corpses. Working not only with dead animals but human remains in ghastly tests with an electrical probe, Aldini “activated” corpses and caused them to appear to return to life, being animated in different parts depending on where shocks were applied.

The experiments where he electrified human bodies were often carried out in public view, being something of a showman. Among his exploits were his public 1803 tests on the body of an Englishman, who had been executed on charges of murder, at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Although his work was gruesome, there were many serious efforts inherent in his work. He strongly believed in the benefits of electrical shock therapy, from which he reported many improvements in patient condition. He was made a Knight of the Iron Crown by the Austrian Emperor for his pioneering research efforts and achievements. In the modern era, the legacy from his efforts is represented by practices and achievements in the form of deep brain stimulation, used to address certain motor function and behavior-based disorders.


Mad Science HOF –

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Perpetual Motion – WIF Mad Science

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Fascinating Attempts at

Creating Perpetual Motion

While it may be impossible to build a perpetual motion machine, since the 1200s, inventors from many walks of life have tried to build them and these are 10 of the most interesting designs.

10. Boyle’s Self-Flowing Flask

One of the simplest ideas for a perpetual motion machine comes from the 17th century Irish chemist and physicist Robert Boyle. His design is simply to have a tank of water with a hose on the bottom that runs water from the tank directly back into the same tank. Of course, this system doesn’t work because gravity doesn’t work that way. For water to leave the tank, it needs to flow to a container that is lower than the original one. If you don’t believe us, you can test this with materials around your home or you can easily buy some at a dollar store.

But what if there was a chemical fluid that could be used that constantly reacted and pushed the liquid through the hose? For example, in the video above, the YouTuber tries beer (good choice!) and it at least pushes liquid through the hose. The problem is that the cycle would stop when the beer stops carbonating. However, again, finding a chemical that never stops reacting is just as impossible as creating any other type of perpetual motion machine.

9. Monopole Magnet

Magnets have two poles, north and south, and opposite poles pull magnets together while the same poles push them apart. But there are also hypothetical monopole magnet particles that would only have one pole. In 2014, researchers created synthetic monopole magnet particles, 85 years after they were first theorized. Despite them only recently being discovered, someYouTubers claim to have built or bought one, and there are some magnets that are claimed to be monopole on Alibaba. Of course, we have to say, buyer beware.

If we could construct monopole magnets, they could possibly lead to free energy. In the video for this entry, a man creates a supposed free energy machine using a few dollars’ worth of material from a hardware store and a monopole magnet he bought on eBay. He hammers two nails into a board, and cuts tiny slits in the nails to hold the wire that is formed into a ring. In between the two nails and under the ring, he places the magnet, which causes the coiled wire to spin, creating energy.

The biggest problem with this type of machine, besides the lack of scientific evidence that monopole magnets are real, is that there is too much friction on the materials so they would have to be replaced, meaning this would never be a true perpetual motion machine.

8. Rolling Ball Wheel

This attempt at a perpetual motion machine was designed by German mathematician, scientist, and physicist Jacob Leupold and the design was published in his Theatrum Machinarum Generale Vol. 1 in 1724. The machine uses an overbalancing wheel and rolling balls.

The idea is that the balls will always be rolling, which shifts the weight of the wheel, and gravity simply takes over. Sadly, while it may sound like this might work in theory, it doesn’t because it needs external help to keep moving.

7. Water Mill and Pump

It’s believed designs for the water mill and pump perpetual motion machine, and variations of it, have been around since the 1600s, and quite possibly earlier than that. The idea is that water falls from the top of the machine, which makes the water mill turn, and that ultimately powers the pump that brings the water back to the top, creating a cycle of energy.

The problem is that there is too much friction involved with the design and it actually doesn’t work outside of computer models. So, back the old drawing board, we suppose? Geez, you expect better out of your 17th century scientific theorists.

6. Paul Scheerbart’s Weight-Driven Cogwheel

German born Paul Scheerbart wasn’t a mathematician or an engineer like many of the other inventors on this list. Instead, he was a writer known for his work in the fantastic genre. Despite a lack of formal training, Scheerbart spent two and a half years trying to build a perpetual motion machine in the laundry room of his house. His machine – which looks strangely familiar – was finally revealed in 1910 in his book The Perpetual Motion Machine: The Story of an Invention.

The system uses one giant wheel and two sets of smaller rollers and a weight. The problem with his design, like many other perpetual motion machines, is that the main cogwheel needs external power to keep its momentum. That being said, it is still the best perpetual motion machine designed by a fiction writer.

5. Magnets and Gravity

A physical constant on Earth is gravity, which is bad news if you’re a terrible yet dedicated tightrope walker, but it is good news in terms of creating perpetual motion machines because it is a constant source of force. An attempt at a perpetual motion machine that utilizes that force is the perpetual wheel that was patented in 1823. It’s a fairly simple set up: a large wheel is turned by a small iron ball that is being pulled towards the magnet.

While the video above may look like this is feasible, the wheel does not actually spin like that without external help; also, after some time, magnets become demagnetized, meaning it is not an unlimited source of energy.

4. Force of Gravity Perpetual Motion Machine

This so-called perpetual motion machine uses two vertical rods. The rod at the center is straight, but the second one is tilted. Then there are three horizontal bars that run across the two vertical bars, connecting both vertical rods. Finally, there is a weight that is attached to the center rod. This means that the counter-clockwise torque and clockwise torque are equal, and since the torques are the same, the vertical rod pushes more on the bottom arm than it does on the top arm. Since the top and bottom rods are the same distance from the vertical axles, there is more torque pushing one way than the other, allowing the system to spin.

A writer at Wired analyzed this specific video and believes there are hidden motors in the machine. If there aren’t, then he believes the spin is caused by angular momentum and torque. That means it would spin for a while, but not perpetually.

3. Neodymium Magnets

The strongest batteries commercially available are neodymium magnets, which were developed by General Motors in 1982. This design takes advantage of these batteries and creates momentum by placing magnets with the same poles against each other on a wheel. When two magnets with the same pole meet, they push each other apart and in this case, it spins the wheel.

A bonus with this design is that it is frictionless, which is an especially big bonus over other proposed perpetual motion machines because friction leads to entropy – meaning the machine will eventually slow down. The main reason this isn’t a true perpetual motion machine is because the magnets will eventually stop working and will need to be replaced.

2. Perepiteia

Thane Heins is a Canadian college dropout who has been working on a perpetual motion machine called Perepiteia since 1985. Heins is so dedicated to the machine that he says that he lost his wife and custody over his two children over it. So, you know, his priorities may be slightly skewed.

Nevertheless, Heins says he is so dedicated because he claims that the machine has the ability to generate a large amount of power from a little electrical input, thought to be impossible. What’s interesting is that the tests show that the generator somehow turns magnetic friction into a magnetic boost, which causes the motor to accelerate, creating a positive feedback loop. If the tests are correct, that would mean that Perepiteia breaks the first law of thermodynamics. It’s like a light bulb that powers itself using energy from its own light.

In 2008, Heins showed Perepiteia to MIT professor Markus Zahn, who is an expert in electromagnetic and electronic systems. Zahn said Perepiteia originally stumped him and the machine was definitely worth looking into. But, he later clarified it was not a perpetual motion machine because it needed to be plugged into the wall. Yet Zahn says that the machine still could be an important discovery that could improve motors. Although there are many skeptics, Heins is hoping that his invention will lead to electrical cars that power themselves through accelerating and braking.

1. Finsrud’s Perpetuum Mobile

A lot of these proposed machines are fairly simplistic and use a minimal amount of parts. On the other end of the spectrum is a supposed perpetual motion machine by Norwegian sculptor and mathematician Reidar Finsrud. It’s a complicated system that uses a wheel, magnets, and pendulums. Its system ensures the wheel is always dipping, so the ball, which is pulled by magnets, is always rolling around the track.

Supposedly during testing done over the course of three days, the ball maintained a constant speed measured to 1/25 of a second. An engineer who studied the machine said it could maintain 80-90 percent efficiency, while most devices, like a combustion engine, only have 30-50 percent efficiency. Finsrud claims that his machine has an efficiency rate of over 100 percent, and therefore it creates free energy.

Finsrud believes that his machine, if built to the proper scale, could provide free energy to the world. He is also worried his machine might be too revolutionary, so he’s forced to keep it locked in a safe in his basement.

Perpetual Motion

WIF Mad Science