15 Real Life Mad Scientists

Science isn’t always the shining light of reason and progress leading the way through the forest of ignorance.  Sure, the LHC is setting records, the iPad may be revolutionizing media, and it won’t be long until we can make ourselves into awesome, robotic versions of ourselves.  But, there’s been plenty of whiffs for all the scientific home runs we have to be thankful for – men who wished to push the envelope, but had what equates to the scientific background of a modern day 5th grader to do it with.  These are the real life mad scientist:

15. Johann Conrad Dippel – Frankenstein in Name

This guy is the original, very real Dr. Frankenstein. Though his name was Johann Dippel, he was born at the Castle Frankenstein near Darmstadt, Germany. And, while obtaining a master’s degree in theology (while studying philosophy and alchemy as well) he was referred to with the addendum Frankensteinensis. Because this was around 1700, medicine was more alchemy than science. The guys that were trying to turn lead into gold? Dippel was one of them. In fact, he claimed to have created the elixir of life which he called Dippel’s Oil – bones, blood, and other bodily fluids distilled from animals. It did not work, because he is not still alive. In fact, the oil was so bad that it was used during WW2 to poison wells (seriously). You can probably guess where his interest in artificial life and his prophetic birthplace are taking this guy.

His work took a somewhat macabre turn when, still at Castle Frankenstein, he was said to have performed bizarre experiments on the dead – attempting to transfer souls between them. He was tried for heresy (at least once), and died of what historians believe was a stroke. As far as a connection to the real Frankenstein goes, none has been proven. And, to us, it seems unlikely. Corpse reanimation was actually pretty popular at that time.

14. Giovanni Aldini – Frankenstein in Practice

Giovanni Aldini was the nephew of famed scientist Luigi Galvani.  Galvani’s theories were primarily electrical (it is from him that we get the term Galvanize). And, as his nephew, Aldini spent much of his life defending his uncle’s theories.  The primary way he did so was by hooking up dead animals and humans to batteries to prove that electricity was, indeed, the vital life force science and alchemy had so long sought after.  It isn’t, the mere contact with that much electricity just made the dead flesh jolt and sputter, but it does make for some damn good entertainment!  Aldini took his show on the road and literally traveled around Europe with cartloads of dismembered body parts, shocking them into convulsions while audiences thrilled.  He was kind of like electric Jesus. 

He also treated live patients. His cure for mental disorders, in fact, was to apply “transcranial administration of electric current.” This means he shocked crazy people in the head. He reported 100 percent complete rehabilitation using this method. His most famous experiment, though, was on a recently-executed criminal named George Foster by sticking a contact up his ass. Seriously. “the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened.” When one rod was moved to touch the rectum, the whole body convulsed: indeed, the movements were “so much increased as almost to give an appearance of re-animation”.

13. Albert Hoffman – Inventor of LSD

Albert Hoffman is known the world over (by stoners) as the visionary (pun intended) Swiss chemist who first discovered, synthesized and purposefully ingested LSD. While working as a corporate shill for a gigantic pharmaceutical company (stoners typically leave that part out), he acted on a hunch and decided to re-test a sample of lysergic acid diethylamide that had already been tested. In so doing, he accidentally absorbed some through his skin and went home sick where he tripped balls. Now, never mind how careless a chemist he must have been to allow himself to come into contact with thus-far unknown substance. Still acting on hunches, he decided to make some and eat it. Because that’s what a normal scientist would do if they got sick by touching something. Make more and eat it.

Despite his cowboy chemist ways, he purposefully tripped balls and rode home on his bicycle. Even more surprisingly, the guy lived to be 102, and died in 2008. Until his death he was a proponent for the medical administration of LSD, suggesting that it was “hijacked by the youth of the 60s,” and that it had been used “quite successfully in psychoanalysis” for about a decade. Interesting. Cary Grant believed him, at least.

12. Fritz Haber – Father of Chemical Warfare

If you were to imagine what the father of chemical warfare looks like, you’d probably, by accident, imagine exactly what the father of chemical warfare looks like. When he isn’t effecting a come hither relaxed pose (see above), Fritz Haber was busy decided and discovering the best and most efficient ways to create chemical weapons. He was so good at it that there’s even a law about it called Haber’s Law of inhalation toxicology. When people got up in his grill (that probably didn’t happen too often), he would defend gas warfare by saying, “”death was death, by whatever means it was inflicted.” Touche. But did he really have to wear the Dr. Nefarious pince nez glasses?

But he also won the Nobel Prize! For his work on the Haber-Bosch process which basically allows us to make as much cheap Nitrogen fertilizer as we want. Without this discovery, many people have suggested the Earth could not support as many people as it currently does, and some would have to die. So, he wasn’t all bad, right? Well, on April 15th 1915, the first successful use of weaponized chlorine gas occurred – a process which Haber spearheaded. Less than a month later, his wife used his service pistol to shoot herself in the heart in their garden in suicidal protest of his work.

11. Nikola Tesla – Inventor of the Internet

Tesla was a mad scientist in reverse order. First he was a scientist, then he kind of went mad. He was born in the Austrian Emptire, and after excelling in primary school, he became fascinated with electricity and particularly the work of his contemporary, Benjamin Franklin. Tesla, though, quickly improved and expanded on Franklin’s work by introducing the far superior alternating current (which we mostly use today). Franklin owned all the patents to direct current, though, and launched a smear campaign against Tesla effectively taking him out of the game.  It wasn’t until years later that he was recognized for the genius that he was – the man literally invented the radio, the tesla coil, and wireless electronic delivery systems (you know, like the internet). He had conceived of, but never built, a giant death ray capable of destroying entire fleets of aircraft as well as a system for drawing unlimited power “from the ether.”  At the end of his career, though, faced with adversity from all sides, he retreated into his own madness and made friends with pigeons alone. Seriously.

10. Kary Mullis – Lady-Lovin’ Nobel Winner

Kary Mullis is a the rock star of the biochemical engineering world. He’s been divorced three times, and he invented one of the most important reactions of all time – the Polymerase Chain Reaction – because he took so much LSD that it sort of just occurred to him. This is a reaction that is uses daily in most biology labs on the planet. It’s a reaction used to amplify certain sections of DNA, and was instrumental in the early study of HIV and AIDS. He’s also into surfing and rides a hog. He is a man of heart. After recently having broken up with his girlfriend at the time, this is what he had to say shortly before accepting the Nobel Prize, “I was sagging as I walked out to my little silver Honda Civic. Neither [assistant] Fred, empty Beck’s bottles, nor the sweet smell of the dawn of the age of PCR could replace Jenny. I was lonesome.” He is also the only person on this list who is also on whosdatedwho.com. Despite his radical personal life, though, Mullis has always been a staunch advocate of pure science and strict adherence to the scientific method.

9. Sidney Gottlieb – CIA’s Drug Dealer

Sidney Gottlieb was a PhD in chemistry which he received from the California Institute of Technology. He was also worked for the CIA where he was in charge of finding out the best way to effectively weaponize LSD. This was during the Cold War, so Uncle Sam was willing to go to some pretty ridiculous lengths to one-up the Reds. Dr. Gottleib was charged with figuring out the best way to use drugs to “techniques that would crush the human psyche to the point that it would admit anything.” Surely, he uttered as much from the hollow socket of his skullshaped evil headquarters.

The official name of this initiative was Project MKULTRA in all caps because even the CIA knows that’s cruise control for cool. This project mostly consisted of 1) Gottlieb and his colleagues tripping balls for days and 2) watching unwitting civilians (mostly addicts and prostitutes) that they dosed without their knowing. Here’s what one had to say, “[he] experienced distortions of color and other hallucinations.” He believed he had been poisoned. Next morning, he was “hallucinating intensely.” For the next two weeks he “wandered in the pain of madness, delusion and terror.” Additionally, he actually proposed to Eisenhower that they should poison Castro’s shoes with thallium causing his beard hair to fall out while simultaneously spraying his television studio with liquefied LSD. It should not be surprising that he was known internally at the CIA alternately as ‘The Dirty Trickster’ and ‘The Black Sourcerer.’

8. Jack Parsons – Rocket-Powered Cultist

Jack Whiteside Parsons was responsible for much of the foundation of American rocket science. He was also a devotee of Aleister Crowley – a British mystic who founded the religious philosophy Thelema. Jack Parsons made some of the biggest breakthroughs in history in terms of solid state rocket fuel. Jack Parsons also invoked the Greek God Pan at the site of every test launch he attended. He was the ultimate amateur enthusiast, and danced a ceremonial dance along the line of brilliance and insanity very, very well.

Jack’s brilliance in the technical field would ultimately be overshadowed by his intense curiosity about the occult. A then-nobody L. Ron Hubbard duped Parsons into giving him a large sum of money which Hubbard then used to publish the book “Dianetics” effectively laying the first cornerstone of Scientology. Parsons, though, endured little more than the initial prick of being tricked by Hubbard as an explosion of Mercury fulminate (what they make blasting caps out of) exploded, killing him in his home laboratory.

7. Shiro Ishii – Unpunished Japanese Butcher

Shiro Ishii was the Japanese version of the more-infamous Joseph Mengele. A microbiologist and a lietenant general in charge of a biological warfare unit, Ishii basically just did whatever the hell he felt like doing to any prisoner he felt like doing it to. Most of his “research” was conducted under the auspices of a secret Japanese military experiment in biological warfare which involved the deliberate infection and murder of countless prisoners of war to study the effects that diseases and weapons had on their body.

Among the many horrors Ishii perpetrated were the live dissection of pregnant women that were originally impregnated by his staff, the testing of flame throwers and grenades on live, human prisoners, and the removal and subsequent reattachment of limbs to the wrong area of the prisoners’ bodies. What happened to such pure, malevolent evil, you may be wondering? He was absolved of any crimes by the American Occupation Authorities and died, at home, at the age of 67.

6. Andrew Ure – Electric Puppateer

Andrew Ure, like a few others on this list, was convinced that electricity was the key to reanimating a corpse. He came from relatively humble, Scottish beginnings. His father was a cheesemonger, but Ure studied medicine at Glasgow and then served in his nation’s army as a surgeoun. Shortly after that, he was awarded the chair in natural philosophy at a prestigious Scottish institution. He had an excellent reputation as an industrial chemist, as well as an accomplished astronomer and geologist.

That, however, is not what he is known for. What he is known for is taking the blood-drained body of an executed murderer, opening up several plug-in points, and electrifying the dead flesh until it contorted wildly to the horror of his audience. “When the supraorbital nerve was excited ‘every muscle in his countenance was simultaneously thrown into fearful action; rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles, united their hideous expressions in the murderer’s face, surpassing far the wildest representations of Fuseli or a Kean. At this period several of the spectators were forced to leave the apartment from terror or sickness, and one gentleman fainted.”

5. Sergei Bryukhonenko – Pet Cemetery’s Groundkeeper

You know how every time somebody talks about beheading, some know-it-all has to chime in and say that the human head can stay alive for a minute after it’s removed from the body? They can do that because of the good Dr. Bryukhonenko’s noble work making a severed dog head live, and even chew, for a live studio audience. Bryukhonenko is famous from a slightly less circus-y perspective for inventing one of the first, primitive heart-lung machines of all time (the thing that keeps you alive during open heart surgery).

In a circus-y way, he’s famous for using the heart lung machine to keep a dog head alive thought it was severed from its body. Famously, he even stimulated the jaws of the animal to move allowing it to (kind of) eat. The crowd, of course, drew back when the masticated remains of a piece of cheese slid from the severed esophagus of this exceedingly tough dog.

4. Harry Harlow – Mengele of Monkeys

Harry Harlow’s deceptively children’s-book-esque name suggests a much more amiable man than what as essentially the Hitler of adorable monkeys. He was an American psychologist who’s studies revolved primarily around the importance of love and caregiving in relationships. He thought the best ways to explore those relationships was threw withholding them from his lab full of adorable, fur-faced baby monkeys. Some of his experiments included isolating youths from any biological contact and/or variously torturing different members of the group.

Harlow, disturbingly, refused to use conventional scientific terminology in his experimentations. An early conflice arose when he use the term ‘love’ rather than the more scientifically-acceptable term ‘attachment.’ After that, he used deliverable incendiary terminology. Mothers were put in forced-mating scenarios in a device he called the ‘rape rack,’ torture was carried out with a device he called the ‘iron maiden,’ and baby monkeys were left in isolation for months at a time in what he called the ‘pit of despair.’

3. Jose Delgado – He’s Controlling You

Jose Manuel Rodriguez Delgado is one of the more cartoonishly evil mad scientists on this list because his aim was literally to create a mind control device. The difference between him and his mask’d bretheren, though, is that he absolutely succeeded. Witness this video of him stopping a bull in mid-charge.

How it worked was he would implant a radio receiver in your brain, and then using something he literally and evilly called the Stimuceiver (cannot make that up), he would transmit instructions to your brain which would illicit a specific, repeatable response.  According to Delgado himself, ”Radio Stimulation of different points in the amygdala and hippocampus in the four patients produced a variety of effects, including pleasant sensations, elation, deep, thoughtful concentration, odd feelings, super relaxation, colored visions, and other responses.” Sounds pretty benign, right?  Well, how about this one:

“Man does not have the right to develop his own mind. This kind of liberal orientation has great appeal. We must electrically control the brain. Some day armies and generals will be controlled by electric stimulation of the brain.” Dr. Jose Delgado

2. Joe Davis – MIT’s Resident Mad Man

Joe Davis is known as MIT’s Mad Scientist, and that is a truly appropriate label. He is, on paper, a research affiliate with their Department of Biology, and is involved in the study of bioinformatics and new biological art forms. He is also one crazy dude, and, of the people on this list, the one without much commercial or cultural success (in the traditional sense of the word). Yet, those that know him almost all regard his as a genius, and, at least, there is something unique and interesting about how the twisted cogs of his mental machinery fit together.

He doesn’t sound so crazy, right?  Well, consider this: He recorded the vaginal contractions of ballerinas in the Boston Ballet and then transmitted them into space. He implanted genetic information representing a map of the Milky Way into the ear of a transgenic mouse. He created an audio microscope that measures the light information refracted from a physical object then translates it into sound so you can look at something with your ears. He also Uses his self-made hollow steel peg leg to open beer bottles and to play a sort of hillbilly bugle on.

1. Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov – Creator of Ape-Men Super Soldiers

The Russians must have some kind of farm league for mad scientists because this guy is one of quite an impressive field. But, even amongst so much madness and scienceness, he stands atop the heap of Ruskie rabble-rousers because this man, Ilya Ivanovhich Ivanov, was commissioned by Stalin to breed an indefatigable, obedient, super-strong race of ape-men to fight for Mother Russia. He didn’t, but damned if he didn’t try.

Ivanov was an early practitioner of artificial insemination – in his early days he produced Zeedonks (zebra donkeys), Zubrons (wisent and cow), an antelope-cow, a mouse-rat, a mouse-guinea pig, and a guinea pig-rabbit. This was around 1900, too, when the field of genetics was very much in its infancy. Seriously, all he did was squirt the wrong juice in the right hole, to be honest. Stalin, though, was in awe of his science/sorcery, and create super soldiers. He attempted first to put human semen into female primates (he got permission to do it on French soil, of course), and when that failed he sought to impregnate a human female with chimp sperm. The French balked, but Russia was sort of okay with this (seriously). The only thing that kept him from completing his plans was a lack of sexually mature apes available locally, and eventually, political unrest.