The idea of the mad scientist may seem like something that was born out of fiction, existing only in the realms of movies and literature. We imagine the likes of Viktor Frankenstein and his monster or Doc Brown and his DeLorean, but in reality, there have been actual mad scientists who would give these guys a run for their money. The fact of the matter is that most scientific hypotheses sound crazy at first, so who better than someone a little cuckoo to see if they happen to be true?
The Renaissance scientist Paracelsus is best known as the father of modern toxicology, but was also a botanist, physician, and occultist, or student of the supernatural. Perhaps that’s what led him to perform his most eccentric personal endeavor – the creation of a homunculus, or a tiny, but fully-formed human. To do so, he kept semen samples in a warm place, regularly feeding them human blood. Of course, nothing came of the experiment but a crazy story. He also believed in mystical creatures like giants and wood nymphs.
Some people believe this Italian physicist to be the inspiration for Dr. Frankenstein. He was a famed galvanist primarily concerned with the effects of electricity on human life, traveling all over Europe to perform experiments in from of fascinated crowds. His most famous experiment involved reanimating the corpse of an executed prisoner using electrically charged nodes. For his achievements, the King of Austria even made him a Knight of the Iron Crown and a state councilor in Milan, where he lived out the final part of his life.
Shen Kuo was an 11th century Chinese scientist best known for discovering that tides were caused by the moon’s gravitational pull. In the time he spent looking up at the heavens studying the celestial bodies, that’s not all he learned. Shen is also cited as recording the first-ever documented UFO sighting. In his writing, he claims to have seen bright objects descend to the skies, though it wasn’t until centuries later that other scientists would connect Shen’s sightings to extra-terrestrial life.
This Danish astronomer is famous for having made the most accurate observations of his time, but his eccentric, party-boy lifestyle makes him stand out for other reasons. Beyond his studies, Brahe was a rough and tumble man who, after losing his nose in a rowdy fight at age 20, wore a copper prosthetic for the rest of his life. When he wasn’t making observations, he threw wild parties on his private island, where a jester sat under the table, and he shared his alcohol with his pet elk.
Buckland was an accomplished paleontologist and contemporary of Charles Darwin, whose greatest achievement was writing a complete description of the fossilized dinosaur, the Megalosaurus. Outside of the sciences, though, he had one rather odd quirk – he wanted to eat everything. Some of the more unusual things he feasted on in his lifetime include panther, porpoise, ostrich, hedgehog, and bat urine, but nothing compares to the time he dined on the shrunken heart of King Louis XIV. Garden moles, though, were one food by which he could not abide.
This English astronomer, physicist, mathematician, and theologian is one of the most influential scientists in human history. He has also been credited as one of the leaders of the scientific revolution. However, he was not without his quirks. The famed scientist was known to conduct experiments on himself, even poking himself in the eye with a needle while studying optics. He was also obsessed with the apocalypse and predicted the world would come to an end in the year 2060.
Johann Conrad Dippel
Another possible inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the German theologian, alchemist, and natural scientist Johann Conrad Dippel, who was, in fact, born at Castle Frankenstein. After being imprisoned for heresy, Dippel embarked on his most outlandish pursuit – the creation of an “elixir of life.” Stewing animal bones and skins into what he called “Dippel’s Oil,” he claimed anyone who consumed the brew could extend their lifespan. He was also a dissecting fanatic, taking apart animals, and even human cadavers just for the fun of it.
Anning was an accomplished paleontologist known around the world for her discovery of the first Jurassic marine fossils in the cliffs lining the English Channel. Her fascination with fossils began when she was just a girl at age 12, when she obsessively collected and pieced them together. What earned her a reputation as a mad scientist, though, was the mysterious origin of her intelligence, which her parents swear was the result of a lightning bolt that struck young Mary when she was a sickly infant.
Though renowned as one of the scientists to discover the structure of DNA, for which he received a Nobel prize, this mid-century molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neurobiologist was also responsible for one of the weird scientific theories of modern history. The idea, which he called “directed panspermia,” surprised that life on Earth was intentionally created by extra-terrestrials, who formed humans by their own seed. This theory also suggested that humans could do the same once they’ve located a planet fit for life.
Ffirth was an American doctor who was obsessed with the causes and communicability of yellow fever. He was so obsessed with this deadly virus that conducted experiments on himself, exposing himself to the bodily fluids of individuals with the disease. Some of his experiments included smearing infected vomit into self-inflicted wounds in his arms, pouring vomit in his eye, and even drinking it. In spite of all of his exposure, he never contracted the disease, though modern scientists know that it’s because the patients were all post-contagious.