We always admire people for going beyond the call of duty. We also admire almost anything that pushes the boundaries of science. Well, what about scientists who go far and beyond the call of duty for the cause of scientific research? Maybe. Here are six of the most dedicated individuals to scientific research in history. Some you will likely admire, others will make you cringe.
6. John Paul Stapp
In the wake of World War Two, the United Stated Air Force was eager to push the boundaries of their flight technology. At the time it was believed that the human body could only withstand 18 g of force, meaning any pilot ejecting from an aircraft was risking fatal injuries. Flight surgeon John Paul Stapp set out to determine if this was true – with his own body. From 1947, Stapp underwent went more ‘peak’ g experiences than anyone else alive, in the process suffering broken bones, detached retina, and permanently burst blood vessels in his eyes. In his last flight Stapp experienced 46.2 times the gravitational force of the earth, faster than a bullet. His efforts as a human flight guinea pig resulted in wide-reaching developments in aviation safety, and even laid the groundwork for seat belts in cars.
5. John Scott Haldane
During the end of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th, John Scott Haldane was responsible for some of the most important revelations concerning the nature of the human respiratory system. Haldane’s investigations led to the development of a system for deep-sea divers to avoid the Bends, the placement of canaries and flame safety lamps in mines in order to detect dangerous gas levels, and the invention of the gas mask after experiments at the front during WW1. How did Haldane make these breakthroughs in science? By subjecting himself, and his young son John B. S. Haldane, to his own experiments. Haldane would reportedly lock himself in a sealed chamber, and fill it with poisonous gasses while recording the effect they were having on his body and mind. His son would come to follow in his footsteps, conducting his own self-experiments concerning the effects of oxygen deprivation.
4. Edwin Katskee
Cocaine is now regarded as a dangerous and illicit drug, but for early modern medicine it had important uses as an anesthetic. However, it’s use could sometimes prove harmful to patients. In 1936, Edwin Katskee resolved to investigate the effects of the drug – first hand.
Katskee administered himself a large dose of cocaine and proceeded to write a first hand account of the drugs effects on him on the wall of his room. Unfortunately, the amount of cocaine Katskee had injected proved fatal. To add to the sting of this, Katskee’s ‘death diary’, as the media dubbed it, was deemed to have no scientific value due to its incoherent nature.
3. Giovanni Battista Grassi
Apparently, voluntarily consuming the eggs of parasites has a history as a relatively common means of experimentation among parasitologists. It seems the originator of this practice was Giovanni Battista Grassi. In 1878, while performing an autopsy, Grassi found an infestation of tapeworm in the large intestine of the corpse he was working on. Grassi immediately decided to ingest the eggs in order to prove that this was a viable way of becoming infected with tapeworm. However, Grassi figured he’d have to first establish that he did not already have tapeworm. He stored the eggs from the corpse in a solution of fresh excrement, only fishing them back out when he’d examined his own feces for over a year and found them devoid of tapeworm eggs. After swallowing the eggs, Grassi found his hypothesis proven true, finding tapeworm eggs in his stool. He then killed the parasites with a herbal anti-worm medicine. Since then his self-experiment has been repeated with other parasites by other parasitologists.
2. Werner Forssmann
In 1929, German physician Werner Forssmann developed a breakthrough technique of delivering medicine directly to the heart of a patient. His experiment was in response to a belief that this treatment would be more effective than using I.V. treatments. Forssmann proved the truth of his hypothesis by inserting a catheter into his own heart. To do the experiment, Forssmann tried to gain permission from the Chief of his medical institution, but it was refused due to fears for Forssmann’s safety – if the catheter had pierced a vein, Forssmann’s life would have been in danger. Not scared off by this, Forssmann convinced the OR nurse who supervised sterile equipment. She agreed to help Forssmann, but on the condition that he did the experiment on her rather than himself. Forssmann agreed, then proceeded to tie her down, and insert the catheter into his own arm up to the shoulder before the nurse realized it was not her he was experimenting on.
Forssmann untied the nurse, and both of them walked one story down to the X-Ray department, where Forssmann got X-Ray film showing the catheter lying inside the right atrium of his heart, proving his hypothesis. Forssmann would later receive the Nobel Prize for this discovery.
1. Pierre and Marie Curie
Radiation has been a well-known phenomenon since at least the dropping of the first atomic bombs. The specter of its death and cancer-causing presence has been a common feature in apocalyptic and futuristic horror for decades. But when Pierre and Marie Curie were doing their experiments on radiation during the turn of the 20th century, radiation was a recently discovered mystery. Radioactive elements were known to give off rays, but the causes and effects of these rays were unknown.
With Marie in the lead, the Curie’s proceeded to begin investigating – by locking themselves in a small, unventilated makeshift lab where they processed radioactive materials. Their most extreme experiment was an investigation into what radioactive rays would do to healthy flesh. Pierre proceeded to strap a piece of radium to his arm and record the gradual and profound damage to the flesh. Their groundbreaking investigations led to the discovery of two radioactive elements, radium and polonium, and the definition of the word ‘radioactivity’.