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He Wanted to Better Understand Hanging, So He Hanged Himself 12 Times

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Gallows image via Shutterstock

Hanging is a pretty simple way to kill someone. All you really need is a length of rope, someone who can tie a decent knot, and something from which to hang the victim. If you're having a fancier execution, you can dress things up with gallows and use the victim’s height and weight to figure out how much slack the rope needs to kill them, but not take their head clean off—a common occurrence until British hangman William Marwood developed the “long drop” in 1872. It’s no-nonsense and versatile. Hanging has been a favored method of execution for everyone from lynch mobs to governments since at least the fifth century (edit: BCE)(when the Persian noble Haman was hanged in the Bible’s Book of Esther).

Here’s the thing, though. For as long as we’ve been using it, we don't know what makes hanging work so well.

Sure, we have a general idea of what’s going on. Suspension hanging and short drops strangle the victim, and standard drops and long drops break the neck. Medically speaking, though, that’s a little vague. We don’t always know what specifically is happening to the neck when it comes to a sudden stop at the end of a noose.

Rarely does it even appear to be the same thing from person to person. With some longer drops, one or more of the cervical vertebrae is severely fractured. With others, they’re barely damaged. Sometimes the spinal cord or the vertebral arteries are crushed and sometimes they aren’t. With some shorter, strangling drops, the airway is closed or crushed. Sometimes it’s spared, but pressure on the carotid artery causes an arterial spasm, starving the brain of blood.

Suddenly, hanging doesn’t seem so simple anymore.

Fortunately for the morbidly curious, a number of scientists have embraced the grim job of studying hanging, some even going so far as to experiment on themselves. A group of researchers formed The Working Group on Human Asphyxiation (WGHA) in 2006, and have since reviewed historical and medical texts (the best stuff comes from between 1870 and 1930, when hanging was very in vogue in the U.S. and Europe), looked at the data from animal experiments, and even analyzed filmed human hangings, all in an effort to get to the bottom of what makes hanging so effective.

A little gruesome? Sure, but the WGHA doesn’t have anything on Nicolas Minovici. For his 238-page “Studies on Hanging” (1905), the Romanian forensic scientist analyzed 172 hanging suicides and executions and then, to really get a feel for it, hanged himself.

Then he did it 11 more times.

At first, Minovici took a few practice runs with a non-contracting noose to “get used to” the sensation of staring down death. Then he went for the real deal—12 rounds with a regular contracting noose that left him dangling several feet off the ground. While he was apologetic that he “could not take the experiment any longer than three to four seconds,” Minovici’s study did make one big leap in the science of hanging. His self-experimentation revealed that a person who is hanged usually loses consciousness not because of strangling but from disrupted bloodflow. Minovici also studied tattooing among Romanian citizens and convicts. No word on whether he got some prison ink of his own as part of it.

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6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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