6 Crazy Science Experiments That "Worked"

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Hulton Archive / getty images

From Dr. Frank-N-Furter to Dr. Doofenschmirtz, we've all grown up hearing about our fair share of mad scientists and their crazy experiments. A trip through history teaches us that these insane geniuses aren't just works of fiction. Let's look back at six scientists and their experiments that spawned from both dedicated wills and disturbed minds.

1. Nikola Tesla's Death Ray

Shrink rays, heat rays, and ray-guns have long been the rage in science fiction, but that doesn't mean they can't work in the real world. In 1931, Nikola Tesla claimed to have built a working "death ray." He wasn't the first to try to perfect this kind of invention, but Tesla's death ray stood out from the competitors' because it might have actually worked. His death ray employed charged particles shot from a vacuum chamber rather than rays, which he believed would not be able to cause any harm. 

"There are a few details to be finished—my calculation might be perhaps 10 per cent off at present," he said in 1934. But, had it been perfected, he insisted that "a country's whole frontier can be protected by one of the plants producing these beams every 200 miles."

2. Vladimir Demikhov and the Two-Headed Dog

WARNING: THIS FOOTAGE IS DISTURBING.

Vladimir Demikhov experimented with vital-organ transplants, starting off with animal-to-animal heart and lung transplants before he moved on to the tough stuff: Heads. In 1954, Demikhov successfully transplanted the head, shoulders, and front legs of a puppy onto the side of an adult dog's neck. Both heads remained conscious and active, eating and drinking until the creature died a few days after the operation. Demikhov repeated this frightening experiment several times, with the longest-surviving subject living for one month.

3. Gabriel Beaurieux's Decapitated Head Obsession

Gabriel Beaurieux's work is sure to bring back fond memories of learning about Henry VIII and his many, many, wives. In 1905, Beaurieux attended the execution of a prisoner by the name of Henri Languille. The scientist made note that, after his decapitation, the head still possessed consciousness and movement for several seconds, and even opened its eyes twice when his name was called. From Beaurieux himself:

The head fell on the severed surface of the neck and I did not therefor have to take it up in my hands, as all the newspapers have vied with each other in repeating; I was not obliged even to touch it in order to set it upright. Chance served me well for the observation, which I wished to make.
...
the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds.
...
I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. The face relaxed, the lids half closed on the eyeballs, leaving only the white of the conjunctiva visible, exactly as in the dying whom we have occasion to see every day in the exercise of our profession, or as in those just dead. It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: “Languille!” I saw the eyelids slowly lift up.

Kids, don't try this experiment at home.

4. Sergei Brukhonenko's Dog-Headed Cyborg

WARNING: DISTURBING FOOTAGE.

Sergei Brukhonenko, a Soviet physician, developed what he called an "autojector," a heart-lung machine intended to keep alive the head of a dog while separated from its body. When presented, the dog head responded to stimuli of sound and light, and even ate a piece of cheese. Brukhonenko claimed he was able to drain the dog head of blood, let it sit for ten minutes, and then restart the machine to bring it back to life. Good dog.

5. Stubbins Ffirth's Toxic Vomit Cocktail

In the early 19th century, a young man named Stubbins Ffirth was training to become a doctor in Philadelphia. He closely studied yellow fever, a disease that had decimated the area only a few years prior. Ffirth believed that yellow fever was not contagious, and set out to prove it by pouring the vomit of a yellow fever patient into his eyes, open wounds he created specially for the experiment, and down his gullet. Yellow fever, it turned out, is contagious through transmission into the blood stream, and it was quite surprising that Ffirth never fell ill himself. Better lucky than right, apparently.

6. Winthrop Kellogg's Chimpanzee Daughter

Mad Science Museum 

Tarzan taught us what it might be like for a boy to be raised by apes. But have you ever wondered what really happens to apes raised by humans? In 1931, Winthrop Kellogg took a seven-month-old chimpanzee, Gua, into his home and raised her alongside his 10-month-old son, Donald, as if the chimp were human herself. Kellogg regularly tested the pair to track their development. Surprisingly, Gua tested better than Donald in all categories except one: language skills. In an interesting twist of "human see, human do," nine months into the project, Donald began to imitate Gua's "food bark" to signal his hunger instead of using words. Kellogg cut his experiment short, and Gua was sent back to the primate center from which she came.

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June 6, 2014 - 2:00pm
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