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6 Crazy Science Experiments That "Worked"

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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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Why a Howling Wind Sounds So Spooky, According to Science
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Halloween is swiftly approaching, meaning you'll likely soon hear creepy soundtracks—replete with screams, clanking chains, and howling winds—blaring from haunted houses and home displays. While the sound of human suffering is frightful for obvious reasons, what is it, exactly, about a brisk fall gust that sends shivers up our spines? In horror movie scenes and ghost stories, these spooky gales are always presented as blowing through dead trees. Do bare branches actually make the natural wailing noises louder, or is this detail added simply for atmospheric purposes?

As the SciShow's Hank Green explains in the video below, wind howls because it curves around obstacles like trees or buildings. When fast-moving air goes around, say, a tree, it splits up as it whips past, before coming back together on the other side. Due to factors such as natural randomness, air speed, and the tree's surface, one side's wind is going to be slightly stronger when the two currents rejoin, pushing the other side's gust out of the way. The two continue to interact back-and-forth in what could be likened to an invisible wrestling match, as high-pressure airwaves and whirlpools mix together and vibrate the air. If the wind is fast enough, this phenomenon will produce the eerie noise we've all come to recognize in horror films.

Leafy trees "will absorb some of the vibrations in the air and dull the sound, but without leaves—like if it's the middle of the winter or the entire forest is dead—the howling will travel a lot farther," Green explains. That's why a dead forest on a windy night sounds so much like the undead.

Learn more by watching SciShow's video below.

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Space
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
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On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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