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Hulton Archive / getty images

6 Crazy Science Experiments That "Worked"

Hulton Archive / getty images
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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Space
More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in our solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last month, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
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iStock

Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

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