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February 12 is Darwin Day, a global celebration of science and reason held on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth in 1809. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that scientists are a notoriously eccentric and at times strange bunch. Given humanity’s deep-rooted reluctance to embrace change, scientific breakthroughs demonstrate how one has to be both different and perhaps a tad bit quirky in order to pursue ideas that no one else believes in.
From logic in matters of the heart, to death by fear of beans and resurrection through electrocution, we reveal some of the strangest tales about history’s scientific geniuses!
Displaying a logical inclination even in matters of the heart, Darwin in 1838 composed a list with two columns outlining the upsides and downsides of marriage. In the ‘Marry’ column, he wrote: ‘children, constant companion (and friend in old age)…better than a dog anyhow’. In the ‘Not Marry’ ledger, he included: ‘freedom to go where one liked,’ and ‘loss of time.’
Darwin’s five-year voyage around the world on HMS Beagle, which ended in 1836, provided him with invaluable research that contributed to the development of his theory of evolution and natural selection. Concerned, however, about the public and ecclesiastical acceptance of his deeply radical idea, he waited 20 years before publically presenting his theory on evolution.
Dr. Louise G. Robinovitch became internationally known in the first decade of the twentieth century for her experiments with electricity and anesthesia, but by 1921 she had withdrawn completely from public notice, and for good reason. In addition to her involvement in her brother'scrimes, newspaper articles about her brought to the public's attention that she had brought a dead rabbit back to life through electricity.
Newspapers trumpeted that she was a proponent of ‘electrical anesthesia,’ though she refused to discuss her findings with the press, and in Paris she had revived an apparently dead woman through the application of electrical ‘rhythmic excitations.’ Allegedly she planned to prove, in laboratory experiments on animals (and, it was hinted, humans) that resuscitation of the dead via electricity would be universally possible in the near future.
The 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe was a nobleman known for his eccentric life and death. He lost his nose in a duel in college and wore a prosthetic metal one ever after. And, he loved to party! He had his very own island, and he invited friends over to his castle for wild escapades. But his love of social decadence may have inadvertently been the death of him. At a banquet in Prague, Brahe insisted on staying at the table when he needed to have a wee, because leaving would be a breach of etiquette. That was a bad move, as Brahe developed a kidney infection and his bladder burst 11 days later in 1601.
One of England’s first female natural philosophers, Margaret Cavendish was a controversial figure in the 17th century. An outspoken scientist, intellectual and prolific writer, she ruffled a few feathers among those who believed women had no place in the scientific community. As a result, Cavendish was often called ‘Mad Madge.’ But though Cavendish wasn’t truly insane, she was more than a little socially inept.
On one occasion, Cavendish was pondering upon the natures of Mankind, and decided to write down all of the positive qualities possessed by one of her friends on one piece of paper, and on another, all of the woman’s negative qualities. Cavendish then decided to send her friend the list of positive qualities, which she assumed would be appreciated. Unfortunately, Cavendish accidentally sent the wrong list, and received an outraged response from her friend. Cavendish also acted as her own physician, and likely died as a result of her refusal to seek outside medical care.
You can thank Greek mathematician Pythagoras for that geometry staple, the Pythagorean theorem. But some of his ideas haven't stood the test of time. For instance, Pythagoras espoused a philosophy of vegetarianism, but one of its tenets was a complete prohibition on touching or eating beans. Legend has it that beans were partly to blame for Pythagoras' death. After being chased from his house by attackers, he came upon a bean field, where he allegedly decided he would rather die than enter the field — and his attackers promptly slit his throat. Historical records don't show a clear reason for the attacks.
Architect and scientist Buckminster Fuller is most famous for creating the geodesic dome, sci-fi-esque visions of futuristic cities and a car called the Dymaxion in the 1930s. But Fuller was also a bit of an eccentric. He famously wore three watches to tell time in several time zones as he flew across the globe and spent years sleeping only two hours a night, which he dubbed Dymaxion sleep.
But the genius also spent a lot of time chronicling his life. From 1915 to 1983, when he died, Fuller kept a detailed diary of his life that he updated religiously in 15-minute intervals. The resulting log, called the Dymaxion chronofiles, stacks 270 feet (82 metres) high and is housed at Stanford University.
Mary Anning was a mad fossil collector: Starting at age 12, Anning became obsessed with finding fossils and piecing them together. Driven by acute intellectual curiosity as well as economic incentives (the working class Anning sold most of the fossils she discovered), Anning became famous among 19th century British scientists. So many people would travel to her home in Lyme Regis to join her on her fossil hunts that after she died locals actually noticed a drop in tourism to the region.
But it’s not Anning’s passion for fossils that sets her apart as a slightly mad scientist, but rather the supposed origins of her intellectual curiosity: As an infant, the sickly young Mary was struck by lightning while watching a traveling circus. That lightning strike, according to Anning’s family, was at the root of the once-unexceptional Mary’s superior intelligence.
Do you have a passion for concocting chemical formulas in a lab, feel fascinated by evolving breakthroughs in clinical research, or fancy yourself as a specialist in all things environmental? At Search, we recruit for a wide range of jobs within the scientific sector. For information, you can contact our go-to guy in scientific recruitment, Ramalingam Elangovan on 0161 835 8317. Alternatively, have a look a look at our current vacancies by clicking the button below!