Top 10 Mad Scientists in History

Vladimir Demikhov: The Two-Headed Dog Surgeon

Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov  was a Soviet scientist and organ transplant pioneer, who did several transplantations in the 1930s and 1950s, such as the transplantation of a heart into an animal and a lung-heart replacement in an animal. He is also well-known for his transplantation of the heads of dogs, though some sources assert that these reports are false. He conducted his dog head transplants during the 1950s, resulting in two-headed dogs, and this ultimately led to the head transplants in monkeys by Dr. Robert White, who was inspired by Demikhov’s work.


The first head transplant was actually done by Professor A. G. Konevskiy of the Operative Surgery and Topographical Anatomy Department of Volgograd State Medical University. The head transplant wasn’t planned. Konevskiy had planned an experimental heart transplant but the puppy was involved in an automobile accident. Not wanting to “waste the sterilized operating table”, the surgeon proceeded with the head transplant. Unlike Demikhov, Konevskiy is still alive.

Demikhov coined the word transplantology, and his 1960 monograph “Experimental transplantation of vital organs”, for which he received his doctoral degree, later published in 1962 in New York, Berlin and Madrid, became the world’s first monograph on transplantology, and was for a long time the only monograph in the field of transplantation of organs and tissues. Christiaan Barnard, who has performed the world’s first heart transplant operation on from person to person in 1967, has twice visited the Demikhov’s laboratory in 1960 and 1963. Christiaan Barnard through all his life considered Demikhov as his teacher.

Stubbins Ffirth: The Yellow Fever Vomit-Drinking Doctor

Stubbins Ffirth (1784 – 1820) was an American trainee doctor notable for his unusual investigations into the cause of yellow fever. He theorized that the disease was not contagious, believing that the drop in cases during winter showed that it was more likely a result of the heat and stresses of the summer months. While correct in noting that yellow fever was significantly more prevalent in summer, Ffirth’s explanation proved to be incorrect. It was a full six decades after his death that a breakthrough would be made, with Cuban scientist Carlos Finlay discovering the link to mosquitoes carrying the disease.



The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, the largest yellow fever epidemic in American history, killed as many as 5,000 people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – roughly 10% of the population. Ffirth joined the University of Pennsylvania a few years later and studied the disease that had so significantly impacted the area. He set out to prove that it was not a contagious disease, and was so sure of his theory that he began performing experiments on himself.

Ffirth decided to bring himself into direct contact with bodily fluids from those that had become infected. He started to make incisions on his arms and smeared vomit into the cuts, then proceeded to pour it onto his eyeballs. He continued to try and infect himself using infected vomit by frying it and inhaling the fumes, and, when he did not become ill, drank it undiluted. Endeavoring to prove that other bodily fluids yielded the same results, Ffirth progressed on from vomit, and would go on to smear his body with blood, saliva, and urine.He still managed to avoid contracting the disease and saw this as proof for his hypothesis. However, it was later shown that the samples Ffirth had used for his experiments came from late-stage patients who were no longer contagious

Josef Mengele: The Angel of Death

Josef Mengele  was a German SS officer and a physician in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. He gained notoriety for being one of the SS physicians who supervised the selection of arriving transports of prisoners, determining who was to be killed and who was to become a forced laborer, and for performing human experiments on camp inmates, amongst whom Mengele was known as the Angel of Death. In 1940, he was placed in the reserve medical corps, following which he served with the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking. In 1942, he was wounded at the Russian front and was pronounced medically unfit for combat, and was then promoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain). After the war, he became one of the most hunted of Nazi war criminals.

During his 21-month stay at Auschwitz, Mengele earned the sobriquet “Angel of Death” for the cruelty he visited upon prisoners. Mengele was referred to as “der weisse Engel” (“the White Angel”) by camp inmates because when he stood on the platform inspecting new arrivals and directing some to the right, some to the left, his white coat and white arms outstretched evoked the image of a white angel. Mengele took turns with the other SS physicians at Auschwitz in meeting incoming prisoners at the ramp, where it was determined who would be retained for work and who would be sent to the gas chambers immediately. In one instance, he drew a line on the wall of the children’s block between 150 and 156 centimeters (about 5 feet or 5 feet 2 inches) from the floor, and sent those whose heads could not reach the line to the gas chamber.

Mengele’s experiments also included attempts to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children’s eyes, various amputations of limbs and other brutal surgeries. Rena Gelissen’s account of her time in Auschwitz details certain experiments performed on female prisoners around October 1943. Mengele would experiment on the chosen girls, performing sterilization and shock treatments. Most of the victims died, either due to the experiments or later infections. Once Mengele’s assistant rounded up 14 pairs of Roma twins during the night. Mengele placed them on his polished marble dissection table and put them to sleep. He then injected chloroform into their hearts, killing them instantly. Mengele then began dissecting and meticulously noting each and every piece of the twins’ bodies.

At Auschwitz, Mengele did a number of twin studies. After the experiment was over, these twins were usually murdered and their bodies dissected. He supervised an operation by which two Gypsy children were sewn together to create conjoined twins; the hands of the children became badly infected where the veins had been resected, this also caused gangrene.

Johann Conrad Dippel: The original Frankenstein

He was born at Castle Frankenstein near Darmstadt, and therefore once (at his school) the addendum Franckensteinensis and once (at his university) the addendum Franckensteina-Strataemontanus was used. He studied theology, philosophy and alchemy at the University of Giessen, obtaining a master’s degree in theology in 1693. He published many theological works under the name Christianus Democritus, and most of them are still preserved. From 1700-1702 he engaged in a bitter dispute with the Reformed Court Preacher Conrad Broeske in Offenbach, with whom he shared millenarian hopes for soon-coming renewal in Christendom. He accused Broeske of compromise and collusion with the authorities after Broeske refused to publish Dippel’s “The Scourging Papacy of the Protestants” on the Offenbach press.


Dippel led an adventurous life, often getting into trouble because of his disputed opinions and his problems with managing money. At one point he was imprisoned for heresy. He created an animal oil known as Dippel’s Oil which was supposed to be the equivalent to the alchemists’ dream of the “elixir of life.” In 1704 in Berlin, he and the manufacturer Heinrich Diesbach used this oil instead of potassium carbonate in producing red dyes. To their surprise, they obtained a blue dye “Berliner Blau”, also called “Preussisch Blau” or “Prussian blue”. Together they founded a factory in Paris.

There are claims that during his stay at Castle Frankenstein, he practiced alchemy and anatomy. He was allegedly working with nitroglycerin, which led to the destruction of a tower at the Castle Frankenstein. But this seems to be a modern myth, for it is an anachronism. Nitroglycerin hadn’t been discovered in Dippel’s time. And although the history of the castle during Dippel’s lifetime is well documented, the destruction of a tower – though surely a remarkable event – is nowhere mentioned.

Other rumours about Dippel appear to be modern inventions too. For example, that which said that he performed gruesome experiments with cadavers, attempting to transfer the soul of one cadaver into another. There is also no evidence to the rumour that he was driven out of town, when word of his activities reached the ears of the townspeople.

Giovanni Aldini: The Corpse Electrocutioner

Giovanni Aldini, Italian physicist born at Bologna, was a brother of the statesman Count Antonio Aldini (1756-1826) and nephew of Luigi Galvani, whose treatise on muscular electricity he edited with notes in 1791.

He became professor of physics at Bologna in 1798, in succession to his teacher Sebastiano Canterzani (1734-1819). His scientific work was chiefly concerned with galvanism and its medical applications, with the construction and illumination of lighthouses, and with experiments for preserving human life and material objects from destruction by fire. He also engaged in public demonstrations of the technique, such as on the executed criminal George Forster at Newgate in London. He wrote in French and English in addition to his native Italian. In recognition of his merits, the emperor of Austria made him a knight of the Iron Crown and a councillor of state at Milan, where he died. He bequeathed a considerable sum to found a school of natural science for artisans at Bologna.

Sergei Bruyukhonenko: The Dog Decapitator

Sergei S. Bryukhonenko was a Soviet scientist during the Stalinist era. Bryukhonenko’s research was vital to the development of open-heart procedures in Russia. He was one of the leaders of the Research Institute of Experimental Surgery, where Professor A. A. Vishnevsky performed the first Soviet open-heart operation in 1957.

Bryukhonenko is primarily remembered for his development of the autojektor, a primitive heart and lung machine. The device was used with mixed results in a series of experiments with canines during the late 1930′s, which can be seen in the film Experiments in the Revival of Organisms. While some today speculate that the film is a re-staging of the procedures, the experiments themselves were well documented, and resulted in Bryukhonenko being posthumously awarded the prestigious Lenin Prize.

Andrew Ure: The Scottish Butcher

Andrew Ure (pronounced to rhyme with “pure”)  was a Scottish doctor. Born in Glasgow, he studied chemistry and natural philosophy. In 1818 Ure revealed experiments he had been carrying out on a murderer/thief named Matthew Clydesdale, after the man’s execution by hanging. He claimed that, by stimulating the phrenic nerve, life could be restored in cases of suffocation, drowning or hanging. This supposedly influenced Mary Shelley when writing her novel, ‘Frankenstein’.

Ure gained fame by his speeches and writings that advocated the great benefits of industrial capitalism. His The Philosophy of Manufactures, published in 1835 played an important role in molding a public opinion on the factory system amid critical debates on factory reform and new poor laws. This set out the basis of the factory system of production. It also defended the working conditions of factories during the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

This well-known work, of which the seventh edition is now before us, first made its appearance in the past generation. During the life-time of its original projector and editor, Dr. Andrew Ure, it undoubtedly contributed largely to advance the education and progress of our manufacturing and industrial classes, and well-thumbed copies of it are to be found on the library shelves of all the “Mechanics’ Institutions” which the educational revival of thirty years ago scattered over the land.

We find from the preface that since 1858, when the present editor took charge of the work, three editions, including the present, have appeared, so that its reputation as a standard work of reference appears to be still maintained. Ure fundamentally rejected the darker side of capitalism, arguing that workers were “willing menials,” who were provided with “abundant food and accommodations without perspiring from a single pore.”

Shiro Ishii: Dr. Pure Evil

Shir? Ishii was a microbiologist and the lieutenant general of Unit 731, a biological warfare unit of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. In 1932, he began his preliminary experiments in biological warfare as a secret project for the Japanese military. In 1936, Unit 731 was formed. Ishii built a huge compound — more than 150 buildings over six square kilometers — outside the city of Harbin, China. The research was secret, and the cover story was that Unit 731 was engaged in water-purification work.

From 1940, Ishii was appointed Chief of the Biological Warfare Section of the Kwantung Army, holding the post simultaneously with that of the Bacteriological Department of the Army Medical Academy. In 1942, Ishii began field tests of germ warfare agents developed, and various methods of dispersion (i.e. via firearms, bombs etc.) both on Chinese prisoners of war and operationally on battlefields and against civilians in Chinese cities. Some historians[citation needed] estimate that tens of thousands died as a result of the bio-weapons (including bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax and others) deployed. His unit also conducted physiological experiments on human subjects, including vivisections, forced abortions, and simulated strokes and heart attacks.

From 1942-1945, Ishii was Chief of the Medical Section of the Japanese First Army. In 1945, in the final days of the Pacific War and in the face of imminent defeat, Japanese troops blew up the headquarters of Unit 731 in order to destroy evidence of the research done there. As part of the cover-up, Ishii ordered 150 remaining subjects killed. More than ten thousand people [3], from which around 600 every year were provided by the kempeitai, were subjects of the experimentation conducted by Unit 731. These where called by Ishii and his peers maruta “logs,” a reference to their view of subjects being inert, expendable entities, or is possibly related to the cover story told to locals that the facility contained a sawmill.

Kevin Warwick: The First Human Cyborg

Kevin Warwick  is a British scientist and professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading, UK. He is probably best known for his studies on direct interfaces between computer systems and the human nervous system, although he has done much research in the field of robotics.

Warwick presently heads an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council supported research project which investigates the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques in order to suitably stimulate and translate patterns of electrical activity from living cultured neural networks in order to utilise the networks for the control of mobile robots. Hence a biological brain actually provides the behaviour process for each robot. It is expected that the method will be extended to the control of a robot head.

Previously Warwick was behind a Genetic algorithm called Gershwyn, which was able to exhibit creativity in producing pop songs, learning what makes a hit record by listening to examples of previous hit songs. Gershwyn appeared on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World having been successfully used to mix music for Manus, a group consisting of the four younger brothers of Elvis Costello. Another Warwick project involving artificial intelligence is the robot head, Morgui. The head contains 5 senses (vision, sound, infrared, ultrasound and radar) and is being used to investigate sensor data fusion. The head was X-rated by the University of Reading Research and Ethics Committee due to its image storage capabilities – anyone under the age of 18 who wishes to interact with the robot must apriori obtain parental approval.

Warwick has very outspoken views on the future, particularly with respect to artificial intelligence and its impact on the human species, and argues that we will need to use technology to enhance ourselves in order to avoid being overtaken[12]. He also points out that there are many limits, such as our sensorimotor abilities, that we can overcome with machines, and is on record as saying that he wants to gain these abilities: “There is no way I want to stay a mere human.” Probably the most famous piece of research undertaken by Warwick (and the origin of the nickname, “Captain Cyborg”, given to him by The Register) is the set of experiments known as Project Cyborg, in which he had a chip implanted into his arm, with the aim of “becoming a cyborg”. The first stage of this research, which began on 1998-08-24, involved a simple RFID transmitter being implanted beneath Warwick’s skin, and used to control doors, lights, heaters, and other computer-controlled devices based on his proximity. The main purpose of this experiment was said to be to test the limits of what the body would accept, and how easy it would be to receive a meaningful signal from the chip.

The second stage involved a more complex neural interface which was designed and built especially for the experiment by Dr. Mark Gasson and his team at the University of Reading. This device was implanted on 2002-03-14, and interfaced directly into Warwick’s nervous system. The electrode array inserted contained 100 electrodes, of which 25 could be accessed at any one time, whereas the median nerve which it monitored carries many times that number of signals. The experiment proved successful, and the signal produced was detailed enough that a robot arm developed by Warwick’s colleague, Dr Peter Kyberd, was able to mimic the actions of Warwick’s own arm.

By means of the implant, Warwick’s nervous system was connected onto the internet in Columbia University, New York. From there he was able to control the robot arm in the University of Reading and to obtain feedback from sensors in the finger tips. He also successfully connected ultrasonic sensors on a baseball cap and experienced a form of extra sensory input

John Lilly: The Sensory Deprivation Tank creator

John Cunningham Lilly  was an American physician, psychoanalyst, philosopher and writer. He was a pioneer researcher into the nature of consciousness using as his principal tools the isolation tank, dolphin communication, and psychedelic drugs, sometimes in combination. He was a prominent member of the Californian counterculture of scientists, mystics and thinkers that arose in the late 1960s and early 70s. Albert Hofmann, Gregory Bateson, Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, Werner Erhard, and Richard Feynman were all frequent visitors to his home.

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In 1953, he took a post studying neurophysiology with the US Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Corps. In 1954, following the desire to strip away outside stimuli from the mind/brain, he devised the first isolation tank, a dark soundproof tank of warm salt water in which subjects could float for long periods in sensory isolation. Dr. Lilly himself and a research colleague were the first to act as subjects in this research.

His quest next took him to ask questions about the minds of other large-brained mammals and in the late 1950s he established a centre devoted to fostering human-dolphin communication; the Communication Research Institute on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. In the early 1960s, Dr. Lilly and co-workers published several papers reporting that dolphins could mimic human speech patterns. Subsequent investigations of dolphin cognition have generally, however, found it difficult to replicate his results.

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