Thursday, October 4, 2012

Real Life Mad Scientists

Real Mad Scientists : Welcome to our real life tales of mad scientists. Mad scientists like the real, and truly maddest of mad scientists "Giovanni Aldini" have had a real impact on mankind's development, both scientifically and socially.

A True Dr. Frankenstein

Giovanni Aldini was the nephew of Luigi Galvani. 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.

Giovanni Aldini was the greatest of all Galvani’s supporters. He helped to organize a society at Bologna to foster the practices of galvanism in opposition to a Volta society established at the University of Pavia.

Aldini traveled all over Europe publicly electrifying human and animal bodies, and his performances were extraordinary theatrical spectacles. In 1802 Giovanni Aldini came to London with a spectacular demonstration. Such spectacles performed on humans (and ox heads) produced repeated, spasmodic movements of facial muscles, arms, and legs.

He stimulated the heads and trunks of cows, horses, sheep and dogs. An eyewitness reported: "Aldini, after having cut off the head of a dog, makes the current of a strong battery go through it: the mere contact triggers really terrible convulsions. The jaws open, the teeth chatter, the eyes roll in their sockets; and if reason did not stop the fired imagination, one would almost believe that the animal is suffering and alive again".

Though a showman in many respects, Aldini was among the first to treat mentally ill patients with shocks to the brain, reporting complete electrical cures for a number of mental illnesses.

These experiments were described in details in Aldini's book published in London in 1803 "An account of the late improvements in galvanism, with a series of curious and interesting experiments performed before the commissioners of the French National Institute, and repeated lately in the anatomical theaters of London, by John Aldini." It was an influential book on galvanism, that presented for the first time a series of experiments in which the principles of Volta and Galvani were used together.

The fine series of plates illustrated the experiments which involved bodies and heads of animals and humans. For the first time a description appears here of the magnetization of steel needles through connection to a voltaic circuit.

The most famous experiment took place at the Royal College of Surgeons in London in 1803, on a hanged man named George Forster. Anatomical dissection had formed part of Forster’s death sentence, but no one could have visualized quite the violation that Aldini was going to inflict on him. Before a large medical and general audience, he took a pair of conducting rods linked to a powerful battery, and touched the rods to various parts of the body in turn.

The results were dramatic. When the rods were applied to Forster’s mouth and ear, “the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened.” When one rod was moved to touch the rectum, the whole body convulsed: indeed, the movements were “so much increased as almost to give an appearance of re-animation”.

And so it went on, with Aldini moving the two rods around the body in a different combinations like a switchboard operator. According to newspaper reports of the time, some of the spectators genuinely believed that the body was about to come to life, and were suitably awestruck even though it did not happen.

George Forster was hung at 8am on 18th January 1803 at Newgate Prison, for the drowning of his wife and youngest child in the Paddington Canal. After hanging for an hour in sub-zero temperatures, Aldini procured the body and began his galvanic experiments.

On the first application of the process to the face, the jaws of the deceased criminal began to quiver, and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion. Mr Pass, the beadle of the Surgeons’ Company, who was officially present during this experiment, was so alarmed that he died of fright soon after his return home.

“The jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened … The action even of those muscles furthest distant from the points of contact with the arc was so much increased as almost to give an appearance of re-animation … vitality might, perhaps, have been restored, if many circumstances had not rendered it impossible.”

"Galvanism was communicated by means of three troughs combined together, each of which contained forty plates of zinc, and as many of copper. On the first application of the arcs the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened."

"The first of these decapitated criminals being conveyed to the apartment provided for my experiments, in the neighbourhood of the place of execution, the head was first subjected to the Galvanic action. For this purpose I had constructed a pile consisting of a hundred pieces of silver and zinc. Having moistened the inside of the ears with salt water, I formed an arc with two metallic wires, which, proceeding from the two ears, were applied, one to the summit and the other to the bottom of the pile. When this communication was established, I observed strong contractions in the muscles of the face, which were contorted in so irregular a manner that they exhibited the appearance of the most horrid grimaces. The action of the eye-lids was exceedingly striking, though less sensible in the human head than in that of an ox."

But Aldini himself gave no indication that he expected any such thing – although he did describe his ultimate aim as learning how to “command the vital powers.” In practice, he confined himself to concluding that galvanism “exerted a considerable power over the nervous and muscular systems.” He also noted that nothing could be done with the heart. 

In recognition of his merits, the emperor of Austria made him a knight of the Iron Crown and a councilor of state at Milan, where he died on the 17th of January 1834. He left by will a considerable sum to found a school of natural science for artisans at Bologna.


Many writers and historians recently have stated Aldini was an inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein due to his many public experimentations of bio-electric Galvanism. Aldini's most famous public demonstrations of the electro-stimulation technique of deceased limbs was performed on the executed criminal George Forster at Newgate in London in 1803.

While it is true that Aldini did do these attempts at human reanimation during the same time of Shelley's writings, and Forster execution was a sensational notice in the public venue, there is no specific reference that Shelley did actually adapt Aldini into her works despite obviously being aware of Aldini's experiments which were done in public at the Royal College of Physicians in 1803.

Raising the Dead

Cryogenics is a method of trying to preserve cellular tissue by means of cold temperatures. There have been a few 'successes' in cryogenics but by and large, since the 1960's, the problem has still always been the same: all matters of life have water in their cells, and water expands when frozen, thus destroying the cells, thus no preservation of life.

Then there is genetics and the field of cloning, or even the genetic study of manipulating genes to 'perfect' an individual. Genetics was first hypothesized, believe it or not, by a monk/pea farmer named Gregor Mendel, who noted that inheritance patterns of certain traits in pea plants and showed that they could be described mathematically.

Real Mad Scientists
It has been proven in recent years that the DNA of a human being can be placed into the cell of an animal, and if breaded and born would be a man/animal, 90% man and 10% animal. Such ideas are considered blasphemous, and even in H.G. Well's time, who once wrote The Island of Dr. Moreau, was considered science-fiction and if possible, would be a great abomination; now it is possible.

These days, scientists are trying to 'bring back' extinct species of animal, most notably the Tasmanian Tiger and the Wooly Mammoth. But the question of whether or not dead tissue can be reanimated is still undetermined. Some scientific communities say they are close to the answer.

Stay tuned for more of  'Real Life Mad Scientists' coming soon!

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