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The Top 10 Ballsiest Scientists in History

by DannyGallagher   January 26, 2010 at 10:00AM  |  Views: 1,434

The science geeks we grew up with in high school may have been mouth-breathing social rejects who could easily be knocked over by glancing in their direction. But some of history's walking calculators have used their awesome powers of comprehension and reasoning to do things far gutsier than a night of underage drinking and a morning of regret can ever offer.

Source: David Freund/Photodisc/Getty Images

By Danny Gallagher

10. Stanley Milgram

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Source: Apic/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Psychology always makes for the most interesting and awesome types of experimentation. It basically involves tricking people to do things against their will (fact: 80 percent of all Penthouse Forum letters take place in a psychology class). Milgram wanted to understand the reasoning behind atrocities that led to the Nuremberg trials, so he conducted one of his own.

He asked his test subjects to monitor a "learner," an actor pretending to be a test subject in their own experiment. Every time the "learner" made a mistake, the real subject would have to deliver increasing amounts of electricity into their body. Milgram was able to convince 60 percent of the subjects to deliver shocks leading up to 450 volts and none of the subjects refused to administer the shocks until they reached 300 volts. While none of the subjects were actually injured in the experiment, asking a total stranger to turn another total stranger into a crispy chicken nugget takes a mighty set of electron balls.


9. Carl Scheele

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Source: Evald Waldemar Hansen

This noted Swedish scientist has contributed to chemistry in ways that would not have made modern scientific achievement possible. For instance, he taught us that certain chemical elements were poisonous by stepping on that landmine for the rest of us. Scheele is considered in some circles to be the father of arsenic and cyanide, that popular poison used to move along the plots of Shakesperian plays and episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. If you don't consider him to be the father, you should since he probably ingested more of the stuff than any living human male.

He didn't just purposely swallow it. He studied it in every conceivable form and his constant exposure to it is said to have hastened his demise. He described its texture, smell, and even its taste, although his unfortunate death prevented him from discovering whether it goes with red or white wine. Ironically, he is also credited with discovering a number of other chemicals and substances including oxygen, which is amazing since he obviously got so little of it.

8. Giordano Bruno

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Source: Marco Cristofori/Stone/Getty Images

Standing up for your beliefs is hard to do. Just try getting your friends to back you in a "Better Darren on Bewitched" bar fight and you'll see what I mean. Bruno literally had his life on the line for believing something that has become a known fact, depending on who you ask and whether or not they have tin foil on their head. Bruno spent part of his life fleeing the oppressive violence of the Inquisition in the 16th century and when he was finally captured and taken to trial on grounds of heresy, he refused to back down from his beliefs and was burned at the stake. Some believe that his insistence that the universe stretched far beyond the Earth was what eventually did him in, earning him a front row seat to his own execution.

7. Stubbins Ffirth

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Source: Nick Koudis/Photodisc/Getty Images

William Osler has often been called the "father of modern medicine." Otto Hahn is credited with being the "founder of the atomic age." Stubbs Ffirth might have just such a name, but being the "forerunner of vomit experiments" really doesn't look good on a business card.

The early 19th century scientist wanted to show the world that yellow fever was not a contagious disease, so he spent a long part of his life immersing his own body in more bodily fluids than a summer teen sex comedy. He poured vomit  from yellow fever victims into just about every orifice in his body, sat in a "vomit sauna" and even ingested the stuff directly from a patient's mouth. He didn't contract yellow fever even though it has since been proven to be contagious, but that's just because even yellow fever was too grossed out to go near the sicko.

6. Jean-Francois Pilâtre De Roziere

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Source: Gaston Tissandier

When this French chemist and physicist witnessed the first balloon flight launch in 1783, it inspired him to achieve greater and greater heights in man's unrelenting quest for flight. He managed to do just that with harrowing degrees of success (and I imagine several pairs of spoiled underpants later). His luck changed the following year when he ambitiously planned to cross the English Channel into England but failed to account for one tiny variable - the wind. It just pushed him and his partner off course, caused the balloon to break, deflate, and crash from a then-staggering height of 1,500 feet. To make matters worse, his luggage ended up in Vienna. (Thank you folks, I'll be here all week. Try the veal!)

 

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