The 6 Ballsiest Inventors Of All Time
Being a good scientist takes intelligence and creativity and years of study. To be a great scientist, you need to be just a little bit crazy.
Test subjects aren't always around, after all, and even if they are, they might not be willing to put their lives on the line based on your crazy-ass idea. That's why a whole lot of scientific advancement has happened due to these men's gigantic balls:
Lawrence Patrick, Human Crash Test Dummy
If you were ever involved in a serious car accident, you probably survived thanks to Lawrence Patrick. The man invented, among other things, the air bag and automobile safety tests. Basically, before Patrick came along, you could strap a motor to a goat and take that shit out on the freeway, because no one was sure how much damage crashing your goat-mobile would do.
We're thinking a top-mounted jet intake.
Realizing that at the time (the 1940s) there was virtually no information about what the human body could withstand, Patrick dedicated his life to human impact survival research. This little-known branch of science seems pretty straightforward -- that's why we have crash test dummies, right?
Yes, we do nowadays, because Patrick built the first dummies ...
... based on data he gathered by measuring impacts on himself.
And what'd you do today? Throw out the expired milk?
So Patrick had his knee repeatedly smashed against a metal bar, underwent 400 rides on a rocket sled and, since this already sounds more like a Looney Tunes cartoon than science, he had a 50-pound pendulum hit him in the chest.
The results were broken ribs and fingers and countless bruises, as well as priceless data on how the body reacts to high-velocity impacts. This information was used to set the standard for almost all safety measures in cars and saved countless lives.
We're still fans of the goat-mobile.
In fact, before Patrick conducted his innovative research, car manufacturers had declared that automobiles couldn't be made safe for humans, and that any car crash would result in death since the body was simply too frail. Patrick's numerous experiments proved otherwise. With pain.
Torald Sollmann Gasses Himself
There are few legacies of the World War I as terrifying as the use of chemical weapons. For instance, mustard gas was not only deadly, but painfully so, and the effects raised serious concern among anyone who wasn't, you know, bat-shit insane. Hell, this was the one weapon that later on even Hitler decided was too inhumane.
So, um. There's a point for Hitler, we guess.
Scared by its effects, Torald Sollmann, one of the most distinguished pharmacologists in the world, decided to dedicate himself to finding an antidote to mustard gas. As the author of more than 500 original research papers and essentially a scientific pioneer, he seemed like the right man for the job ... until a few pages into his research proposal, where he wrote that the urgency of the problem justified experiments on human subjects.
Which is not usually a phrase that ends in good things.
In case you are not familiar with the effects of mustard gas on humans, let's say that it's about as bad as salt on a snail or water on the Wicked Witch of the West. Even minor contact can cause blindness and serious skin inflammation, including gangrene. This meant volunteers for testing would be hard to come by, so of course Sollmann turned to his own body.
The method of the experiments was relatively simple: Sollman would cover portions of skin with various ointments and mixtures, then expose them to mustard gas and note how badly he managed to hurt himself.
Numerous exposures to the extremely poisonous gas revealed that Vaseline and coconut charcoal could be used to protect the skin from the worst effects of the gas. Unfortunately, this discovery was pretty much useless, since covering your entire body with Vaseline is one of the most impractical ways to prepare for battle.
It's not a bad way to prep for a high-speed orgy, though.
In the end Sollmann's studies didn't bring a surprising breakthrough that could stop mustard gas, but they did something even better: They helped people understand how horrible it was and contributed to the public outrage that eventually led to the signing of the Geneva Conventions, which forbade countries from using toxic chemicals in warfare.
Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, aka Mr. Freeze
While hypothermia and its deadly effects are well-documented, there were very few scientific studies on how freezing actually affects the body until recently. We knew that nerve endings stop working and muscles contract, but there were almost no data on the details, such as the time frame for this process or what can be done to help the body resist it.
Knowing what this article is about, you can guess that someone -- in this case, Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht -- decided to take things into his own hands. His frozen, twisted, bizarrely self-punishing hands.
He looks so normal, too.
In this case, that means that Giesbrecht went to the nearest frozen lake and jumped in. He continued his studies by lowering his body temperature below 95 degrees, and since science is all about repeated measurements, did it about 33 times. We know 95 degrees doesn't sound too bad, until you realize that that's basically Stage 2 hypothermia and at Stage 3 hypothermia, you die. To top it all off, Giesbrecht drove a snowmobile into an icy pond, and for the hell of it did it all night. We ... think that was part of his experiment.
Liquor may have been involved.
Besides seriously punishing his body, Giesbrecht made several important discoveries about the way we react to the cold and how to survive should you get drunk and fall into icewater one day. Giesbrecht now runs a cold water boot camp where volunteers can learn all they need to know about freezing water, firsthand, from a frozen lake. If you want to sign up, you can click the hell out of that link right there. We'll wait.
Elisha Graves Otis Taunts Gravity
Elisha Otis was an engineer in a time when the job description for the position was "dude who disassembles old machines." As such, he found himself with the job of converting an old mill to a factory, a position made significantly more exciting by the fact that the only way to clear the upper floors was by using a system of hoisting platforms. We said this was exciting because back in 1851, hoisting platforms was about as safe as trying to insert contacts into the eyes of an angry bear.
"This seems like a terrible idea."
After having to dodge certain death every few days, Otis decided enough was enough, but instead of quitting and becoming a street sweeper, he invented the world's first automatic braking system. This was a safety device that, should the hoist fail, would clamp down on the rope before the platform could collapse to the ground and kill everyone using it.
That's it right there. Probably.
Pleased with himself, Otis continued his job, never thinking of patenting the device or even asking for a raise. It took two years until he realized that people might be extremely interested in an invention that could prevent them from plummeting to a certain death from the 30th floor of a recently built skyscraper.
So how did this guy earn a spot on this list?
His rockin' power beard?
Well, deciding to go into business for himself, Otis knew he'd have to demonstrate his life-saving braking system. So at the 1853 World's Fair, he got up on a platform and allowed volunteers to cut the fucking rope holding him aloft. Always eager to help, or maybe just wanting a funny story to tell later, a volunteer stepped forward and chopped through Otis' lifeline.
The brake worked. It was so successful that it was soon implemented in all elevators and contributed to a boom in tall buildings. Not only did Otis' safety mechanism encourage people to use elevators, but construction workers could now use cranes and hoisting platforms with a lot more confidence. It's surprising how much morale can increase when you're not likely to die every morning on your way to your cubicle.
Ah, the glorious days before workers' comp.
Louis-Sebastien Lenormand Also Taunts Gravity
Since the dawn of history, mankind has wanted to soar into the skies and hopefully return to the ground safely. While the first part of the equation was relatively easy to achieve as long as you had a tall cliff, it was landing back on ground with your innards still inside your skin that was the tough part.
Ah, the rich history of falling.
Keep in mind that even before there was such a thing as planes, there were towers you could plummet from. So people had dabbled with the idea of parachutes even during the Renaissance, with mixed results. In other words, don't ask. But the fact that there were no recorded incidents of people successfully using a parachute didn't stop Loui-Sebastien Lenormand.
In the 1700s, the man decided to toss away all the designs created by the great thinkers before him and basically use two umbrellas strung together. He tested his invention in the simplest way possible: by using it to jump from a tree. Satisfied that nothing in his body was broken, Lenormand decided to take it to the nearest tower.
Hanging. Past. His. Knees.
On Dec. 26, 1783, Lenormand jumped from the Montpellier Observatory in France in front of an amazed crowd. His homemade parachute not only worked (and in fact inspired the word "parachute") but also inspired two brothers who saw him to create a manned hot air balloon.
Followed shortly by the zeppelin.
Unfortunately for Lenormand, the true purpose of his parachute -- namely, saving people from burning buildings -- could also be achieved with a tall ladder. Disappointed, he retreated into a monastery, where he dedicated himself to theoretical studies for the rest of his life.
Who else could have been #1?
When it comes to medicine, most innovations are made after years of careful animal testing and even longer years of adapting the drugs for human use. That's how you make sure you're not going to kill the patients you're trying to save. But in the mid-1900s, with polio claiming thousands of lives every year, there was no time for decades of research.
Again, not normally a phrase followed by good things.
Jonas Salk knew all of this, and he also knew that telling the public to inject themselves with a "killed" version of the polio virus would be met with protests. Not only did all previous attempts at inoculation fail miserably, but in one test, six children were killed and three left crippled after trying a potential vaccine. Yeah.
Also, Salk kind of looked like a mad scientist.
So basically, saying "polio vaccine" in the 1940s was likely to get you lynched.
But Salk believed that his method of killing the virus would allow the body to build immunity without any risk. He was so certain of it that when the scientific community asked who in their right mind would willingly take the vaccine, Salk raised his hand.
That man hated him some polio.
But it wasn't just his own life he was willing to risk. To avoid any debate about age or gender influencing the results, Salk also volunteered ... his whole family.
One by one, Salk, his wife and his three children were injected with a substance that many believed would kill or at least paralyze them. Then they all died.
Ha! No, not really. Everybody came through fine -- a fact that made headlines around the world. Widespread vaccination would later practically eradicate polio from the planet, all thanks to Salk's humongous balls.
Pssh. It was just polio.
For more scientists with balls of steel, check out The 6 Most Badass Stunts Ever Pulled in the Name of Science. Or learn about the actually insane ones, in 9 Real Life Mad Scientists.
And stop by Linkstorm to see Soren trying out his Kevlar jock-strap.
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