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10 Scientists Who Experimented on Themselves

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Science moves forward by experimentation. Often, however, that experimentation is laughably silly, incredibly frightening, or unconscionably cruel. Since the reaction of most scientists who are faced with such experiments is either, "get a monkey" or "get an unsuspecting human," there are a lot of horror stories out there. There's also the need to take a little time to thank those few scientists who took one for the team. Here are ten scientists who experimented on themselves.


10. Jonas Salk

You'd think that people would be lining up for a polio vaccine. Unfortunately, just before Salk debuted his soon-to-be-celebrated vaccine another scientist had caused the deaths of several children with a faulty one. In an effort to prove that his vaccine was harmless, Salk administered it to himself and his family. They lived, the vaccine was a hit, and polio is pretty much unheard of today.


9. Sir Humphrey Davy

Sir Humphrey was a chemist who dared to answer the burning question that plagues most chemists; "What happens if I walk up to these strange fumes and inhale them." This noble quest lead to the discovery of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, and allows many of us today to laugh through minor surgeries - or parties given by dentists. Young Davy didn't come out as well. There's a reason why these fumes are administered by professionals, and he frequently poisoned or nearly killed himself.

8. Pradeep Seth

Experimentation on oneself is not a thing of the past, though. In 2003 this microbiologist decided to inject himself with a potential HIV vaccine, probably on the grounds that there was no way he could sue himself. He came out of the experiment okay, but earned something of a reputation among his colleagues.


7. Stubbins Ffirth

Doctor Ffirth shows that some research needs not only guts, but grueling dedication and strong stomach. To prove that yellow fever was not contagious. Stubbins poured vomit from a yellow fever patient on cuts on his arms. Then he poured it on his eyes. Then in his mouth, injesting straight from the patient. Then he moved on to other fluids. He never got sick, but he proved something that turned out to be false. Yellow fever is contagious, but only through blood.


6. Albert Hoffman
Scientific experimentation isn't all bad. Albert Hoffman's self-experimentation with his newly synthesized LSD was so pleasant that he spent much of his remaining career studying hallucinogens.

5. John Hunter

John Hunter believed that gonorrhea turned into syphilis. John Hunter was wrong. John Hunter never actually knew he was wrong because when he tested this theory by smearing pus infected with gonorrhea on his penis, the pus came from a patient who also had syphilis. The resulting debacle delayed his marriage for years. That's right; 'delayed,' not 'ended.' So all the credit, in this case, goes to his wife. She was the one who really tried something risky.


4. Elizabeth Fleischman Ascheim

Elizabeth first became interested in x-rays through her brother-in-law. She took a course in electrical science and bought an x-ray machine, and started up the first x-ray lab in San Francisco. She, and later her husband, used the lab frequently to treat victims of the Spanish-American war. They also conducted experiments for years, using themselves as subjects. After a few years, Ascheim died from a widespread cancer.


3. Lazzaro Spallanzani

Not all experiments involve testing one spectacularly risky thing. Some are meant to illustrate a process. One process, digestion, was examined by Lazzaro Spallanzani in the 1700s. Spallanzani sealed up his food in little bags of linen, swallowed the bags, and then recovered them at various stages of the digestive process. By examining the bags' contents after one, two, or three hours in his stomach, he could see how food was broken down.


2. Werner Forssman

A wonderful demonstration of how successful the 'Lie back and think of the Nobel,' strategy can be is Werner Forssman. He wanted to demonstrate a method of heart catheterization. For those of you who think this is reasonable, consider the 'heart' is defined as one of the most vital muscles in the body and the 'catheter' is defined as 'one of those awful little tubes that they stick into you in a hospital'. Werner decided to stick the catheter into a vein in his arm. He pushed the catheter 65 centimeters through his body until it reached his heart. Then, to prove he wasn't lying, he walked upstairs - over the bodies of his weeping, screaming, fainting or vomiting coworkers - and took an x-ray to prove where the catheter was. In his heart.


1. Sir Isaac Newton

Newton actually took the old schoolyard chant 'stick a needle in your eye' seriously. He was studying optics, but there was a problem. Some people saw strange colored spots in front of their eyes. Some people saw certain colors. Were colors influenced by the eye? Newton decided to find out by sticking a needle between his eyelid and eye, and digging around the backside of his eyeball like a pig routing for truffles. He then documented the 'light and dark colored spots' appeared when he moved 'ye bodkin' but that they disappeared when he kept it still. Well done, Isaac.


Via UTMB, American Journal of Radiology, Top Tenz, Crystal Links, Listverse, New Scientist, and The Times Online.