Mary Shelley helped advance the science fiction genre with her tale of a scientist who brings a man built of corpses to life. But in real life, plenty of mad and not-so-mad scientists have played with human and animal bodies (and body parts) to gain a greater understanding of the limits on life. After the jump, right real-life scientists who have performed shocking experiments on the nature life and death.
Johann Dippel: An actual inhabitant of Castle Frankenstein, Dippel is believed by many to be an inspiration for Shelley’s story. His life’s work was to discover the Elixir of Life, which would make anyone immortal, and created "Dippel’s Oil," an elixir made from bones, blood, and other bodily fluids and widely used as a neurostimulant. He was also rumored to have been an ardent vivisectionalist, frequently stealing corpses from the local graveyard.
Andrew Ure: Ure was also looking for the secrets of life in human corpses. He obtained and experimented on the body of John Clydesdale, a criminal who had been executed by hanging. Ure caused a stir among the scientific community when he revealed the nature of his experiements. He claimed that men who had died of suffocation, drowning, or hanging could be restored to life through the stimulation of the phrenic nerve.
Giovanni Aldini: Luigi Aldini discovered that a frog’s legs would kick as electricity traveled through the muscles. His nephew Giovanni took the discovery a step further. He studied the effects of galvanizing human and animal bodies. He publicly electrified a recently severed dog’s head, giving it the appearance of life. He also performed experiments on recently deceased criminals, churning electricity through them to achieve momentary reanimation. His corpses convulsed, grimaced, and even raised their limbs, much to the shock of onlookers. Aldini was also the first to use electric shocks to the brain in the treatment of neurological disorders, a practice still in use today.
Gabriel Beaurieux: France’s use of the guillotine led to Beaurieux’s fascination with severed heads. He examined heads immediately after decapitation and noted that the heads would open their eyes, fix their pupils on the objects before them, and even respond to their own names for several seconds before appearing to completely lose consciousness.
Robert Cornish: Building on the work of George Washington Crile, who pioneered the blood transfusion, Cornish worked in resuscitating dead animals. After asphyxiating dogs in a lab, Cornish would place the bodies on a teeterboard while infusing them with saline, oxygen, and adrenalin. The fourth and fifth dogs in the experiment (named Lazarus, as were their less fortunate predecessors) were successfully revived, although they never fully recovered. Cornish went on to play himself in Life Returns a film about a doctor who works to revive the dead.
Sergei Bryukhonenko: We have mentioned Soviet scientist Sergei Bryukhonenko before. Another fan of canine experimentation, Bryukhonenko invented the autojektor, a heart and lung machine, and proved its efficacy by attaching it to a severed dog’s head, which stayed alive, eating and drinking.
Vladimir Demikhov: We can credit Demikhov with many modern advances in organ transplants, but he is perhaps best remembered for his work in two-headed dogs. Demikhov transplanted the head and front legs of one dog onto a second dog’s body. Both dogs were awake, aware, and hungry. He made 20 of these two-headed creatures, but, tragically, due to tissue rejection, none of them lived longer than a month.
Robert White: Following the revelation of the Soviet Union’s two-headed dog program, the United States began working on some mad transplant programs of its own. During the 1970s, surgeon Robert White successfully transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. Because he was unable to repair the resulting nerve damage, the monkeys were paralyzed from the neck down, but the heads themselves could see, taste, think, and feel. It was believed the monkeys could survived this way indefinitely, although they were ultimately euthanized.