Step into my laboratory.
When you picture a mad scientist, you might imagine characters from Romantic literature playing with corpses and galvanism in dark European castles, laughing maniacally as the lightning strikes and a monster comes back to life.
Or maybe you picture characters from more modern movies, delicately toying with computers and futuristic contraptions, perhaps lost behind large goggles and wild Einsteinian hair.
But you don’t have to look to fiction to learn about so-called “mad” scientists, because as it turns out, they’ve always existed. Throughout history, passionate followers of science and even the occult have made their mark, often through shocking or disturbing experiments, but also through important—albeit unorthodox—discoveries.
From men who should have been tried as war criminals to absolute geniuses within the fields of modern medicine and robotics, these men are truly mad scientists.
Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov
Born in Russia in 1870, Ivanov went on to become a Soviet biologist who specialized in artificial insemination and interspecific hybridization.
Among his most controversial studies were his attempts to create a human-ape hybrid, which he carried out as early as 1910 until his arrest in 1930.
Ivanov primarily worked with female chimpanzees and human sperm, but when that failed, he organized experiments involving ape sperm and human volunteers. (Who would volunteer for that?)
Before he could properly conduct his experiments, he and a number of colleagues were arrested by Stalin’s forces and forced into exile in Kazakhstan.
José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado
Born in Ronda, Spain—one of Hemingway’s favorite cities—José Delgado received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Madrid shortly before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Joining the Republican cause, which would ultimately lose, Delgado spent five years in a Spanish concentration camp after the war ended, but continued his medical studies thereafter.
Though he originally intended to become an eye doctor, Delgado soon became fascinated with what he called “the many mysteries of the brain,” and by 1950, he had a position in the physiology department at Yale.
Delgado became focused on using electrodes and electrical signals to evoke involuntary responses from his subjects, ultimately working towards remote mind control. Using a device called a stimoceiver, his own invention, Delgado used radio frequencies to control the specific actions of his human and animal subjects. In one of the most famous examples, he stood in front of a charging bull, which he then made stop running simply by pressing a remote control that sent signals to the stimoceiver in the bull’s brain.
He was quoted as saying, “We must electronically control the brain. Some day, armies and generals will be controlled by electric stimulation of the brain.”
The first contemporary mad scientist on this list, Kevin Warwick is a British engineer who studies direct interfaces between computers and the human nervous system; his interests also include robotics, biomedical engineering, and artificial intelligence.
Warwick is perhaps most famous for his research known as Project Cyborg, which he personally undertook by having a transmitter implanted under his skin with which he was able to control nearby doors, lights, and other devices connected to a computer system. The project has since become more complicated, however, and Warwick has since used implants and electrodes that can connect to his nervous system; with this system, he could control robot parts located in England while he was in New York purely through his brain and body.
Lastly, he achieved the first purely electronic communication between the nervous systems of two people when he synced implants located in his body and his wife’s body in an attempt to create a form of telepathy. Thanks to his work, Warwick has earned the moniker “Captain Cyborg.”
Next up, the real-life Dr. Frankenstein…