Giovanni Aldini may not be a household name, but his contributions to science cannot be ignored. Neither can his macabre demonstrations of the power of electricity on the human body. Aldini was a real-life "mad scientist," and it's rumored that Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" was based on his life.
Aldini is most (in)famous for his contributions to electrophysiology, or the study of electrical properties of body cells and tissues. He learned about what he called "animal electricity" or galvanism by jolting the dead bodies of humans and animals in an attempt to excite their remaining "life forces." In his own words, Aldini's goal was to "convey an energetic fluid to the seat of all sensations; distribute its force throughout the different parts of the nervous and muscular systems; produce, reanimate and, so to speak, control the vital forces: this is the object of my research, this is the advantage that I intend to collect from the theory of galvanism."
Although Aldini's public displays of corpse reanimation earned him a seat at the mad scientists' table, without his contributions, we may not have medical treatments like electroconvulsive therapy or deep brain stimulation today.
To learn more about Giovanni Aldini, "the corpse reanimator," watch the video above or read the transcript below. And don't forget to leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Talk Nerdy To Me!
Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria here. Picture in your mind a scientist. No, really. Close your eyes and conjure up an image. I'll wait....what do you see?
White coat? Grey beard? Lightning bolts shooting from his fingertips? I've spent most of my career trying to squash the stereotype of the crazy old dude behind the beaker, but I thought I'd indulge us a bit with today's video. Because let's be honest, the mad scientist isn't exactly a cliche. Though rare, the history of science is punctuated with shocking examples of pure, unadulterated insanity. Even Sir Isaac Newton took his dedication to the science of optics a little too far when he stuck a needle deep into his eye socket, pressing it up against the back of his eyeball. Apparently this self-experiment was meant to demonstrate color perception as a result of ocular pressure. Hmm.
But the guy whose devotion to science is in a league of its own is Giovanni Aldini, an Italian physicist who lived from 1762 to 1834. Aldini was the nephew of Luigi Galvani. Now, if that name doesn't sound familiar, maybe the word galvanism does? Galvanism, named for Galvani, is the practice of applying electrical current to animal tissue in an effort to contract its muscles. It's the founding principle behind the modern study of electrophysiology. See, living creatures are full of what's called "excitable tissue," parts of the body that respond to internal electrical impulses. Neurons are excitable, and so is heart and muscle tissue. Galvani famously discovered the phenomenon that he called "animal electricity" when he zapped a frog's leg and made it twitch.
But back to Galvani's nephew, Giovanni Aldini. He took his uncle's discoveries just a bit too far. I mean, Aldini is nicknamed the "corpse reanimator" for a reason. And it's rumored that Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is based on his story.
See, in addition to large animals like oxen, cows, and horses, Aldini found that executed criminals worked quite well for his scientific investigations. He wanted to excite the remaining "vital forces" of the recently deceased by passing current through different regions of the body. In a well-documented case, Aldini procured the remains of George Forster, a man found guilty of murdering his wife and child by drowning. Forster was hanged on January 18, 1803, and his body was promptly taken to the Royal College of Surgeons, where Aldini was prepared to perform his macabre experiments before a large audience of townspeople and medical professionals.
His method was relatively simple, but it produced a display so gruesome and spectacular, one onlooker is rumored to have died of fright after witnessing it. Aldini took a pair of conducting rods, linked them to a large, powerful battery, and positioned them in various locations on the dead man's body. When he touched them to the face, according to a local newspaper, "the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened."
As if these morbid manipulations of Forster's face weren't enough, Aldini took his conducting rods to a curious place, jolting the dead man's rectum. And this created a spectacle so fantastic, witnesses were convinced the cadaver had come back to life. It punched the air with its fists, kicked out its legs, and violently arched its back in whole-body convulsions.
But Aldini's traveling circus of horrors wasn't the only application he found for his late uncle's galvanic practices. In fact, as early as 1801, Aldini discovered that he could cure what he called "melancholic madness" in psychiatric patients. He applied electrical current to the heads of some of the most tortured individuals he could find, most likely sufferers of what we now know as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression. And although controversial, the much safer practice of electroconvulsive therapy is still used today and has a high success rate for treating people with severe mental illness. Even deep brain stimulation, a cutting-edge surgical technique used to relieve chronic pain and treatment-resistant Parkinson's disease, owes its existence to Aldini.
For his contributions to science, the emperor of Austria made Aldini a Knight of the Iron Crown, which sounds pretty metal, if you ask me.
What do you think about Giovanni Aldini's mad science? You can reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or leave a comment right here on The Huffington Post. Come on, Talk Nerdy To Me!
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