Reto U. Schneider's newly-translated The Mad Science Book is packed with tales of bizarre science experiments - including one about a forensic researcher who hanged himself repeatedly in 1905 for a study on hanging.
Nicolas Minovici was a Romanian scientist who was obsessed with figuring out what exactly happens to the human body during a hanging. He wrote a book-length essay, "Studies on Hanging," in which he analyzed nearly 200 hanging cases, organized into a demented taxonomy based on things like types of knots and how different kinds of people reacted to hanging.
But he wasn't content to just observe the hangings of others. He wanted to know how it really felt. Writes Schneider:
He first did some preliminary trials with a non contracting noose ("I let myself hang six to seven times for four to five seconds to get used to it."). The pain was almost intolerable as Minovici writes. It persisted for two weeks. Still Minovici felt "comforted by the results" and went for the real thing: He and some of his collaborators put their heads into a regular contracting noose and asked an assistant to hang them – twelve times.
As when describing former experiments Minovici apologizes again and again that "despite of all our courage we could not take the experiment any longer than three to four seconds."
At least he wasn't torturing mice. Schneider's book has been recently translated into English from the original German, and it's available now in the UK. The science writer has also created a great website to go with the book, which has a lot of early-twentieth century films made during bizarre experiments. My favorite was the scientist studying how animals fall, who filmed himself dropping cats and rabbits onto a mattress over and over.
The Mad Science Book [via Amazon UK]