“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.” – Albert Einstein
A scientist is a person engaging in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge that describes and predicts the natural world. The person may be an expert in one or more areas of science. The term scientist was coined by the theologian, philosopher William Whewell. Scientists perform research toward a more comprehensive understanding of nature, including physical, mathematical, technological, and social realms.
It’s famous scientists who got us where we are today. Here are some facts about history’s brilliant (and often eccentric) scientists.
65. Relative Politics
Albert Einstein declined the Presidency of Israel saying he had no head for problems.
Albert Einstein, Summer 1939 Nassau Point, Long Island, NY, original and colorized photograph.
Einstein, in fact, was born with his noggin so large that Grandmother muttered “Much too fat baby. Much too fat”.
How we imagine Einstein may have looked as a baby.
63. Darling Lina
Einstein played his violin while birdwatching – and cried. He called his instrument Lina.
62. Good Eats
That’s not the only odd habit the genius had. His chauffeur reported Einstein plucked a grasshopper off the ground and ate it.
61. Too Brilliant for His Shirt
Ben Franklin showed his neighbors his birthday suit 5.00am each morning while sitting near an open window writing. He claimed the air aroused his creativity.
60. “Brain-washing” in a Tub
Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu, who patented more than 3,300 inventions in his 73-year-old life, got his creativity from sinking himself underwater for hours at a time. Point? “To starve the brain of oxygen. Zero-point-five seconds before death, I visualize an invention.”
59. Bathroom for the Brain
Dr. Nakamatsu also meditated in a bathroom tiled in 24-karat gold, since – according to him – gold tiles blocked out radio waves that harmed his thinking.
58. Singing to the Powder
Sigmund Freud, cocaine addict, published his Cocaine Papers (1887), a “song of praise to this magical substance.”
57. Tesla’s Tastes
Nikola Tesla, physicist, detested overweight women and jewelry of any kind – particularly pearls.
56. The Interview
Researchers who wanted to work for Thomas Edison had to sample soup. If they seasoned it before tasting, they were fired, since it showed they were biased. Before we start thinking Thomas Edison is cool, let’s remember that he also electrocuted a circus elephant to death.
55. Isaac Newton, Super Cop
After becoming recognized as one of the world’s greatest minds, Newton was appointed England’s Warden of the Mint. His job was to find and build cases against counterfeiters, and he duked it out with one particularly well-connected counterfeiter named William Chaloner.
Newton went full-on Dirty Harry and bribed crooks for information on Chaloner. He also leaned on the wives and mistresses of Chaloner’s crooked associates for intelligence.
Eventually, Newton gathered enough information to convict Chaloner, who was hanged for his crimes. Newton did not attend the hanging.
54. 84 Year Old Virgin
Though Isaac Newton lived to be 84, he never married. Some even believe he never lost his virginity. Still, there’s no conclusive way to tell.
53. It’s Real To Me!
Newton was really into alchemy. What’s alchemy? It’s the pseudoscientific predecessor of chemistry that sought to transmute base metals into rare metals, create an elixir of life, and other wacky pursuits. He wrote 169 books on the subject, but none were published in his lifetime.
52. God and Science
Newton loved the bible, and read it obsessively. Newton wrote more on religion than he did on science or math combined.
51. Farmer Newton
Isaac almost became a farmer. When he returned from school at the age of 17, his mother insisted that he take over the family farm. He was an awful farmer though, and soon after his uncle convinced Newton’s mom to send him to Trinity College.
50. In Solemn memory…
Isaac Newton’s father, whose name was also Isaac Newton, died 3 months before Isaac Newton was born.
49. Not Far From The Tree
Is how far Isaac was standing when he saw an apple fall and postulated that it’s the same invisible force that is acting on the moon. The apple never fell on his head.
Newton believed himself to be a big-time sinner. He even wrote a list of 48 sins he believed he committed throughout his life, including punching his sister.
47. Nervous Nelly
Newton had two nervous breakdowns in his life, once in 1678, and again in 1693. Historians credit the second breakdown to chemical poisoning, due to his alchemy practices. Newton’s scientific research ended after the second breakdown.
46. You’re Welcome
Newton was sent home from school to avoid getting the bubonic plague when he was about 22 years old. It was during those days at home that invented calculus. Remember calculus from high school, and how useful it was?
45. The Mad Scientist and the Two-Headed Dog
In 1954, Soviet surgeon Vladimir Demikhov, revealed his masterpiece to the world: a two-headed dog. He created 19 more over the next 15 years.
Although Demikhov’s research has been (justifiably) called out for horrific animal cruelty, it did help pave the way to human organ transplants.
44. “What’s My Address?”
Einstein’s secretary once got an anonymous call asking where Einstein lived. The secretary declined to respond. Whereas the caller admitted he was Einstein himself who had forgotten his address.
43. Only Two Words!
Richard Feynman bet a friend he would be able to get more than two words at a time out of Paul Dirac, famed but taciturn physicist. After speaking to him for several hours with no success, Richard revealed his failure to Dirac. The latter smiled and said, “You’ve lost.”
42. Don’t Tell Me I’m Rich
Henry Cavendish (1731-1810), English chemist and physicist, was bothered by his inherited fortune to the extent that he forbade his banker to waste the eminent scientist’s time by reminding him of it.
Women terrified Cavendish. He warned his maids to keep out of his sight and communicated with his housekeeper only by notes left on his kitchen table. Those who protested were fired.
40. Lock it Up
Richard Feynman, physicist, became a master of cracking safes after working on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos in the 1940s, where everyone was required to keep confidential documents in safes. It started as an intellectual curiosity: he wondered if he could figure out how to open these safes.
He became so good at his craft that he found himself — for the sake of cultivating his legend — carrying tools as a red herring and pretending that safe jobs took longer than they really did.
39. Sexiest Body Of Work
Neil DeGrasse Tyson once described his high school self as “a nerd who could kick your butt.” His muscular physique, along with his charm and good looks earned him the distinction of “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” from People magazine. No argument here.
Young Neil DeGrasse Tyson (right).
38. Pluto No Mo’
Tyson was at the forefront of the movement to declassify Pluto as a planet. He did so by refusing to refer to Pluto as a planet in the Hayden Planetarium’s display back in 2006. When you’re right, you’re right Neil.
How we imagine Pluto took the news.
37. Super Friends
Tyson was approached by DC to appear in a comic with Superman, where he would help the crime-fighting alien get a glimpse of his home planet. Tyson not only said yes, he offered to help ground the story in actual science.
Tyson hosted the reboot of the popular Cosmos series, that was originally hosted by Tyson’s mentor Carl Sagan. Sagan’s wife Ann Druyan, who worked as a writer on the original series also wrote for the reboot. History repeats itself.
35. Meme Me
Tyson became an internet Meme after appearing on an episode of The Colbert Report. The “we’ve got a badass over here” meme was one of the most popular and prevailing memes of the early 2010’s.
34. Light Speed, Almost
After the meme-spawning appearance, Tyson’s daughter tweeted the interview in super slo-mo. Tyson later tweeted that after some calculations by his “geek daughter,” she determined that the slow-mo video is how Tyson would look if he were travelling at 85% the speed of light.
33. Star(k) Naked
Tyson almost became an exotic dancer. Having danced and wrestled through university, Tyson considered dancing at a Chippendales type club for extra cash.
32. Biggest Fan
The pathologist who performed Einstein’s autopsy stole his brain, and kept it in a jar for 20 years. We’re pretty sure that’s not legal, or useful.
31. Bye Bye Bounty
Einstein’s Nobel Prize money went to his ex-wife as part of a divorce settlement. There were no rappers to tell Einstein to get a prenup back then.
Einstein failed his initial university entrance exam. He reapplied the following year and was able to successfully complete the exam. If at first you don’t succeed…
Einstein’s brain had a parietal lobe that was 15% larger than that of the average human. The parietal lobe is responsible for processing sensory information, as well as language and mathematics. Now it’s starting to add up.
Einstein denounced segregation and even went as far as calling it a “disease of white people.” Einstein spent much of his life trying to fight racism in America. Einstein was also one of 5,000+ people who signed a petition to overturn Germany’s ban on homosexuality. Way to go, Al!
27. Dead Or Alive
The Nazis placed $5,000 US bounty on Einstein’s head. That’s roughly $85,000 US adjusted for inflation. Still, that’s not that much all things considered…
26. Hurry This Up, Minister. I Have Work to Do.
Marie Curie insisted on wearing a navy dress for her wedding. “I have no dress except the one I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.” She did, in fact, later wear it in her lab years later.
Marie did much of her research with her husband, Pierre. When their work was submitted to the to the Nobel Prize committee, Marie’s name was never mentioned due to prevailing sexism at the time. Eventually it was amended and Marie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.
Marie and her husband never once tried to cash in on their discoveries. Marie openly shared her work and techniques with scientists and interested industrial parties. Eventually, the green-glowing Radium became so popular it was selling for $100,000 a gram. Marie could no longer afford the thing she discovered, and was unable to continue her research.
After the French Academy of Sciences smeared Marie’s name to keep her from accepting her second Nobel Prize, Marie sank into a depression. It was then that she received a letter from her pal Albert Einstein, telling her how much he admired her strength and intellect, and to not read the tabloids that were written about her. She soon after emerged from her depression, and celebrated by accepting her second Nobel Prize.
Marie put her work aside when the first world war broke out. She helped design and outfit ambulances called “Little Curies.” The ambulances used Radium to perform simple x-rays to help medics locate and remove shrapnel from soldiers’ bodies. It’s estimated that her work helped save the lives of a million soldiers.
Both Marie and her husband were completely in the dark when it came to the dangers of radioactive materials. Though they both suffered from chronic pain, neither considered that it was their radioactive substance handling that was the cause. Some of their original lab equipment is still so radioactive and cannot be safely viewed or studied.
20. Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit
Pythagoras forbade his followers from touching or eating beans. Legend says this caused the mathematician’s death, since he refused to find refuge in a bean field – whereupon his attackers slit his throat.
19. Smells Like Steel
The 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe lost his nose in a duel. He donned a metal one instead.
18. One-Star Hotel
Human rights activists would be after Brahe today! He lodged a dwarf under his table, where he fed him the occasional bite.
Tycho Brahe model of the solar system.
17. Killed By Politeness
Talking about tables, Brahe didn’t want to excuse himself to use the bathroom during a royal banquet in October 1601, fearing it would be impolite. Result: a kidney infection, causing a burst bladder 11 days later and his eventual death.
Current model of the solar system.
Nikola Tesla avoided touching hair, pearl earrings or anything round.
15. Around We Go
Tesla walked around a building three times before entering it.
14. Eighteen Napkins
Each meal, Tesla would use exactly 18 napkins to polish his cup, plate, and cutlery.
13. Captain Planet
Nikola Tesla was worried about people consuming the planet’s resources too quickly, and was an advocate for renewable energy. He researched methods to minimize the impact of fossil fuel consumption. This was way before Earth Day was a thing.
Tesla was born during a thunderstorm. Taking the storm as a bad omen, the midwife said Nikola would be a “child of darkness,” to which Nikola’s mom said “no, he will be a child of light.” Who tries to bully a newborn baby?
Tesla was a humanist, which means he believed in improving life for all people. That’s why unfortunately, Nikola died a poor man, never having profited from his inventions and discoveries.
10. Imagine That
Nikola had a great imagination, and thought of a network of information that was broadcast to handheld devices, or as you may know it, the internet. This was back in 1901, and though he didn’t have the tools necessary to create it, he still had the idea. He even imagined but never invented x-ray and radar systems.
Tesla’s memory was eidetic, which means he could recall entire books in great detail. Now that’s a memorable talent.
8. Alien Property
When Tesla died in 1943, the office of Alien Property seized his possessions. Though most of it was later returned to his family, some of it still remains classified. What did Tesla invent that we never got to know about?
7. No Speak Language? No Problem.
The physicist Robert Oppenheimer was a polymath, fluent in eight languages. In 1931, he asked a University of California colleague to teach a class, giving the students a book as prop. Later that day, the colleague complained the text was Dutch. Oppenheimer’s response? “But it’s easy Dutch!”
6. Too Bad He Couldn’t Just Ask Siri…
Architect and scientist Buckminster Fuller wore three watches to tell time in several different time zones.
5. The Daunting Diary
For 88 years, Fuller tracked his life in his journal every 15-minutes. The volumes, kept at Stanford University, stack 270 feet.
Paul Erdős, mathematician, was so devoted to his work that he never married, lived out of a suitcase, and popped up on his colleagues’ doorsteps without notice, saying “My brain is open.”
3. Granite Blocks & Milk.
British mathematician and electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside furnished his house with giant granite blocks, painted his nails scarlet pink, and spent days drinking just milk.
2. Grab that Cab!
Andre-Marie Ampere was plagued by absent-mindedness. One day while concentrating on a mathematical problem, he came on a stationary cab in the street. The back of the cab was a convenient blackboard and, whipping out a piece of chalk, he covered it with calculations. Unfortunately, after a bit the cab moved off and Ampere watched helplessly as his solution sped away.
1. Marriage Contract
Einstein’s marriage contract included these conditions: “You will make sure that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order; that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room; that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only”. His wife agreed.
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