Category Archives: Mad Physiologists

Mad Scientist #17: Robert Cornish

Cornish demonstrates how he would revive a humanMarch 1934. The groan of creaking wood fills Dr. Robert Cornish’s laboratory as the rocking teeterboard strains under Lazarus’ dead weight. Rocking provides a crude form a circulation—a weak substitute for Lazarus’ heart, which has stopped beating.1

With an urgency more commonly found among the living, the Berkeley-based doctor plunges a brew of adrenaline, liver extract, gum arabic, and blood into the corpse’s thigh.1 He then puffs bursts of oxygen into Lazarus’ gaping mouth as the rocking board slowly draws the solution up and down the body.1

A leg twitch—a gasp—an unmistakable heartbeat.1

The wooden teeterboard, typically used to launch circus acrobats to death-defying heights, is being employed by Cornish to raise something far more dangerous—the dead. Continue reading

Mad Scientist #12: Giles Brindley

The talk began, as all great urology lectures should, with slides of the speaker’s own penis. The erection plastered over the screen, explained Dr. Giles Brindley, was caused by smooth muscle relaxant injected directly into his shaft. It’s a method so powerful, he continued, that a single dose can make an impotent man stay hard for hours. In fact, concealed behind the podium, Brindley was hard right now. He shot up in his hotel room beforehand.

Skeptical? The audience sure was. This was 1983 by the way. Viagra, and the days when aging senators and soccer legends spoke candidly about their struggles with ED, were still years off. So the elderly professor leapt from behind the podium and dropped his slacks, revealing “a long, thin, clearly erect [achem] penis.”1

Now, he said, “I’d like to give some of the audience the opportunity to confirm the degree of tumescence.”1 Continue reading

Mad Scientist #3: Duchenne de Bologne

The first problem with cadavers is that they’re actually hard to come by. The early Italian anatomist Vesalius was known, on occasion, to send his students into cemeteries to obtain recently deceased corpses for his famously theatrical public dissections.

The second problem is that cadavers are…um…dead. All the muscles, viscera, nerves and ligaments are there in plain sight, but they’re still and lifeless. What’s more, the very act of dissection cuts their connection to the skin, prohibiting us from understanding precisely how the body’s internal mechanics give rise to a coherent outward appearance.

19th century French physiologist Duchenne de Bologne cracked this little conundrum. He discovered a way to perform living dissections through electrical stimulation, which is (slightly) less sadistic than it sounds. Continue reading