Science’s Favorite Self-Experimenters, Self-Endangerers, and Self-Agonizers

Science needs the fearless

Earlier this month, scientists shared a tale of a desperate man whose daring effort to cure himself may have led to a new, albeit odd, medical treatment: swallowing worm eggs. But worm man is far from the first to take desperate measures in the name of progress. There’s a long line of heroes who have knowingly and willingly exposed themselves to discomfort, danger or even death for science’s sake.

Take John Paul Stapp, the pained-looking man in the photo montage above. Stapp, who died in 1999, was hailed as the fastest man on Earth, willingly hopping onto a rocket sled to test the effects of acceleration and deceleration forces on humans. When Stapp started his research in 1947, most other physicians believed humans would suffer fatal trauma around 18 g — but Stapp shattered this belief, exposing himself to more than 40 g of thrust in one test. In the image above, he’s riding on a rocket sled at 421 mph.

Throughout his tests, he suffered rib fractures, retinal hemorrhages and two wrist fractures, but believed he had not reached the limit of human speed tolerance.

And there are plenty of other examples. From the man who catheterized his own heart to the doctors who died seeking cures for tropical diseases, here we pay homage to a dozen of these brave souls. (And a couple just plain crazy ones.)

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