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Odd Scientists.

posted Jan 20, 2015, 9:04 PM by Ranmini Perera   [ updated Dec 2, 2015, 8:54 PM by Upali Salpadoru ]

Sir Isaac Newton

Almost everybody has heard the falling of an apple on his head.  This incident has never been confirmed. A least known real fact was that he pierced his own eye just to find out what would happen.

Fig.1 Sir Isaac Newton 1642 to 1727

Undoubtedly one of the brainiest people that ever lived; yet his biography are tainted with very queer incidents.  He was born in 1943 but his date of birth has been recorded as the X’mas day in the year 1642.  Why?  The Gregorian calendar had not been adopted in England at the time.  This was the year Galileo died. He had a pre mature birth if weighed could have held the record for the lightest baby ever born in England.  His father, who was a farmer, died 3 months prior to his birth and his mother re-married 3 years after his birth.  His maternal grandmother looked after him while the mother lived with her husband Rev. Barnabas Smith. As a boy he had resented his mother and the step father so much that he had even thought of burning them alive inside their house.

Fig. 2  1985 photo; Science museum London.

In his boyhood his mother took charge of him and insinuated him to get into his father’s profession. His failure in farming was an in-explicable gain for the humanity. Due to an appeal by the head of the school and some persuasion of an uncle he was sent back to school. From the word go he was at the top in academics. In the field of mathematics and physics there wasn’t anyone to surpass him. It was only his attitude and behavior that was odd. He was engrossed in mystics and alchemy; extremely pious but secretly adhering to a religious sect known as Arianism which did not recognize the trinity.

Once he deeply pierced one of his eyes with a long needle. Again he gazed at the sun until he could not bear it any longer. He had to be in darkness for days to recover from the injury.

He was helpful to his friends but very severe, almost cruel to his rivals. He could never tolerate criticism. He delayed the publishing of his certain findings until some of his critics died. He was engrossed in severe verbal combat with several leading physicists of the day.  He never married. He had two nervous breakdowns in later years. After his death, analysis of his hair revealed a high percentage of mercury which accounts for some of his strange ways.

Henry Cavendish - 18th Century

Fig. 3 Man in a velvet coat and three cornered hat.

“The richest of all learned men and most learned of all the rich” was the phrase used to describe the man. The tall gentleman that adorned a long velvet coat and a 3 cornered hat, who never smiled or frowned at associates, neighbours or his servants would have been the talk of London town.  

Cavendish gained admission to Cambridge University at the age of 18 but left it after a few years without a degree, His father gave him a subsistence allowance and he used to while away the time buried in books and helping his father to conduct experiments on electricity. After the demise of his father he moved to Clapham Common, converted a part of his house to a laboratory and opened up a private library for his large collection of books. It has been reported that although he shared the books with some others he never removed s book without a proper entry.

His desire for experimental results was such that he was prepared to face immense pain in performing experiments. During one of his experiments he had received electrical shocks at varying voltage in order to discover the threshold of pain.

He almost single headedly opened up vistas of secrets of nature which would have required hundreds of research scientist for a modern institution of science.  He exploded the myth of the ancients that the four elements in nature are Earth, Water. Air and Fire.  After the discovery of Hydrogen on the investigation of its properties he unfolded that Hydrogen and Oxygen combines to form water, He not only obtained the volumetric ratios of the gases in the air around but obtained samples of air from the upper layers of the atmosphere and analyzed show that there was a slight variation. He even paved the way for the discovery of Argon.

It was only after his death investigators discovered that many of his discoveries were kept undercover.  He calculated the density and the mass of the world using Newton’s Laws and obtained the value 13x 10 21 kg as the mass which narrowly deviated from the present value.  He had even anticipated the Law of Reciprocal proportions and the Ohm’s Law. He truly disliked fame and popularity. It was obvious he performed experiments only to satisfy his curiosity.

In spite of his brilliant skills that illuminated the fields of chemistry and physics, his biography is tainted with incidents relating to his eccentric behaviour. This quotation reveals the reserved nature of the man vividly. “He probably uttered fewer words in the course of his life than any man who lived to four score years” Lord Brougham.  Even day to day communications with his domiciles were in writing. His face turned to red in embarrassment, if somebody praised him. Only social activity he undertook was to attend the weekly meetings of the Royal Society Club.

John Dalton - 1766 to 1844

He was the son of a weaver who belonged to the religious sect called Quakers.  As he was found to be excellent in his studies, he was requested to teach in a Quaker school at the age of 12. At 15 he started a school with his brother where he started reading Newton’s Principia.

He entered the mansion of scientists as a meteorologist. He has kept daily weather records from 1787 for over 50 years. His continuous interest in the changes in air in the atmosphere made him to perceive the behaviour of gases. These observations convinced him of the existence of atoms and molecules.

With his ideas of the Atomic theory and research on colour blindness he became extremely popular.

Dalton led a very simple life. According to some, “He was licking the wounds of a lost love” His major pastime was lawn bowling. The wooden balls they used were like atoms to him and atoms he imagined to be like the wooden balls.

Once a French chemist who visited him, had this to say; “I could hardly believe my eyes the chemist of European fame, Monsieur Dalton. Teaching a boy his first four rules; ‘Wilt thou sit down whilst I put this lad right about his arithmetic’ he told me”

At every opportunity, he shunned publicity. Anyone with a background of science would have jumped at the idea of joining the prestigious Royal Society. But Dalton turned down the repeated requests made to him. At the end he was enrolled as a member almost forcibly.

Fig.5  His funeral procession extended over 2 miles.

In later life he gained many honors from many parts of the world. He suffered many strokes in his old age and his last act before he died was to record the weather. It has been said that over 40,000 paid him last respects and the cortège extended over 2 miles.

Dr. Nikola Tesla

He was a brilliant engineer and visionary who has made over 800 inventions and discoveries. Although he is almost forgotten now, His demonstrations that accompanied his lectures were uncanny while his eccentricities especially during his old age were weird.

In his old age his pastime was feeding pigeons. If he is unable to go out he paid a hotel boy to do the job. His pigeons invaded his hotel room and littered, and when the management objected, he went to another hotel. He was especially fond of, one white pigeon with a tint of grey. He has said “I love her as much as to a wife"

When that bird died, he got down one of his former employees and requested to bury her.

J B S Haldane (1892 to 1964)

JBS  had a degree in Classics and Mathematics but he became a very clever Bio-physicist. The sphere of 'population genetics' was his own baby. As he did not believe any supernatural interference in his experiments he stressed that he was an atheist in real life too. He became a communist and wrote regular column on scientific topics   to the party Newspaper. Although he believed in Marxism he left the party in 1950 due to the autocratic attitude of Jeseph Stalin in USSR.  He went to India studied Hinduism, became a vegetarian and finally died as an Indian Citizen.

 His final poem written in his death bed...   Haldane poem.