14 Crazy Scientists Who Used Themselves as Test Subjects

Sometimes science is a real pain - especially when a scientist acts as their own test subject. While not the most common practice in the history of hypotheses, many scientists, including famous thinkers like Isaac Newton and Marie Curie, have stepped up and performed experiments on themselves. 

Some really have no choice as their research is so cutting edge, testing their ideas out on anyone else would be a huge breach of ethics. Others have volunteered for experiments for a variety of reasons: ego, humanitarianism, getting around protocol to get faster results. In the face of death, disease, and general discomfort, these intrepid scientists decided they would be their own best test subjects.

While scientists subjecting themselves to their own experiments doesn’t always earn respect, sometimes it does pay off. Some of the world’s greatest discoveries have been made only after scientists decided to serve as their own guinea pig. From life-saving drugs to crazy acid trips, there’s no end to what these researchers did to their bodies in the name of discovery.

Don’t try this at home. Instead, keeping reading below to learn all about the professionals who risked it all in the pursuit of knowledge.

  • John Stapp Broke Numerous Bones to Study G Forces

    John Stapp Broke Numerous Bones to Study G Forces
    Video: YouTube

    John Stapp was dubbed “the fastest man alive” because of his bone-breaking (literally) experiments measuring G forces on the human body. Stapp was an Air Force officer and surgeon who studied the human body’s ability to withstand abrupt deceleration from extremely fast velocities. He used to strap himself into a rocket sled, shoot himself forward at close to the speed of sound, then brake suddenly. He suffered multiple broken bones and a temporarily detached retina thanks to these violent experiments. He eventually learned that the human body can withstand 45 Gs of acceleration.

  • Herbert Woollard and E.A. Carmichael Put Weights on Their Testicles

    Herbert Woollard and E.A. Carmichael Put Weights on Their Testicles
    Photo: domeckopol

    In an attempt to study "referring pain," Herbert Woollard and E.A. Carmichael did something that hurts just thinking about: they put weights on their testicles and measured where else they felt pain in their bodies.

    Referring pain is a phenomenon that occurs when one part of the body, usually an internal organ, produces pain in another, uninjured body part. In 1933, the two London-based doctors tried to figure out what causes referring pain. One would apply weights to the testicles of the other, who was lying spread eagle on the table. The person who received the weights (they never said which of them it was) would describe where in his body he felt pain and how intense it was. 

  • Marie and Pierre Curie Suffered for Their Research and Their Nobel Prize

    Marie and Pierre Curie Suffered for Their Research and Their Nobel Prize
    Photo: rosefirerising / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The radiation discoveries that Marie Curie made - and the research she dedicated her life to - were the very things that eventually killed her.

    Marie and her husband, Pierre Curie, developed the theory of radioactivity and discovered polonium and radium. The couple won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on radiation. They both also voluntarily exposed themselves to radium burns during the course of their research. Pierre died in a street accident in 1906, while Marie died in 1936 from aplastic anemia, a condition she contracted after her long-term radiation exposure. It's theorized that had Pierre not died in a tragic accident, that his health would've also declined as a result of radiation exposure. 

  • Isaac Newton Stuck a Needle in His Eye
    Photo: Godfrey Kneller / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Isaac Newton voluntarily stuck a needle in his eye in the name of science. The experiment was designed to test optics and color perception - he thought if he slid a long needle behind his eyeball, between the eye and the eye socket, and started poking, his vision would change. And it did! He noticed that he saw different perceptions of color and light as small, colorful dots that appeared when he applied a bit of pressure. 

    He also took meticulous notes with his free hand as he performed the experiment, which again, involved sticking a needle behind his own eye.

  • Albert Hofmann Invented LSD and Went for a Hell of a Ride

    In 1942, Albert Hofmann was hoping to discover a new medical or psychiatric drug. Instead he went on the world's first acid trip. While studying lysergic acid, he synthesized the chemical lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD 25. At first, Hofmann thought it was useless and discarded the chemical concoction. Five years later, he decided to test it again. This time his dosage of LSD produced a "not-unpleasant feeling," and he experienced what is considered a recreational acid trip. Next he upped the dosage to try and study the chemical and its affects. After taking a high dosage, he took a bike ride and reported being pursued by witches and demons. Sounds like a pretty bad trip. 

  • Barry Marshall Gave Himself a Stomach Disease and Won the Nobel Prize
    Photo: AJC1

    People used to think that gastritis and its stomach ulcers were caused by too much stress. Dr. Barry Marshall had a different hypothesis: the bacterium Helicobacter pylori was responsible. He felt as though he was the only patient informed enough on the theory to consent to an experiment, so he swallowed a dose of H. pylori without telling his wife or the hospital ethics committee. And his gamble paid off, big time. After 10 days, a biopsy showed he had developed gastritis. Several more years of work on the condition earned him the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.