Scientists Who Accidentally Paid for Their Research with Their Lives

One rarely thinks of scientific research as something dangerous or life threatening, but the number of scientists who accidentally died while doing their research is astounding. In many cases, the scientists who died were so committed to their research that they either threw caution to the wind and experimented on themselves, or they worked on something too complicated for their own time.

All of these scientists who gave their lives working on something that they loved, did so because they wanted the world to be a better place, and they deserve to be remembered.

Each of these scientists paid for their research with their lives, but before they died, they were deep in the throes of scientific research. Keep reading below, and always remember to be careful when you work on something, whether it’s science or not, because anything can - and will - go wrong. 


  • Marie Curie Tested The Effects Of Radioactivity And Paid The Price
    Photo: Henri Manuel / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Born in 1867, Marie Curie overcame massive hurdles for a woman growing up in the 19th century. She went to great lengths in order to attend school and become one of the most important scientists the world has ever known. To earn her PhD, Curie began investigating uranium and quickly discovered that uranium rays charge the air that they pass through. She also found that the number of rays coming from uranium depends on the amount of uranium present, not the chemical reaction.

    Over the next few decades Curie would win a Nobel prize and become the first female professor at the University of Paris. Unfortunately, she would also succumb to aplastic anemia, a disease of the bone marrow that was likely caused by the radioactivity she had been exposed to during her career. 

  • Alexander Bogdanov Accidentally Blood Transfused Himself To Death
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Alexander Bogdanov was a fascinating human being. He was a close friend of Vladimir Lenin, a science fiction author, a poet, and a doctor who was obsessed with hematology.

    One of Bogdanov's theories was that he could become immortal through blood transfusions - which is definitely not a thing, but in the 1920s you had to learn that the hard way. Bogdanov gave himself transfusion after transfusion, claiming that each one made him feel better than the last. Unfortunately, he swapped blood with a student who was suffering from malaria and died. 

  • David A. Johnston Saw Mount St. Helens Erupt And Was Killed By The Pyroclastic Blast
    Photo: Harry Glicken / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    David A. Johnston Saw Mount St. Helens Erupt And Was Killed By The Pyroclastic Blast

    When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, USGS volcanologist David A. Johnston was the first scientist to send out a warning to let people know of the disaster. His storied career included stints studying extinct calderas in Colorado, and sheets of ash flow in the 1912 eruption of Mount Katmai in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Leading up to the blast on Mount St. Helens, Johnston was one of the few scientists who believed that volcanic activity was still possible on the mountain. He chose to take part in dangerous on-site monitoring and told journalists that it was like, “standing next to a dynamite keg and the fuse is lit.”

    Before his radio went silent, after Johnston and his trailer were overcome by the volcano blast, he relayed: "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!"

  • Dian Fossey Was Murdered While Studying Gorillas
    Photo: Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Wikipedia / Fair use

    Dian Fossey's life's work was studying gorillas in their native habitat in the forests of Rwanda, which is dangerous on so many levels. While primates can be aggressive, the animals didn't actually pose a threat to the to the primatologist and antrhopologist who had been studying gorillas for 18 years - it was humans who were the true danger to her and her work. 

    In 1985, Fossey was found murdered in her cabin in Virunga Mountains, Rwanda. In spite of an investigation, Rwanda courts came to the conclusion that Wayne McGuire, her research assistant, killed Fossey and they tried him in absentia. McGuire had already gone home to the United States by the time the trial, which was dubious at best, had occurred. Since there's no extradition policy between America and Rwanda, McGuire has served no time for the murder. Most people doubt McGuire's guilt and believe that poachers, who frequently interrupted Fossey's research, were truly responsible for her murder.