Even though scientists’ lives have a reputation for being boring, the truth is many of them lead extremely exciting existences: Richard Feynman, for example, made paintings, played the bongos and thoroughly enjoyed cracking the locks in the super-secret research facility in Los Alamos. Today we are going to focus in a somewhat darker aspect: death. Here are 6 scientists that died in unusual circumstances.
- Alan Turing was one of the most influential mathematicians of all time. He not only revolutionized math, but also technology: he almost single-handedly laid the foundations for our current Information Technology. Brilliant as he was, Turing had the misfortune of being a homosexual at a time when such things were seen as an aberration. He was tried and convicted of “Acts of Gross Indecency” for sleeping with another man. He was force to choose between 18 months in prison or chemical castration; he chose the latter. The punishment proved too much and Turing killed himself by eating a poisoned apple.
- Ludwig Boltzmann was the father of statistical mechanics. His main contribution was finding a microscopic expression of entropy, which has given today’s popular description of entropy as “disorder.” His theories, widely accepted today, were highly controversial in his lifetime because they implied the existence of atoms, which was questioned by a great fraction of the establishment. After entering bitter polemics with many of his contemporaries, Boltzmann hanged himself in his holiday house of Duino, Italy. There has been plenty of speculation on whether his suicide was caused by his adherence to the atomic theory but the truth seems less poetic: Boltzmann suffered from severe depression and physical pain for the last 20 years of his life.
- Evariste Galois was a French mathematician who made major contributions to all significant areas of his time during his teenage years. He was a fervent republican and was incarcerated during six months for participating in a protest while heavily armed. The reasons behind it are unclear, but at the age of 20 he participated on a duel with an unknown individual. Convinced he was going to die, he wrote all of his mathematical ideas in a number of letters before meeting his fate on May the 30th, when he was shot in the abdomen and died the next day.
- Kurt Godel was one of the most important mathematicians of the 20th century. He shook the entire foundations of mathematics with his theorem, which proved that no single mathematical system could be contradiction-free and complete at the same time. Godel suffered from mental illness and was convinced someone was trying to poison him, so he would only eat if his wife tried his food first. Unfortunately, his wife fell sick during six months and Godel refused to eat anything, which ended up causing his death.
- Hans Berger was the inventor of the Electroencephalogram (EEG) and the first to record human brainwaves. It was believed that he committed suicide in 1941 after refusing to collaborate with the Nazis; further investigation revealed he was actually a member of the SS and had plenty of anti-Semitic remarks in his diaries. The causes of his suicide are probably a depression he had be shouldering for a long time as well as a serious skin disease.