Erica P. Johnson
1. In 1600, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) repeatedly refused to recant his endorsement of Copernicus' sun-centered map of the galaxy. He was burned at the stake.
2. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794), who explained combustion and created a system for naming chemicals, pleaded for his life during the French Revolution, citing his unfinished scientific research. "The Republic has no need of scientists," his executioners told him. The next sound was the thump of the guillotine.
3. By touching, tasting, and sniffing isolated chemicals, Karl Wilhelm Scheele (1742-1786) discovered arsenic, nitrogen, and a host of other chemicals. But he died with symptoms resembling mercury poisoning.
4. Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), who invented an electrolytic technique of chemical analysis, also used an olfactory discovery technique and once claimed that he had breathed 16 quarts of nitric oxide in seven minutes. But the chemical poisoning left him an invalid for 20 years, and a nitrogen chloride explosion damaged his eyes in 1812.
5. Gerty Radnitz Cori (1896-1957) and her husband, Carl Cori (1896-1984), won the 1947 Nobel Prize for discovering the enzymes that convert glycogen into glucose and back to glycogen. It's likely that the X-rays Gerty used while studying organ metabolism and the skin triggered her angiogenic myeloid dysplasia.
Adapted from: Science's Most Wanted: The Top Ten Book of Outrageous Innovators, Deadly Disasters, and Shocking Discoveries, by Susan Conner and Linda Kitchen, published by Brassey's, Dulles, Va., 2001.