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Odd Scientific Studies: Newton & Babbage

Not every theory or hunch ended in success for all scientists , even the most famous ones in history. Some encountered plenty of failures and spent a great deal of time trying to prove impossible hypothesis. While it didn’t stop them from contributing notable accomplishments in the name of science, it’s interesting to see some of the failed experiments and studies that didn’t make the cut.

Sir Isaac Newton

During his most productive years, Sir Isaac Newton was determined to find a way to transform base metals into gold. He also believed there were hidden codes inserted into the Bible and he wished to crack their meanings. Newton felt that the codes would lead him to “secret laws of the universe” that had been set by God. Religion also played a role in some of the connections he made in his work.

For example, he said that when he wrote out the mathematical formulas featured in his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, that they contained information to serve as the foundation of modern science. The details, he claimed, first came to light by God and introduced to a group of mystics at the “dawn of civilization.’ Newton also predicted that the world would end in 2060.

However, Sir Isaac Newton was quite successful in many other realms of science. He dabbled in physics, astronomy, natural philosophy, theology, and alchemy. His studies would lead him to construct the first useful reflecting telescope, discover the binomial theorem, conduct experiments on the composition of light, and explore planetary orbits.

After his passing, Newton’s body was examined. The results revealed a high amount of mercury flowing through his bloodstream , most likely from his experiments with alchemy. The eccentricity that Newton displayed late in life could be attributed to mercury poisoning.  

Charles Babbage

If you pay a visit to the London Science Museum, you can still see pieces of uncompleted mechanisms that once belonged to the ‘father of computing.’ Charles Babbage was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer, who worked with the concept of a programmable computer. His successful studies led to his accreditation as the man behind inventing the first mechanical computer that ultimately helped more advanced designs to emerge.

However, Babbage had a few quirks in his methods of proving a point. Some of his beliefs were not always met with open arms. For example, he calculated that the chances of a man rising from the dead were 1 in 1,012. He also spent time figuring out the statistical probability of miracles associated with the Bible. Some of the most shocking actions attributed to Babbage include the time he placed himself in an oven set to 265 degrees. He nearly drowned when he was testing out a device meant for walking on water.