This Test-is Unusual!

Johann Wilhelm Ritter tests the Voltaic pile on himself

Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between the intelligent and the insane in the scientific community. Often, they say that geniuses are usually crazy. This month we have come across a number of them in the series DOCTORS AND SCEINTISTS WHO SELF EXPERIMENTED. This particular gentleman might just be one among them.

Johann Wilhelm Ritter was born on 16thDecember 1776 in Poland. As a boy, he was smart but also a dreamer. He was an avid reader and read extensively about astronomy and chemistry. He is famous for the discovery of the ultraviolet light.

He initially worked as an apprentice to a pharmacist at the age of fourteen. He joined the university at the age of 19 and that’s when he was drawn towards electricity. He was mainly interested in electrochemistry and electrophysiology. He conducted hi experiments on frogs. His living room and laboratory were the same room. It was littered with clothes, food and dead frogs.

In 1800, the World’s first electric battery was invented called the voltaic pile. It consisted of vertically stacked column of pairs of silver and zinc discs separated by pieces of brine-soaked fabric or paper. If a person placed his hands on the top and bottom poles of this pile of discs, he would feel a tingle of electric current. It permitted a continuous, steady and strong flow of electric current for the very first time. Ritter was so amused by the invention that he began a series of self-experimentation using it. He used it to pass current through different parts of his body.

He used the two wires to apply current to his tongue. The zinc rod was placed on the tip of the tongue and the silver rod was placed at the back of the tongue which produced an acidic flavor. He then passed the wires up his nose and he began to sneeze uncontrollably when the current as delivered. He didn’t hesitate to touch the wires to his eyeballs, which when he did caused strange colors to appear in his vision. Next, he attached an electrode to his tongue and another to a frog’s leg. When the current was passed, he felt an acidic taste and the frog’s leg twitched proving the presence of a galvanic reaction.

At the end of these experiments, he published a book named “Proof that a continuous Galvanism Accompanies the Process of Life and Animal Kingdom ”. The book was very well received.

When he had done similar tests to all parts of his body, he finally decided to test it with much higher voltage of current. He stacked about a hundred discs in a column to generate a bolt of electricity. He then clenched both the wires in his hands so that the current would go up his shoulders. His arms would twitch and jerk. When he placed the wires on his tongue, the positive pole produced an acidic taste whereas the negative pole felt like it was burning a hole in his tongue.

The Voltaic Pile

When he touched the wires to his ears, he would hear sounds that would make him feel that his head was full of sand.

Once he was done testing the five senses, he chose to test this sixth sensory organ as well i.e. his genitals. The first thing that comes to your mind was probably that he would’ve have suffered immensely for such an atrocity. But, it actually turned out to be quite pleasurable. He would wait for it to turn dark. He would close all the door and windows, not only so that he would not be caught but also because he wanted to be in a complete state of relaxation.

He wrapped his penis in a cloth moistened with lukewarm milk. Then he applied the current using positive pole on the cloth and with his other hand, he closed the circuit on the other side.  His penis would soon engorge and have a tingling sensation. Warmth would spread around his groin. He would keep the current flowing. The gratifying sensation would keep building up until he orgasmed in fantastic fashion. He was probably the first one to experience an electro orgasm. He became famous as the man who married his voltaic pile because he kept telling everyone “Tomorrow I marry – i.e. my battery!”

He was a man would be willing to push boundaries. Once he was curious to know the difference between exposing his eyes to UV rays and to the Voltaic pile. So, he closed his one eye and stared directly at the sun for 2o minutes. A purple dot appeared in his vision which slowly turned into a yellow blur. He ended up losing vision in the eye temporarily but before he gained sight in the eye, he experimented in the other eye.

He was a man of extremes. He would constantly beg for money. At times he would wear a shirt for weeks until the stench was unbearable and other times he would go months without wearing a shirt at all. But in spite of all these odd behaviors, he kept contributing to the scientific community with his experiments.

But it was not all fun and games. He kept trying to up the ante. He increased the voltage of the current used beyond sensible proportions. Soon his eyes became infected due to the repeated experiments. He frequently suffered from stomach spasms, muscle cramps, numbness and headaches. His lungs were infected. He lost sensation in his tongue. He frequently collapsed. He even ended up paralyzing his arm for a week after trying to pass the current through it.

Many believe that his weakened immune system contributed to his death at the age of thirty-three due to tuberculosis. On 23rdJanuary 1810, he was found by a search party in his house rotting in soiled garments with wine bottles everywhere.

This post is a part of the #AToZChallenge-2018My theme for this month is DOCTORS & SCIENTISTS WHO SELF EXPERIMENTED. You can read all other posts here


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