Spooky Science: The Science of Frankenstein

 

Looking at the science of Frankenstein and the rise of this story in pop culture

By Angela Garrity, Guest blogger

The Incredible Jeff is reviving the classic outcry, “It’s alive!” Not really, but he does explore The Science of Frankenstein in this episode of Fueled by Death Cast. This is Part 1 of a three-part Spooky Science series all in time for Halloween and we are “amped” for this one.

A black and white screenshot from the 1931 film "Frankenstein" depicting the scene before the monster becomes alive

In 1818, Mary Shelley penned the timeless novel “Frankenstein.” Pop culture made a grotesque gaffe out of the book’s title, which led to much miscalculation about the creature referenced inside its pages. This monstrosity has led many believe the creature’s name is “Frankenstein,” instead of the name of the good doctor Victor Frankenstein, for whom the novel is named after. 

Turning back a few hundred years, there are two scientific advancements that might have “had a hand” in influencing Shelley’s work are the discovery of resuscitation and electrophysiology. Shelley and friends would meet and discuss these then state of the art discoveries of science and philosophy and were surely “springing to life” somewhere deep in the young author’s mind when the concept of “Frankenstein” was being created.

Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a writer, and philosopher and advocate for equal education rights for men and women. Wollstonecraft also suffered with depression and made a suicide attempt by throwing herself off a London bridge into the Thames River in 1795.

During this time in history, science and medicine had advanced. It was known that if a drowning victim was pulled from the water quickly and resuscitation techniques were performed on them, sometimes the victim’s life could be saved. This practice appeared to “bring the dead back to life” and evolved further into modern day Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).

Science was also aware of electricity during this time, but the actual act of electrophysiology was somewhat shocking to people.

A black and white sketch of Galvani's experiment on frog legs in the 1780siPhoto source: Corrosion Doctors

In 1781, Italian physicist Luigi Galvani began experimenting with electricity on animals. While dissecting a frog next to a static electricity machine, the frog’s leg jumped. Galvani believed that the charge resided within the frog itself and dubbed his discovery “animal electricity,” which was widely accepted for many years.

Italian physicist Alessandro Volta challenged Galvani’s theory of “animal electricity." Instead, Volta stated that the frog was merely a conductor and that the result could be achieved with two different metals and chemicals. In 1789, Volta created the “voltaic pile,” which is credited as the first electric battery. 

Giovanni Aldini, nephew to Galvani and also Italian physicist, believed in the works of both Galvani and Volta. He demonstrated the methods of both pioneers when he combined their theories and performed an experiment in 1803 on dead London prisoner, George Foster. Foster’s mouth and ears were inserted with metal rods attached to the voltaic pile. The lifeless face of Foster seemed to move on its own with a little help from the procedure theorized by Aldini.

Could life suddenly spring up today in the name of science? Today’s technology is moving at light speed and new discoveries are made every day. Transplants, lab grown body parts, mechanical substitutions, bionics, and clones are all modern-day discoveries that aren’t so horrific when done in the name of science, medicine and technology.

Watch the full science segment below, and tune into Fueled by Death Show every Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Facebook Live to learn more about different scientific topics.