Natalie Keir looks at the eccentricities of some of history’s most eccentric scientists.

6170160996_ab1e6e1933_zThe great Albert Einstein once proclaimed:

‘The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination’

Being a generally rational person, I tend to believe Albert when he says something is true. I therefore thought it would be interesting to examine the personalities behind some of the greatest minds in science, to see the extent to which their expansive imaginations have influenced their personal lives and academic pursuits. Scientists are famously eccentric, but it seems that their overly colourful lives are often rather under-reported. To tackle this issue head on, here is an article looking at the particularly unconventional lives of 3 brilliant scientific minds.

Tycho Brahe

Brahe was a Danish astronomer and alchemist, who contributed to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. His first documented brush with eccentricity was during his time at the University of Rostock in Germany. Brahe found himself in a nasty dispute with a fellow nobleman, Manderup Parsberg, over the legitimacy of a mathematical formula. Bizarrely, the men decided to resolve this disagreement with a duel, which resulted in Brahe losing his nose. For the rest of his life Brahe wore a variety of metallic noses, which were attached to his face with a sticky paste. You would perhaps think that after losing his nose for the sake of a mathematical formula, Brahe might have calmed down a bit and resigned himself to a life of tame research. You would probably not envisage that Brahe would go on to tame a moose. Or that this moose would drink too much beer at a dinner party and tumble down the stairs in a fatal drunken accident. Tycho Brahe really was as eccentric as they come. 

William Buckland

Buckland was a geologist and palaeontologist. He was the first person to write a full account of a fossil dinosaur. He was also a keen carnivore, so keen in fact that his primary personal ambition was to eat an example of every animal in existence. Although he did not fully succeed in this endeavour, he did manage to eat bluebottle, panther, hedgehog, ostrich, porpoise and the heart of King Louis XVI.

Nikola Tesla

Tesla was an electrical engineer who designed the modern alternating current electrical supply system. He had a wide range of bizarre eccentricities, as well as a photographic memory and a fairly severe case of OCD. Every evening, he would flex his toes 100 times in the belief that it would stimulate his brain. He also spoke 8 languages and claimed to never sleep for more than two hours at a time. Perhaps his most endearing (or unnerving) eccentricity was his affection for pigeons. Towards the end of his life, he would walk to the local park every day to feed the birds. If he happened to come across an injured pigeon he would bring it to his hotel room and nurse it back to health. Although he toyed with the affection of many pigeons, there was only one that really captured Tesla’s eye. In fact, he was quoted as saying:

“I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me.
I loved that pigeon as a man loves a women, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.”

He remained celibate for his entire life, a fact that I am sure you will find less than surprising after reading that quote.


Natalie Keir


Image by Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara