Some of us wake up, have our coffee, give the dog a pat and casually question if traffic will be more of a pain in the ass than usual. Others wake up, have coffee, give the dog a little pat and casually question if it’ll be our last day on earth. Which is to say; death is a standard risk for some people in their line of employment. Certain jobs like police officers, fire fighters and wild animal wranglers know that dying is a daily possibility, and have accepted it. Bless those brave souls for putting their lives on the line, so that we may be free of facing rogue wild animals in our daily lives.
But it is often overlooked that scientists have the most dangerous jobs of all. When you think of a scientist, chances are the image that comes to mind is a person in a white coat looking very determinedly at a beaker. Yes, this is standard for many jobs in the scientific field. But let it never be overlooked that science is not always done in the lab. Much of the time it needs to be done in field, and in some extremely unfriendly environments. How, after all, are we going to know exactly what happens in the mouth of an active volcano, or at the bottom of the ocean, if someone, at some point hasn’t physically been there.
These are some of the scientists who have died in the name of putting interesting things in textbooks, and giving those lab coat wearing science people something to ponder.
In 1985 a science-minded Russian researcher disappeared off the face of the earth. It was he who came up with the concept of nuclear winter, which played a major part in keeping itchy fingers away from giant red buttons. Which is not to say that nuclear war ever could be started by one man pressing a single red button, but you get the idea.
Either way, Alexandrov vanished and was never heard from again, many assume by means of the KGB wanting to silence him. According to conspiracy theorists, Alexandrov was actually bent on telling the world that his nuclear winter theory was garbage, invented to make the idea of nuclear war less appealing. As if anyone, ever, had thought that it might be fun.
A mathematician named Boris Weisfeiler went biking one day near the mountains of Chile and was never heard from again. Now, he didn’t officially disappear in relation to doing maths really well, but it is still worth noting that in 2000 a case was put forward that had eight people arrested in connection with kidnapping and murdering Weisfeiler. The case was later dropped, but speculation is rife that some very questionable circumstances were involved and that Boris had discovered something in his line of work that people wanted to keep quiet.
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Jiamu is, sadly, how many scientific explorers land up in the grand scheme of things. A biologist, Jiamu led an expedition into one of the most unfriendly environments in the world; the Lop Nur Xinjiang desert. The environment is known mostly for being confusing, due to shifting dunes, and treacherous due to soft dry riverbeds that swallow the unwary, and is as dry as a bone. On June 17th Jiamu left a note for his colleges and set off in search of water. He never returned. A massive manhunt was mounted to find some sign of him, but none ever was.
A Quick Overview
I could keep you entertained for hours with true stories of scientists who died in the line of duty, so here is a quick rundown of other scientists who have died in the name of discovery and progress.
Thomas A. Mutch, a renowned geologist, likewise vanished in 1980. It was while traversing a 23,000-foot peak in the Kashmir Himalayas, so not much more explanation is needed.
Dor Bahadur Bista, an acclaimed anthropologist, made enemies by attempting to empower lower class Nepalese citizens. He climbed on a bus one day, and vanished without a trace.
Jim Gray, a software engineer, went sailing in 2007, likewise never to be heard from again.
Biologist Ernst Priesne, researching animal pheromones, took a trip to the Bavarian Alps and, you guessed it, was never heard from again.
So, if you’re thinking of a career in science, bear in mind that it is not all test tubes and white coats!