The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Michael Brooks Headshot

Sex Scandals of Science

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

While David Flory awaits trial, I can't help but be amused that the story about a physics professor running a prostitution ring has caused such a scandal. It seems to be the science thing: over on the HuffPo's US site the story carries the tag "Weird News". Why is it weird? Would it be weird if the ring was run by, say, an English professor? Despite what you might have heard, scientists are human - they have genitals too. And if you don't believe me, read on...

1. Richard Feynman's lothario lifestyle
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman was a well-known philanderer. Air stewardesses were a favourite, but he also slept with many of his colleagues' wives, a move that didn't make him popular with the rest of the Caltech physics department. He was largely unapologetic about his sexual proclivities, and insisted that visits to strip bars helped him concentrate on his work. Need more?

2. Albert Einstein's mother/daughter moment
During his affair with his cousin Elsa, Einstein also made a pass at her 20 year-old daughter Ilse. Elsa was furious, but in the end, they confronted him together. His response? A cool suggestion that he would be happy marrying either, and that they should choose. The mother won the day. In later life, Einstein had a community of lovers - one biographer referred to it as a harem - who would make themselves available to him when he visited his holiday home near Potsdam, Germany. Need more?

3. Daniel Gajdusek's paedophilia
Daniel Carleton Gajdusek had a Nobel Prize and a penchant for young boys. The research that had garnered him the Nobel - for research into diseases related to Mad Cow Disease was carried out in Micronesia and New Guinea, and Gajdusek ended up bringing boys over from the far east to live at his house. The FBI built up a 340-page file on him. Though it was primarily focussed on whether Gajdusek was a communist, in 1996 the FBI arrested him for molestation of a minor. He was convicted, and sentenced to 12 months in prison. Need more?

4. Lisa Nowak's love triangle
NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when she drove 900 miles across America in order to confront her lover's lover. She made it, and hit the other woman, Colleen Shipman, with a blast of pepper spray. Though Nowak had only been wanting "to talk" to Shipman, police found that she had packed a bag containing a steel mallet, a knife, a BB pistol and some rubber tubing. The man in the middle of this love triangle was fellow astronaut Bill Oefelein, who later married Shipman. Need more?

5. Marie Curie's illicit affair
After the death of her husband Pierre, Marie Curie struck up a relationship with the married physicist Paul Langevin. The pair rented a flat near the Sorbonne for their secret encounters, but when rumours of the affair broke, the Nobel Academy reacted badly. They didn't want the King of Sweden to have to shake hands with an adulteress, and suggested she didn't collect her Nobel Prize in person. She turned up anyway. "I cannot accept ... that the appreciation of the value of scientific work should be influenced by libel and slander concerning private life," she told the Academy. Need more?

6. Erwin Schrödinger's ménage a trois
The inspiration for the central pillar of quantum theory came to Erwin Schrödinger during a weekend trip with his mistress to a mountain chalet. The Schrödingers were flexible in their approach to marriage, which didn't go down at all well when they moved to Oxford University in the early 1930s: the dons couldn't handle the fact that he shared a house with his wife and his pregnant mistress. Need more?

8. Wolfgang Pauli's binge living
Frustrations with his work led physicist Wolfgang Pauli to seek consolation in drugs, alcohol, prostitution and pornography. In 1929 he married Käthe Deppner, a dancer and actress he met at one of the underground parties he attended in Berlin (Pauli was also a regular visitor to the Folies Bergere in Paris). The marriage lasted less than a year: Deppner left him for a chemist - an insult that sent Pauli back to his destructive binge drinking and womanising. Need more?