Important Discoveries & Inventions which happened by Chance
When it comes to important discoveries or inventions, it takes a lot of hard work and time of the person doing the same. But many a times coincidences or the circumstances lead to awesome discoveries too. Here, we present to you 7 important discoveries which were a result of co-incidences.
Sir Isaac Newton and Gravity
We all have heard about this many times. How Newton was resting under an apple tree when he realised that there must be a force acting downwards, making those apples fall on the ground. Or someone’s head, say. This small incident led to the discovery of Newton’s universal law of gravitation. You can read about Newton’s efforts to classical physics here. While the observation led to the idea of gravity, theory behind it was a result of heavy research based on an immense knowledge accumulated over the years.
While working with radar equipments, Percy Spencer walked in front of a vacuum tube which used to generate microwaves and noticed that the candy bar in his pocket melted. As he observed this, his colleagues & he started attempting to heat different food items to . Spencer built the first microwave oven in the form of a box coupled electromagnetic generator. He started heating food items in this box & recording the temperature to determine usability & feasibility of this heat source. Other key takeaway from his experiment was the non-ionizing nature of microwaves, which effectively renders them harmless to human skin – result of which is us using the microwave oven without the fear of contacting a disease.
X-rays and Radioactivity
A German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen who was working with cathode ray tube, discovered a strange glow at some distance from the tube in his lab. He named these new-found radiations as ‘X-rays’, where X signified the then unknown nature of these rays. These rays could pass through paper, wood, and yes, even skin. Röntgen became the guy who took the first medical X-ray!
A year after the discovery of X-rays, but this time in France in 1896, Antoine Henri Becquerel was testing the hypothesis that sunlight could excite uranium and cause it to emit X-rays. In turn, these X-rays would expose photographic film. But with dark clouds rolling in, Becquerel packed up his gear and decided to continue his research on another sunny day. Later when he came back, he was surprised to find that the film had been exposed. It was then he realized that Uranium itself was emitting these invisible radiations – without any sunlight or other source of energy. This was later attributed to radioactivity, a term coined by Becquerel’s doctoral student Marie Sklodowska-Curie, of Uranium.
Archimedes was a Greek scientist. His king asked him to find out how much gold the gold-smith, who was a suspect, had stolen. Archimedes thought a lot about this. One day, deep in thought, he slid into a bath tub which was already full. Water sloshed down everywhere, and he shouted out, ‘Eureka! Eureka!’, which means, ‘I have done it!’. It was because objects, when put in water , displace water equal to their volume. He proved that the gold smith had mixed some other metals using a separate experiment ( you can read the short story here) . Later he formulated the Archimedes’ principle, which is the basic law of Fluid Mechanics.
Alexander Fleming, a Scottish bacteriologist was experimenting with the influenza virus. After returning from a short vacation in 1928, he noticed that one of his petri dishes was the new home of a mysterious mold. Fleming observed that existing bacteria in the dish did not grow where the mold grew, indicating its potential in staving off unwanted microorganisms.Producing large amounts of the mold, however, proved to be a difficult task. Because of this, Fleming’s accidental discovery wasn’t used for treatment right away.
Though nearly 13 years after Fleming’s accidental encounter with penicillin, Howard Florey, Norman Heatley and Andrew Moyer came up with the technique for producing enough to test medical treatments. They did it by switching the type of mold used to one that grew better. Since then, penicillin has been used around the world, saving many lives along the way.
If you’re ever in a car accident, your windshield probably isn’t going to shatter into a million lethal pieces. This is due to Safety Glass, accidentally discovered by French chemist Edouard Benedictus in the early 20th century. He dropped a glass flask, which had contained plastic cellulose in it. The Cellulose had dried on the inner surface of the glass flask. So when the glass fell off, instead of breaking into pieces, it shattered but remained intact. This was later attributed to the dried cellulose layer inside which had acted as adhesive to keep the glass intact. Using this principle, Benedictus went on to make the first safety glass – by introducing layer of cellulose between two layers of glass. His drive for making something like this was to make automobile safer.
Imagine the amount of pain the patients would have to go through if it wasn’t for the discovery of anaesthesia. Although there is a dispute over who actually invented anesthesia, its related to the popular recreational use of ether and nitrous oxide during the early 1800s. These gatherings were referred to as “laughing parties” . From here, Horace Wells and Charles Jackson realized that both substances inhibited pain in people who used them. Later William T. G. Morton gave the first public demonstration of general anesthesia in 1846. Today anaesthesia has grown into a specialisation altogether.
These important discoveries, although born of co-incidences, altered the fate of humanity radically! And more importantly – while these are cited as accidental important discoveries, they would have been possible without the vision of their finders/inventors.
A few more worthy mentions
Henry Oersted, while in his lab, first observed magnetic field associated with a current carrying conductor. It was when he observed deflection in his compass-needle placed near a current carrying wire. Although the entire theory of electromagnetism can’t solely be credited to Oersted, it was this chance observation of his that brought interest of the then physicists into ths field.
This might not fit as well as others in the list, but the volume in which these are used today – they deserve a mention. Bubble wraps were originally ideated to serve as 3D wallpapers by Alfred Fielding & Mark Chavennes. What failed as 3D wallpapers has, since 1957, irreplacably served as a packaging material. As a matter of fact, Fielding cofounded a company called Sealed Air Corporation which currently holds the generic trademark – ‘Bubble Wraps’.
There are some technologies which were simply sci-fi’s imagination in the past, but have become a reality today. You can read about these technologies herehere. Hope you enjoyed this article. For more interesting reads & important updates click here