Accidental discoveries that completely altered our world:
Call it strokes of scientific serendipity (a fortunate happenstance/pleasant accident) or eureka moments, you might be surprised to know that some of the world’s favorite inventions weren’t planned and tested at all – they were accidents. History has shown time and again that necessity isn’t always the mother of invention. Yes, it’s true. Some accidental discoveries have spawned such staggering success that some of them have become a bit unwieldy and implausible (hello, plastic and antibiotics?).
Read about 7 imaginary inventions that need to happen here.
So, whether it’s the result of a clumsy spill or a contaminated laboratory, accidental discoveries are just a slapdash scientist away, as long as they are able to realise the potential. What did the world learn? Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good! Just ask the inventors of these products, each one having changed the way we live, and each one having come about either by chance or complete mess up. We’re talking about…
The Microwave Oven
Not only was the microwave discovered by accident, it was also discovered by a man who had not even completed high school. At the age of 12, Percy Spencer left education to work in a spool mill and was later hired to install electricity in a nearby paper mill. In the 1920s, Spencer began working as an engineer for Raytheon, a company that went on to improve radar technology for Allied forces in World War II. One day, he was stood in front of an active radar magnetron when he noticed the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. He began testing the effects of magnetrons on other foods, and invented the first true microwave oven by attaching a high-density electromagnetic field generator to an enclosed metal box. The oven was a success, and in 1945 the company filed a patent for the first commercial microwave.
After being wounded in the American Civil War, pharmacist John Pemberton became addicted to morphine. Seeking an alternative, in 1886 he began experimenting with coca – the plant from which cocaine is derived. He eventually stirred up a fragrant, caramel-coloured liquid that he combined with carbonated water and put on sale for five cents a glass. The soda, named Coca-Cola, went on to become the world’s fourth most valuable brand.
If you have ever cooked an omelette, you can probably thank Roy Plunkett, a chemist who worked for DuPont in the early 20th century. He had been trying to synthesise a non-toxic alternative to refrigerants like sulphur dioxide and ammonia, and was experimenting with tetrafluoroethylene (TFE). After storing the gas in cylinders, he opened one to discover that it had polymerised into a waxy white powder that was extremely sticky and had a very high melting point. Three years later, the substance, which was named Teflon, was patented.
In 1928, Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming was working in his laboratory in the basement of St Mary’s Hospital in London when he accidentally discovered penicillin. Fleming had mistakenly left open a Petri dish containing Staphylococcus. When he returned, he found that the Staphylococcus had been contaminated by blue-green mould from an open window, thus forming a visible growth. But the most interesting part about the discovery was not the moulded Staphylococcus, but the fact that the mould had released a substance that repressed the growth and caused lysing (the disintegration of a cell by rupture of the cell wall or membrane) of the bacteria. Once the accidental discovery was made, Fleming grew a pure culture and created the first penicillin!
Chips or crisps are by far the world’s most popular salty snack. According to history, the original potato chip recipe was created by George Crum, a chef from Saratoga Springs, New York. In 1853, Chef Crum was trying to appease a dissatisfied customer when he made the first potato chips. The customer had allegedly sent back several fried potato dishes, claiming that they were “too thick”. Out of frustration, Chef Crum sliced the potatoes razor thin, fried them until crisp and seasoned them with extra salt. To his surprise and the customer’s delight, the chips were delicious. This is one of the accidental discoveries the entire world is grateful for 😀
Before stumbling across an incredible invention, Frenchman Edward Benedictus, was already a classical quadruple threat. That is to say he was a painter, composer, writer and chemist. One day, Edward knocked a scientific flask off of a shelf and heard it crash to the ground. When Benedictus climbed down from his ladder, he noticed that the flask was broken, but had not actually shattered. After asking one of his aides about the incident, he found that the flask had recently contained cellulose nitrate, which acted as an adhesive and held the shattered pieces of glass together.
Then, he set to work until he eventually developed Triplex. When we say eventually, we mean literally 24 hours later. After taking notice of the durability of his new invention in the gas masks of WWI, the automotive industry began making the Triplex windshield the standard.
This was our list of accidental discoveries that changed the world. They certainly will leave you scratching your head in disbelief. Sometimes, you just need a little bit of madness to discover the next big thing.
So, do you know any discoveries that happened by a twist of fate? Do let us know in the comments section below.
You can also check out an interesting list of Sci-Fi discoveries here!