It is needless to explain that scientific discovery is made after years of dedicated research and several failed experiments. But who knew that certain accidental discoveries would turn out to become the greatest discoveries in the world. Penicillin, saccharin, Velcro, Bakelite, microwave, etc. were all accidental discoveries. Since these inventions changed the world for the better, let’s call them ‘happy accidents’. Some happy accidents took place when searching for one thing led to the discovery of another; others were as simple as forgetting to wash hands. So, scroll down and see for yourself the happy accidents that changed the world.
Microwave, which is widely used today is a result of a happy accident by Percy Spenser in 1946. Percy, a self-taught scientist, was an engineer in Raytheon Corporation and was working on a radar related project. One day while testing a new vacuum tube, he noticed that the chocolate in his pocket melted quickly. He became intrigued and conducted a set of simple experiments based on everyday experiences. This resulted in the first microwave oven, the 750-pound, five-foot-tall RadarRange.
It so happened that halfway through an experiment, Alexander Fleming went on a vacation. After two weeks, when he returned to his lab, he found that the mould from an open window had contaminated an uncovered petri dish of bacteria. On closer inspection, he found that the bacteria have grown all over the plate, except the area where the mould had been formed. Fleming himself did not realize how important his discovery was until 1940 when it was found that penicillin can fight a large number of bacterial diseases.
This ‘sweet’ discovery resulted because Constantine Fahlberg forgot to wash his hands. Sounds weird, right? Constantine Fahlberg, while working in a laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, paused to eat. But he neglected washing his hands before his meal which caused the bread he ate to taste unusually sweet. This was the origin of the world’s first artificial sugar. Although the research was done by Fahlberg and Ira Remsen together, it was only Fahlberg’s name that made it to the patent.
Leo Hendrik Baekeland
Jewelry, telephones, radios, and billiard balls are just a few names among the colourful material that are made using Bakelite. Bakelite is named after its inventor. Baekeland, with an objective of creating an alternative for shellac (which at that time was made from the shells of Asian lac beetles), ended up creating polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, the world's first synthetic plastic, commonly known as Bakelite.
Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen
X-rays were discovered by the German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen in 1895 when he was working with cathode ray tubes. Despite the fact that the tube was covered, Roentgen observed a fluorescent glow of crystals on a table near his tube. To block the rays, Roentgen placed various materials like heavy black paper in front of them, but it made no difference. He concluded that it was a new kind of ray that has the ability to pass through most substances casting shadows of solid objects. One of Roentgen's first experiments late in 1895 was a film of the hand of his wife, Bertha.
George de Mestral
Today Velcro finds applications in various items- from diapers to aerospace industry. Yet this creative invention came about almost by accident. Velcro was the creation of Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral, who once went to walk in the woods with his dog. He noticed that burrs (from the burdock plant) had attached themselves to his pants and to his dog's fur. Upon a detailed examination under the microscope, he found that the burrs had a hook-like structure that allowed them to stick to fabrics. This inspired him to create the Velcro that is widely used today.
John Stith Pemberton
Our all-time favourite refreshing drink Coca Cola was a happy accident too. In 1885, when Pemberton got wounded during the Battle of Columbus, he got addicted to morphine. In order to cure his addiction, he started researching and experimenting and ended up creating syrup out of coca leaves and coca wines. Later in 1886, a non-alcoholic version of coca wine was developed that is popular as the Coca- Cola. The term ‘Coca-Cola’ was tossed by Frank Robinson, the accountant of Dr. Pemberton. Also, the famous trademark of Coca-Cola was created by him in his own handwriting.
So this was a list of few among the many accidental discoveries that have changed our lives and affected the world deeply. So keep experimenting. Who knows any happy accidents happen with you too!