So many times, chance plays as big a part in scientific discovery as does genius. So many times, a twist of fate results in a world-changing discovery, where the inventor or person of discovery was taken by surprise. In that regard, a list of the Top 10 Accidental Inventions finds this occurrence to be at the forefront of these discoveries.
10. In 1928, Alexander Fleming was getting ready to leave for a vacation and he had forgotten to clean up his workstation before leaving. Upon the return from the vacation, he noticed that some of the cultures had a weird looking fungus on some of his cultures. He also noticed that bacteria did not appear next to the cultures. The discovery of penicillin was the first anti-biotic and is still very widely used, all because of an oversight.
9. Wilson Greatbatch was an engineer and was working on a project to assist in the recording rapid heartbeats. He reached into a box he had full of parts, and got a resister to use in his device that he was making. He was looking for a 10,000-ohm device, but instead got a 1-megaohm resister. The result was a circuit that had a pulse for 1.8 milliseconds, and then stopped for one second, then it repeated. The result was a perfect heartbeat. This was the discovery of the beginning of the pacemaker for the heart.
8. In 1856 a young chemist named William Perkin was attempting to cure Malaria by inventing artificial quinine. His experiments weren’t really going anywhere and one of them resulted in a substance that was a real mess, It was thick and murky, and certainly was not the substance that he was looking for. However, it was a beautiful, rich color and it worked out that he had found out how to make the world’s first synthetic dye, without having to use natural substances.
7. In 1896, physicist Henri Becquerel was intrigued by the properties of fluorescent minerals and X-Rays. He wanted to know if the fluorescent materials produced X-rays if left out in the sun. Since it was winter and no sunshine, he wrapped the minerals up together and left them in a drawer. Later, when he opened his drawer he discovered that the uranium rock he had left had imprinted itself on a photographic plate left beside it. He and Marie and Pierre Currie discovered that impression was caused by radioactivity.
6. In 1907 Leo Hendrik Baekeland was looking for an alternative to shellac, which was expensive to import. He created a moldable material that could withstand high heat and which turned out to have thousands of uses, and was called “Bakelite”. It became the forerunner for plastic, which today is used for nearly everything, and is one of the more intriguing of the Top 10 Accidental Inventions.
5. One day, Charles Goodyear, who had been unsuccessfully looking for a way to make rubber useful, accidentally spilled a mixture of lead, sulfur, and rubber on a hot stove. The heat made a charred material, but didn’t ruin the substance. The result was the discovery of vulcanized rubber, which is used in every rubber product today from tires, shoes and thousands of other products.
4. Potato chips came into being when chef George Crum baked and flattened French fries that a complaining customer said were too soggy, and gave them to the customer that way, and a new food was born.
3. Frank Epperson accidentally invented Popsicles when he left a flavored drink outside in the cold one winter’s night and it froze. The frozen taste was just as good as drinking it warm, and it lasted longer.
2. Doctoral student Jamie Link was working on silicon chips when one of them burst into tiny pieces. She discovered that each of the tiny pieces still was functioning as sensors. The “smart dust” that resulted won her the top prize in 2003 in a competition for college inventors. These sensors have gone on to aid in sensing purity in drinking water, sensing biological agents in the air, and seeking out and helping to destroy cancer cells.
1. The invention of Coca Cola is one of the more astounding of the Top 10 Accidental Inventions. John Pemberton who was a pharmacist in Atlanta was attempting to find a cure for headaches, and came up with the formula for Coca Cola. The actual ingredients are still a secret, but we all know that it became a popular soft drink.