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5 Awesome Accidental Discoveries

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As Plato said, “science is nothing but perception,” and these 10 accidental acts of discovery embody the sentiment.

Of course, it helps to be a leading scientist in the field devoting your life to the pursuit of one cure, invention, or innovation but a little luck goes a long way, too.

Penicillin

Forever enshrined in scientific legend, the discovery of penicillin a group of antibiotics used to combat a variety of bacterial infections is really just a case of dirty dishes.

Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming took an August vacation from his day-to-day work in the lab investigating staphylococci, known commonly as staph.

Upon his return on Sept. 3, 1928, the perceptive scientist found a strange fungus on a culture he had left in his lab a fungus that had killed off all surrounding bacteria in the culture. Modern medicine was never the same.

The Microwave

Sometimes all you really need to make the next leap in science is a snack.

Percy Spencer was an American engineer who, while working for Raytheon, walked in front of a magnetron, a vacuum tube used to generate microwaves, and noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted.

In 1945 after a few more experiments (one involving an exploding egg), Spencer successfully invented the first microwave oven.

The first models were a lot like the early computers: bulky and unrealistic. In 1967, compact microwaves would begin filling American homes.

Velcro

On one particular hiking trip in 1941, Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral found burrs clinging to his pants and also to his dog’s fur.

On closer inspection, he found that the burr’s hooks would cling to anything loop-shaped. If he could only artificially re-create the loops, he might be on to something.

The result: Velcro. A combination of the words “velvet” and “crochet,” the material had trouble gaining traction in the fashion industry.

But one of its most notable clients in the 1960s was NASA. The agency used the material in flight suits and to help secure items in zero gravity.

After that, it became a space-age fashion all its own, allowing kids everywhere to put off learning how to tie shoelaces.

Teflon

In 1938, Roy Plunkett, a scientist with DuPont, was working on ways to make refrigerators more home-friendly by searching for ways to replace the current refrigerant, which was primarily ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and propane.

After opening the container on one particular sample he’d been developing, Plunkett found his experimental gas was gone. All that was left was a strange, slippery resin that was resistant to extreme heat and chemicals.

In the 1940s the material was used by the Manhattan project. A decade later it found its way into the automotive industry. It wasn’t until the ’60s that Teflon would be used for its most noted application: nonstick cookware.

Vulcanized Rubber

In the 1830s, natural rubber was a popular substance for waterproof shoes and boots, but its inability to withstand freezing temperatures and extreme heat soon left consumers and manufacturers frustrated.

That led some to say rubber had no future, but Charles Goodyear disagreed. After years of trial and error trying to make rubber more durable, the scientist stumbled upon his greatest discovery by complete accident.

In 1839, when showcasing his latest experiment, Goodyear accidentally dropped his rubber concoction on a hot stove. What he discovered was a charred leather-like substance with an elastic rim. Rubber was now weatherproof.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

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