10 Inventions and Discoveries Made by Accident

Dr. Harry Coover accidentally discovered Superglue in 1958, which led to the invention’s patent.

We often take for granted the inventions that make up our daily life without considering their origins.

While many of these inventions are intentional, some of the most significant ones are the result of accidents.

Here are the top ten accidental inventions and discoveries that have shaped the world we know today.

Fireworks

About 2,000 years ago, a cook in China experimented with charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter, three common kitchen ingredients. When he discovered that the mixture he had created burned, he continued to play with it and eventually found that it exploded when compressed into a bamboo tube. After experimenting with different combinations, he created what we now know as fireworks, with different colors and effects.

Velcro

While on a hunting trip with his dog in 1948, Swiss engineer George de Mestral noticed that burrs stuck to his socks and his dog’s fur. Upon examining the burrs under a microscope, he discovered tiny hooks that allowed them to stick to fabric and fur. After experimenting with various fabrics, he discovered that nylon worked best, and Velcro was born. However, it wasn’t until NASA began using it that Velcro became popular.

Safety Glass

In 1903, French chemist Édouard Bénédictus accidentally knocked a flask off his desk. To his surprise, the flask did not shatter but remained intact due to a coating of plastic cellulose nitrate inside. Inspired by this incident, Bénédictus invented safety glass, which is still used worldwide today.

Super Glue

In 1942, Dr. Harry Coover attempted to create a new precision rifle sight, but instead created cyanoacrylate, which was a failure since it stuck to everything. Six years later, while working on a new airplane canopy design, Coover found himself stuck to objects once again due to cyanoacrylate. This time, he observed the strong bonds it formed between objects without heat and discovered a use for the substance after experimenting in the lab.

In 1958, Super Glue was patented by Coover and began being sold worldwide. The teabag was accidentally invented by tea merchant Thomas Sullivan in 1908 when he sent samples of tea in small silken bags to customers who assumed they were to be used like metal tea infusers. Sullivan then developed sachets made of gauze, which became the first purposely made tea bags and were commercialized in the 1920s. Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered Penicillin in 1929 when he went on holiday and forgot to cover a petri-dish of Staphylococcus he was cultivating in his lab. He noticed that a mold in the dish had killed off many of the bacteria and identified it as Penicillium notatum. Howard Florey and Ernst Chain picked up where Fleming left off, isolating the bacteria-slaying substance and turning it into a fully administrable medicine. Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, accidentally discovered the Microwave Oven while fiddling with a microwave-emitting magnetron, which melted the chocolate bar in his pocket. Finally, dynamite was not the invention of humanity, but Alfred Nobel worked with nitroglycerin in a series of experiments that tragically ended in a fatality that claimed his life, his younger brother’s life, and a few others.

Nobel conducted constant tests to ensure the safe transportation of nitroglycerin, knowing its instability. One day, a can containing a sedimentary clay called Kieselguhr fell from a crate, spilling its contents onto the nitroglycerin. Nobel observed that the clay absorbed the nitroglycerin perfectly without reducing its explosive power. He patented his discovery, called it dynamite, and transformed both the construction and warfare industries.

In 1998, Pfizer aimed to cure Angina Pectoris with a pill named UK92480. However, the pill failed to achieve its desired effect but had an arousing secondary effect. This led to the creation of the world’s top-selling drug, Viagra. It is estimated that seven Viagra tablets are sold every second worldwide.

The discovery of insulin was not accidental, but the researchers who later found insulin stumbled upon it by accident. In 1889, two doctors were studying the effects of the pancreas on digestion and accidentally removed a healthy dog’s pancreas. They noticed flies swarming around the dog’s urine a few days later and discovered sugar in it. This led to the realization that they had given the dog diabetes by removing the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar. Researchers at the University of Toronto later isolated the pancreatic secretion that regulates blood sugar and named it insulin, turning diabetes from a fatal condition into a treatable one.

FAQ

What are some of the most important accidental inventions and discoveries in history?

Some of the most important accidental inventions and discoveries in history include penicillin, X-rays, microwave ovens, and the pacemaker. Penicillin was discovered when Alexander Fleming noticed that mold had contaminated one of his petri dishes and killed the bacteria he was studying. X-rays were discovered by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen when he noticed that a screen coated with a fluorescent material in his lab started to glow when he turned on a tube emitting rays. The microwave oven was invented by Percy Spencer when he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted after standing in front of a radar magnetron. Finally, the pacemaker was invented when Wilson Greatbatch accidentally installed the wrong type of resistor in an electronic circuit, causing it to emit electrical impulses at a regular rate.

Why do so many important discoveries and inventions happen by accident?

Many important discoveries and inventions happen by accident because they are the result of a curious and open mind being attentive to the unexpected. People who make important discoveries or inventions are often curious and observant, and they are willing to experiment and take risks. They are not afraid to try new things and to look for patterns in the world around them. They are also able to recognize the significance of what they observe, even if it was not what they were originally looking for. Finally, they are willing to pursue their hunches and to follow their intuition, even if it goes against conventional wisdom.

What is the process of turning an accidental discovery into a useful invention?

The process of turning an accidental discovery into a useful invention involves several steps. The first step is to confirm the discovery and to understand how it works. This may involve conducting experiments or doing research to determine the underlying principles. Once the discovery is confirmed, the next step is to explore its potential applications and to identify the market for the invention. This may involve conducting market research or seeking out potential partners or investors. The next step is to develop a prototype or proof of concept, which can be used to demonstrate the potential of the invention to investors or customers. Finally, the invention must be refined and tested, and a business plan must be developed to bring it to market. This may involve obtaining patents, securing funding, and developing marketing and distribution channels.

What are some examples of accidental discoveries that have not yet been turned into useful inventions?

Some examples of accidental discoveries that have not yet been turned into useful inventions include the discovery of graphene, the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the discovery of the Higgs boson. Graphene was discovered when Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov noticed that a piece of graphite was stuck to a piece of tape they were using to clean their lab. They were able to isolate a single layer of graphene, which is a highly conductive and strong material with potential applications in electronics and nanotechnology. The cosmic microwave background radiation was discovered by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson when they were trying to eliminate noise in a microwave receiver. The radiation is thought to be the leftover energy from the Big Bang and could provide insights into the early universe. Finally, the Higgs boson was discovered by researchers at CERN when they were looking for evidence of the Higgs field, which is thought to give particles mass. The discovery could lead to new insights into the fundamental nature of matter and energy.

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