When it comes to researching something, accidental scientific discoveries are rare. Usually, every scientific discovery is the product of painstaking periods of research and repeated failure. However, many of the greatest discoveries that shaped our human existence did not actually go through that process. Some were the lucky result of an accident or failure. We have got them all. We have compiled a list of the top 10 accidental scientific discoveries in history.
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We’ll start our list of accidental scientific discoveries in China. In the 9th century, the Chinese were obsessed with finding a solution to eternal life. In search of this elixir for living till eternity, they made one of our most explosive scientific accidental discoveries, learning the hard way that charcoal, salt pepper, and sulfur made gunpowder.
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Percy Spencer was an engineer for Raytheon Corporation, working on radar-related subject when he discovered that a new vacuum tube driving a radar set called magnetron melted a chocolate bar in his pocket. Intrigued by this he aimed the vacuum tube at other items like popcorn kernels, and eggs and discovered what he called Microwave. Raytheon filed the patent for microwave in October that year.
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Few scientific accidental discoveries were as unplanned as the discovery of penicillin. Alexander had been investigating staphylococci (staph) before taking an August vacation. He came back on September 3, 1928, to discover that a strange fungus existed in his lab culture and the fungus had killed all the surrounding bacteria. Penicillin was born.
7. LSD’s psychedelic nature
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Though Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is not amongst our accidental scientific discoveries, the psychedelic nature of the drug is discovered by accident. Swiss chemist, Albert Hoffman had made a derivative of LSD called LSD-25 in 1929 but at that time no one was interested in his discovery. However, five years later Hoffman made a decision to revisit his experiment and in 1943, he discovered the paranormal effect of LSD as he sank into a pleasurable drunkenness filled with color and plastic.
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Robert Chesebrough’s discovery of Vaseline was not one of the planned ones but rather one of the scientific accidental discoveries as he only sought to strike it big in the oil fields. But in 1859 his attention was drawn to workers complaining about rodwax gumming their drilling equipment. Robert Chesebrough named it Vaseline and put it to use treating burns and cuts. Few accidental scientific discoveries could match the business impact of Vaseline till this day.
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In a 1907 attempt to find a replacement for shellac, a resin that is secreted by the South Asian beetle, Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland, produced plastic. Baekeland named one of the most relevant scientific accidental discoveries ‘Bakelite’ after himself. Today plastic is ubiquitous in every aspect of our lives.
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Few scientific accidental discoveries have found use both in the scientific and fashion business. But Velcro is no ordinary accidental scientific discovery. In 1941, George des Mestral, a Swiss engineer was on a hiking trip when he discovered burrs hanging onto his dog’s fur as well as his own pants. After discovering that the burrs would hang on anything loop-shaped, it was clear to him that he had made a major discovery. Hence came the combo of velvet and crochet, commonly known as Velcro. At first, the fashion industry did not find it useful. But NASA saw its relevance in the 1960s using it as the flight suit material helping to keep items secure in zero gravity. Then the fashion industry finally made Velcro the material of the “baby-boom” generation, reducing the need for shoelaces.
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Now let’s get to the cooking industry, where Roy Plunkett in 1938 was looking for a way to make refrigerators work a little better at home. Refrigerators then were made of sulfur dioxide, propane and ammonia. One day he discovered that one of his samples had disappeared leaving a heat and chemical resistant resin. This material first found use in the Manhattan project in 1940 before entering the automotive industry. The cooking industry only made it an integral part of our nonstick cookware in the 1960s.
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Pfizer wanted a drug for heart attacks. They approved UK92480 as a medication for heart-related illnesses but during clinical trials, discovered it’s ineffectiveness in heart treatment. Rather they noticed that it had a rather positive effect in other parts of the body. In the first quarter of 2013, Pfizer made over $230 million from sales of Viagra. There, however, is a problem; Viagra has been discovered to trigger heart-related ailments.
1. The Pacemaker
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William Greatbach was building a device for recording the rhythm of the heart when he made accidental scientific discovery. By choosing an ill-fitting resistor to complete the circuitry, he made one of the life changing scientific accidental discoveries of our time – the pacemaker. In 1958, the first pacemaker was inserted in a dog.
In our opinion, these are the greatest accidental scientific discoveries of our time. We look forward to reading from you.