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16 Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

Have you asked yourself how many usual things we have around us were actually accidental scientific discoveries and inventions made by mistake? There are many certainly, and here we will see some of them.

Great scientists are usually those open-minded individuals, having great imagination and genius. Well, of course, not too open-minded because while “Keeping an open mind is a virtue…(but) not so open that your brains fall out”, as it was nicely said by Carl Sagan. But anyway, many of the accidental scientific discoveries that changed the world actually happened due to the clumsiness or by chance, not even being close to investigate the things they accidentally came up with.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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In order to explain the role of so called “accidental” discoveries played in the history of science, we can see that it is actually very high percentage of “accidental” discoveries in science – round 30% of discoveries happen by mistake or accident. While looking for some explanation or discovery there are a lot of unexpected things occurring in the way of scientific research, some of them being serendipitous and some just show up on their own. So whatever role the accidental had in science, there are surely many of those inventions made by mistake that had changed the world we live in. Some of these include accidental discoveries in physics, chemistry and on many other fields as we will see.

In order to make our accidental scientific discoveries and inventions made by mistake list looking for the scientific discoveries made by mistake, we have gone through some interesting resources such as Gizmodo, Storypick, Mental Floss, Scientific Scribbles, Popular Mechanics.

As we will see, some of the huge medical problems, for example, were overcome by the accidental inventions, but you might also check out other 10 biggest problems in the world that can be solved with inventions. But without further ado, surely you are impatient to which those accidental scientific discoveries and invention made my mistakes are. Well, what are you waiting for?

16. Gunpowder

It is maybe more of a legend, but whatever the real story behind the discovery of gunpowder, it is an interesting one. So, it was back around the year 850, when a Chinese alchemist was experimenting in his quarters trying to find the elixir for a lengthening of life. So whatever was that he meant to use for making this elixir, he invented a substance that has changed the world ever since.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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15. Anesthesia

What we are talking about here is the first chemical used for aesthetic purposes. That was nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas since it was used for these purposes on parties. But its pain-relieving effects were discovered by accident in the mid-19th century by physician Crawford Williamson Long and dentist Horace Wells, who both decided to use this nitrous oxide on their patients, and the results were successful.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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14. Saccharin

Dating back in 1879, saccharin is the first artificial sweetener ever discovered. The person responsible for this accidental scientific discovery (and invention) made by mistake was Constantine Fahlberg. He was experimenting one day in his laboratory trying to figure out some new food preservatives. But the realization of the discovery came outside the laboratory – while he was eating his lunch without previously washing his hands, then he realized he had discovered something really sweet.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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13. Botox

So we come now to the first of the accidental scientific discoveries and invention made by mistake in the 20th century. Nowadays it is medically approved for cosmetic purposes, but the intention was not oriented towards cosmetics. Anyway, in 1987 Jean and Alastair Carruthers were figuring out which was the best way to treat eye spasms – blepharospasm, and it was using the botulinum toxin. It turned out that it also had a side effect – the disappearance of wrinkles, for what botox, the number 13 on our list of accidental scientific discoveries and inventions made by mistake has remained known ever since.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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12. Microwave

Since its discovery in mid-20th-century microwaves had become an inevitable part of homes in the US. The man behind this invention is Percy LeBaron Spencer who was a self-taught engineer who worked on magnetrons, vacuum tubes used in radar systems which produce microwave radiations. So, one day he realized that when working with the magnetron, chocolate in his pocket had melted. Then he realized it could have been due to the microwaves, and he started putting different foods in the magnetron, realizing that they are being cooked faster than in the normal oven. And since microwave radiation cannot pass through metal, he then designed a metal box that emitted microwaves.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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11. Matches

Although there were some previous discoveries in 18th and early 19th century with flammable substances that busted into flames when mixed, John Walker is known as the inventor of modern like matches. It was in 1826 when he was experimenting with these substances, and he realized that a wooden stick which was dipped in the mixture burst into flames when he accidentally rubbed it on the high friction surface.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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And now, let’s see the top ten accidental discoveries that changed the world.

10. Velcro

Well, Velcro was intentionally made material, but the way, the idea was born in the inventor’s mind accidentally. Actually, it was inspired by nature, and it seems that the idea of replicating this natural property of plants only fell on the mind of George de Mestral, Swiss engineer and nature lover in 1941. So, (more than) once he was on one of his long walks when he realized lots of thistles stitched to his clothes and his dog, and that was how the idea of making such material was born, but it took him long eight years of studying before the first Velcro was created.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

Pixabay/Public Domain

9. Teflon

Teflon is yet another of scientific discoveries and inventions made by mistake. It was invented by Roy J. Plunket in 1938 while experimenting with tetrafluoroethylene gas in order to research some new chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. So, he stored the tetrafluoroethylene gas in huge cylinders, and one day he realized there was no gas left in them, but instead he found a white powder. After he investigated it, he realized that it was very friction and heat resistant. So he decided to polymerize this substance, creating what we now know and use in everyday life as Teflon.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

Pixabay/Public Domain

8. Super Glue

Super Glue is one of the interesting accidental scientific discoveries and inventions made by mistake – twice. The first time was during the WW2 when Dr. Harry Coover was experimenting to make plastic hoovers for gun sights, but at that time the potential of Sper Glue was not recognized. The other (re)discovery was some ten years later when Fred Joyner accidentally spilled some ethyl cyanoacrylate on prisms that stuck very hard together. Now this time Dr. Coover recognized the importance of this substance and Super Glue was patented.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

Pixabay/Public Domain

7. Insulin

Discovery of insulin was realized by studying the pancreas which produces it. But what makes this discovery accidental was the discussion between Oskar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering that occurred spontaneously in the library of Strasbourg University in 1889. After that, some experiments were made it was obvious that insulin regulates sugar in the body, but it took more years before it was extracted and patented in medicine.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

Pixabay/Public Domain

6. Safety Glass

We are continuing our list of great inventions made by mistake with safety glass that was invented in 1903 when Édouard Bénédictus, one versatile man, accidentally dropped a glass bottle and it didn’t break. So he decided to investigate the case and realized that there was some plastic cellulose which had dried on the bottle and saved it from breaking. After some years of experimenting, he patented his first laminated glass in 1909.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

Pixabay/Public Domain

5. Smart Dust

Smart dust ranks 5th on our list of accidental scientific discoveries and inventions made by mistake. It is among the most recent accidental discoveries and inventions made by mistake. But first, what is smart dust? It is a bunch of microelectromechanical systems such as sensors or mini devices which detect light, vibration, or chemicals for example. It was invented unexpectedly by a graduate student in 2003 while destroying a silicon chip and in this way creating miniature programmable silicon particles named smart dust.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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4. Plastic

In 1907 Leo Baekeland was trying to figure out formula for a replacement for shellac when he combined formaldehyde and phenol realizing that it became moldable and plastic when having wood flour or slate dust added to it. SO, he patented his invention under the name of Bakelite.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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Let’s see the top three accidental scientific discoveries and inventions made by mistake.

3. Pacemaker

Dr. Wilson Greatbatch is responsible for this life saving accidental scientific discovery made by mistake. It was in 1956 when he tried to make heart rhythm recorded, and while mixing up with some electronic component, he realized that he actually made a device that helped unhealthy heart beat normally by sending shocks which stimulate heart muscles to pump blood properly.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

Pixabay/Public Domain

2. Penicillin

We have all heard of Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, but did you know it was one of the accidental scientific discoveries and inventions made by mistake? He discovered it when returning from a holiday and finding his Staphylococcus colonies having a blob of mold growing on them. When examining the mold juice, he realized that it could kill a variety of bacteria, and luckily he developed a medicine that had saved many lives ever since.

1. X-Rays

It was in 1895 when one of the most important medical accidental scientific discoveries and invention was made by mistake. Wilhelm Röntgen was examining effects of the passing of electrical current through gasses and realized he had found out the electromagnetic radiation which can go through almost any solid matter. His discovery was immediately recognized as a revolutionary thing in medicine, and it had remained like that ever since.

Accidental Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Made by Mistake

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This wraps it up for our list of accidental scientific discoveries and inventions made by mistake.