Necessity is the mother of all inventions. There is certainly a lot of truth in that adage. But there have been times when scientific discoveries were a result of the accident and not a necessity.
Well, you don’t believe us? You have to read through the following bizarre incidents that led to remarkable discoveries.
This bitter herb that has been the cure for many diseases, including malaria, was found from the cinchona tree bark. But its discovery was a mere accident.
While Jesuit missionaries used the medicine in South America as it is useful to treat malaria since 1600, they came to know about the same from the Andean peoples. As per legends, the first discoverer was an Andean man who lost his way in the jungle. He was suffering from malaria and drank from water found below a cinchona tree. The water was very bitter, but he recovered from the fever and survived to tell his scientific discovery tale.
German physician Wilhelm Roentgen was working on a cathode ray tube and was surprised to spot something strange. Although it was covered, he saw a strange green glow emanating when the tube was on, and the lights were out.
He blocked the invisible rays, but nothing showed any effect. When he put his hand below the light, he could see bones on an image on the screen. Next, he replaced the screen with a photographic plate and accidentally discovered an X-Ray plate.
It was the 1940s, and Percy Spencer was working on a new radar-related project. He was testing a new vacuum tube, and much to his surprise, he found the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted completely.
This piqued his interest, and he tried experimenting with other foodstuffs such as eggs, popcorn kernels, which yielded similar results. Microwave ovens were born soon after.
The 1940s seemed to be the time for discovery as a Swiss engineer called George de Mestral made another interesting discovery as he was walking his dog. When they came home, he started examining the burdock seeds that got stuck in his clothes. What caught his attention were the tiny hooks that got stuck to his clothes. It made him think that making a similar clothing item was possible, which led to Velcro’s discovery.
Henri Becquerel was busy with the allure of the X-Ray in the 1890s. He was curious and wanted to figure out the connection with phosphorescence. He started experimenting and started exposing the photographic plates with the help of uranium salts. And he was soon trying to absorb the x-ray energy from the Sun.
He thought he needed sunlight to make his experiment work. However, he couldn’t carry out his experiment as the conditions were overcast. Then he developed the other unexposed plates and noticed that they had undergone fogging. Becquerel concluded that the uranium salts was the reason why they were emitting different type of lights. Radioactivity was born soon after.
Roy Plunkett was hard at work at Dupont Company’s Jackson Laboratory in 1938 when he started dabbling in new refrigerants. One such substance that he was experimenting with was tetrafluoroethylene (TFE) gas. While working in an open cylinder where he had stored some gas, he discovered a strange white powder inside.
He immediately became curious and started conducting several tests and noticed that the said compound was heat-resistant and had low surface friction, and was also corrosive acid-resistant. This turned out to be the popular Teflon or non-stick cookware that we can’t have enough of today.
In the late-1850s, a chemist named Robert Chesebrough was researching an oil well in Pennsylvania. He had heard about some rod-wax-like substance that affected their machinery. He also heard murmurs from workers who have been using this waxy-like substance to apply on their cuts and bruises.
This intrigued him, and he took this substance to his home to conduct further tests. Well, soon after, he discovered the indispensable Vaseline or petroleum jelly that promised great benefits.
Well, some of the greatest discoveries that we cannot imagine life without did take place as the result of an accident. No wonder science does not always work with design and precision. Sometimes, all it may take to discover a new product is when an experiment goes wrong!