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Accidental Inventions

Great inventions, that leave a mark on history, like the light bulb, computer, and internet are made as a result of years of hard work and dedication. But some inventions that are a big part of our lives are nothing but an accident.


X-ray's existence was known by scientists but it was just an unidentified radiation emanating from experimental discharge tubes since 1869. It was discovered during an experiment which investigated cathode rays. Scientists like Philipp Lenard, Ivan Puluj, Helmholtz, and Nicola Tesla tried to give meaning to this radiation but none of them were successful except Wilhelm Röntgen who was a German physics professor. He came across X-rays during an experiment on Lenard and Crookes tubes which covered the Crookes tube with a black carton in order to keep the tube's environment dark. During the experiment, he realized that some of the invisible rays managed to pass through the carton and emit a green glow on the screen. He later realized that these rays could also pass through the papers on his desk and even his books. Mesmerized by this, Röntgen threw himself into investigating these rays, and on 22 December 1895, he took a picture of his wife’s hand with a ring on her finger and this became the first human part to be photographed using X-rays.


In 1896, Henri Becquerel was working on substances that could emit the X-rays, which Röntgen discovered, on their own. He was supposed to observe uranium powder under the sunlight hoping that they would absorb the sunlight and leave a trace on the photographic film. However since the weather was cloudy and unfit for the experiment, Becquerel decided to postpone the experiment for a few days and put the powder in a dark room covered by the film. When he came back to do the experiment, he realized that uranium had already left a trace on the photographic film without the help of sunlight. He had discovered radioactivity.


In August of 1928, Fleming became one of the very few people who benefited from having a messy environment. While he was trying to organize the various experiments in his lab, a certain type of fungus colony piqued his attention. This colony had grown in a cup that was filled with the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. On closer look, he realized that these funguses were destroying the harmful bacteria in the cup. A year later, he named them Penicillin and released an article about them. Since he worked with the soil from his garden, which is hard to analyze or screen, he left his discovery there and didn’t work on it any further. Afterward, Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain developed penicillin and made it what it is today.


Roy J. Plunkett was working on refrigerator gases in 1938. He was going to use the TFE gas he had put into metal cups and freeze the night before but when he opened the lid of the container, no gas came out. So, he turned the cup upside down and an oily, candle-like powder poured out of the cup. On further research about the substance, he realized that the substance was nonadhesive and was tolerant to high temperatures. Because of these qualities, it is now widely used in the making of pans.

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