The most interesting accidents ever in science


Inventions and discoveries have many a times changed the route of human history. From making lives easier to sustaining lives as a whole, it indeed has been inventions stemming out of necessity that has lent the human race greater assertion in being indeed the fittest of species to survive. It however is a matter all the more amazing therefore when such inventions and discoveries stem also by accident or as we like to call it, mere strokes of luck. In fact some of the most important scientific discoveries throughout time have been spurred by such happy occurrences that came across as a really fortunate piece of work deriving of course from such efforts that however might have been directed to someplace else. Listing here are some of the most interesting of inventions in the scientific world that have been accidental-


One of the most radical discoveries that changed the face of medical science forever in that it made surgical treatments more ‘acceptable’ is the evolution of the wonder drug anaesthesia. While the name of the inventor remains mired in controversy with no single individual having developed or even identified the drug full fledgedly, it is in fact the very means by which anaesthesia came into being that makes for quite a wonderful accidental invention. The all important discovery was made sometime in the 19th century, the early 1800s to be precise, when ether and nitrous oxide gases saw popular use in the recreational arena. More specifically, these gases ruled the laughing roost at such gatherings that gained wide popularity as ‘ether frolics’ or laughing parties’. What however dawned as a much later but still significant realisation was the numbing effect it had on pain thereby opening up newer avenues in the treatment of such ailments where painful surgery would come to be the norm.


Another discovery in medical science that which finds its fancy in quite an interesting episode of origin relates to the treatment of malaria. The quinine drug that which is still one of the most effective remedies of the deadly fever is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, something that was chanced upon not however by anyone with a scientific bent of mind. Rather it was a feverish Andean man who introduced the world to this all important compound when he experienced a dip in his body temperature after bitter gulps from a pool of water collected at the base of a quina-quina or cinchona tree. Prevalent since then during the time of the 1600s, quinine soon came to be the respite that a world constantly ravaged by the ills of malaria was so much in need of.

Friction Match

It might make for some interesting trivia to note that the apparently much sophisticated lighter was invented well before the first strikeable match made its emergence in history. But even in its seemingly insignificant size and later dawnings, the friction match stems from quite an interesting range of history. While the end pursuit for the ultimate inventor John Walker had always been to devise a means of obtaining fire easily, unlike most other accidental inventions where the most improbable of things emerged from equally improbable experimentations, the final invention still was as much a luck by chance encounter. Circa 1827, when the English pharmacist was persisting in his endeavour, stirring a pot of chemicals antimony sulfide and potassium chlorate with a wooden stick, the dried residue of which cling to it, the friction match was created as in his attempt to scratch off the lump it instead burst into flames. Thus the first ever friction match lighted up the world and with it obviously also ignited the flaming fame for Walker.



Developed by Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral as a type of hook and loop fastener, Velcro today is one of the most notable materials ruling over a range of differentiated industries concerning in different capacities the nuances of clothing. The now trademark brand however was a chance invention as well for Mestral that crossed his path on one particular hiking trip in 1941 to the famed Alps. With the seeds of the burdock plant finding a way to cling onto his pants as well as to the furry coat of his dog leaving de Mestral intrigued, the now alert man took to a closer inspection. The seeds being covered in hooks allowed them to hold fast on to fabric and fur as Mestral found out, thereby sending him off on the mission to devise an artificial technique of creating such loops. Mestral christened his invention Velcro by combining the terms velvet and crochet and that which went on to find popular wide usage with NASA using it to help secure flight suits and other items in space.


It might be baffling to categorise also the discovery of LSD as one significant accidental rendezvous but the wide range effects encompassed by this hallucinogenic drug is such that does not allow it to escape the radar. Stumbled upon by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in his studying of the Lysergic acid that which he first synthesized in 1938, the hallucination inducing properties of the powerful drug made themselves apparent to him in 1943 when Hofmann accidentally tasted his own creation. Finding himself in a state of restlessness with dizzy feels and a kind of drunkenness, a curious Hofmann further drugged himself intentionally to decipher more clearly the effects of LSD in what came to be the first ever case of experimentation with it.


Perhaps the most popular of accidental scientific discoveries and inventions is one that which concerns the development of the antibiotic so widely used today as penicillin. While the antibacterial properties of penicillin came to be known sometime around the end of the 19th century, it was only in 1928 that Scottish physician discovered wholly the world’s first broadly effective antibiotic substance as more than a case of serendipity. Already involved in experimenting with the influenza virus when he decided to relax with a family vacation at his country home, Fleming returned to one culture plate among several many that he had left inoculated with a certain strain of Staphylococcus bacteria that got contaminated with a blue-green mould, warding off however the bacterial growth that continued uninhibited in each of the other specimens. The mould turned out to be a rare strain of Penicillin notatum, secreting a substance that inhibited bacterial growth. Fleming set to work about this development and successfully introduced penicillin in the 1940s, ushering in a wave of promising changes in health and medicare.


The discovery of insulin is another intriguing tale that which went on to allow greater insights into human physiology as far as the scope of medicine is concerned. Back in the 1880’s, in 1889 precisely, two University of Strasbourg doctors, Oscar Minkowski and Josef von Mering, was concentrating on deciphering the role of the pancreas as concerns digestion in humans and animals. As part of their experimentation therefore, they extracted the organ out of a dog to further their research on the same. What they in fact ended up with was a chance discovery of a rather crucial hormone that affects normal bodily function in more ways than they could have imagined. So what transpired out of the dog being left without its pancreas is that its urine attracted an unusually large number of flies that which intrigued and surprised the doctors. On testing the same, a high amount of sugar content in the urine was identified to be the reason behind the many flies wavering about it. While this accidental discovery did indeed end up establishing that the removal of the pancreas can cause blood sugar levels to spike in the body due to the presence of a certain something in it, Minoswki and Mering however weren’t the ones to have figured that ‘something’ out. It was only some few decades later that insulin was successfully isolated by researchers at the University of Toronto earning therefore for themselves a Nobel Prize in the process.


Vaseline today might be the indulgent winter saviour what with the much popular petroleum jelly product doing everything from softening our skin to firming it. But in its rather industrial origins, it emerged as a substance that rather annoyed the oil rig workers in Pennsylvania. Discovered by a then 22 year old American chemist Robert Chesebrough in 1859 when he was inspecting one of those oil rigs, this substance that which had gained notoriety then as rod wax might have caused the rigging machines to malfunction with all that grease but was also parallely being used by the workers to soothe burns and cuts. Chesebrough saw the opportunity and tried and tested it henceforth before promptly lending the product a name, Vaseline derived from the German word for water and the Greek word for olive oil. Intrigued so much by its properties, Robert Chesebrough even went on to eat a spoonful of Vaseline all along his life since then!