Fast Facts: 20 things discovered by accident


20. Post-its
In 1970, Spencer Silver, a researcher for 3M, had been trying to formulate
a strong adhesive, but ended up only managing to create a very weak
glue that could be removed almost
effortlessly. He promoted his invention within 3M, but at the time
nobody took notice. Four years later, Arthur Fry, a 3M colleague and
member of his church choir, was irritated by the fact that the slips of
paper he placed in his hymnal to mark the pages would usually fall out
when the book was opened. One service, he recalled the work of Spencer
Silver and later applied some of Silver's weak yet non-damaging adhesive
to his bookmarks. He found that the little sticky markers worked
perfectly, and sold the idea to 3M through an internal idea incubator.
Trial marketing began in 1977, and today it is hard to imagine life
without the sticky post-it note.


19. Superglue  Superglue came into being in 1942 when Dr Harry Coover was trying to isolate a
clear plastic to make precision gun sights for handheld weaponry. For a
while he was working with chemicals known as cyanoacrylates, which it
was discovered polymerized on contact with moisture, causing all the
test materials to bond together. This was not going to work for the task
at hand and so research moved on. Six years later, Coover was working
in a Tennessee chemical plant and realized the potential of the
substance when testing showed that the adhesives required neither heat
nor pressure to form a strong bond. Thus, after a certain amount of
commercial refinement, Superglue (full name: Alcohol-Catalyzed
Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Composition) was born. It was later used for
treating injured soldiers in Vietnam – the adhesive could be sprayed on open wounds, stemming
bleeding and allowing easier transportation of soldiers. A discovery
made during an effort to improve guns ended up saving lives.

18. FingerprintingAlthough the science of fingerprinting began with the work of Francis Galton in
the nineteenth century, detectives still had trouble locating the
tell-tale marks. In 1982, some researchers at the US Army Criminal
Investigation Laboratory in Japan cracked a fish tank. When they patched
it
together with superglue (cyanoacrylate), they noticed the fingerprints
on the glass standing out in relief. The fumes from the glue had
condensed on oils in the prints, rendering them highly visible.
Cyanoacrylate is now an important weapon in the forensic scientist's
armoury.

17. Velcro  Velcro was accidentally invented in 1948 by a Swiss engineer who had just been
walking his dog. When George de Mestral got home, he noticed that both
he and his pet were covered in burrs. Apparently acting on the impulse
of an idea, he plucked one of the burrs from his cloth jacket and
placed it under his microscope where under magnification the detail of
the burr was revealed. It was covered with hooked strands, and these, he
realised, would inevitably cling to the fur or cloth of whatever rubbed
up against it. In the case of his jacket, Mistral reasoned that the
hooks formed an even firmer bond by slotting into tiny loops in the
fabric. Mistral realized that the microscopic principle could be used to
develop a fastening device, but it took him several years to perfect
his invention. The main difficulty was getting the 'loop' side of the
fastener right (the 'hook' side was more straightforward). The solution
turned out to be sewing the loops from nylon under infra-red light. In
1951, Mistral applied for a Swiss patent for an early version of his
fastening system and named it 'Velcro', after the French words velours
(meaning velvet) and crochet (hook). In
1955, he obtained a US patent for his invention, and two years later
Velcro went into production in Manchester, New Hampshire. Before long,
the company was selling 60 million yards per annum.

16. Teflon  Teflon was invented in 1938 by a DuPont research chemist named Roy J plunkett.
One day he was experimenting with a coolant called TRE
(tetrafluoroethylene) to establish its suitability for refrigeration
purposes. For some reason, the pressurised cylinder of the gas filled
earlier by Plunkett's assistant
failed to discharge properly when the valve was opened and, dismissing
all safety rules they cut it open to see what had happened. Instead of a
violent explosion, they found that the gas had solidified inside the
cylinder to form a strangely slippery white powder. Tests revealed that
it was inert and had an extremely high melting point. DuPont registered
Teflon as a trademark in 1945 and started marketing products coated with
the miracle lubricant the following year. Since then, Teflon has not
only been used for a variety of things, from frying pans to microchips
to rocket shields and space suits andn even bad guys as the nickname of
the "Teflon Don" John Gotti, to whom no charges would stick.

15. Cellophane  In 1900, Jaques E Brandenberger saw red wine spill onto a restaurant
tablecloth, and legend has it that he decided at that point there must
be a way to protect fine materials from this type of damage. But
inventing a clear flexible film that could provide a waterproof layer
for tablecloths was not as easy as he had expected. His experiments
seemed only to render the cloth stiff, not waterproof. Brandenberger
noticed at one point that the coating on on one version peeled off
as a transparent film. Instinct said that it was not a useless
by-product but perhaps a shift in the direction of his work and he set
about developing a machine for the mass manufacture of what we know
today as 'cellophane'.

14. VaselineIn 1859 Robert Chesebrough went to seek his fortune in the oilfields of
Pennsylvania. Soon after his arrival, Chesebrough noticed the oil
workers complaining about something they called 'rod wax', a substance
that formed on their drilling equipment and gummed it up. It's single
redeeming
feature was its ability to speed up the healing of small cuts and
bruises. Chesebrough took a sample of 'rod wax' back to his laboratory
in Brooklyn. In time he determined how to isolate the substance from the
ordinary petroleum and started to experiment with it, subjecting
himself to all manner of cuts and burns before applying the petroleum
jelly. Everything healed magnificently. To popularise his invention,
Chesebrough have it the name 'Vaseline' (from Wasser, the German for
water and Elaion, Greek for oil). Then he embarked on a singularly
masochistic road show, demonstrating his faith in his product by
wounding himself in public before applying it. Soon he was selling a jar
a minute. His customers used Vaseline for every conceivable purpose
from cleaning nasal congestion to cleaning furniture. By the end of the
nineteen-century, Chesebrough was extremely rich and his petroleum jelly
was breaking into Europe. Cheseborough persisted with his
'practise what you preach' attitude toward Vaseline throughout his
life. Shortly before he died at the impressive age of 96, he revealed
that he had been eating a spoonful of the stuff every day for many
years.

13. Stainless Steel  Harry Brearley was working to prevent corrosion in rifle barrels when he
accidentally invented something interesting. Brearley had a background
in steel. His father was a steel melter and young Harry had followed his
father into the industry. Through years of private
study and night school he became an expert in the analysis of steel and
in 1908, at the age of 37, was given the opportunity to set up the
Brown Firth Laboratories for research purposes where he was given the
job of looking at improving rifle barrels. The problem: when the gun was
fired, the heat and gases generated would quickly erode away the inner
barrel. Brearley was given the task of finding a steel that would not
erode away. Brearley made history on 13 August 1913 when his mix 0.24%
carbon and 12.8% chromium with steel created the first ever stainless
steel. And although Brearley didn't immediately realise what he had
created, the resistance of the metal to acids such as vinegar and lemon
juice soon pointed him in the right direction. At that time cutlery was
made from silver or carbon steel, or plated with nickel. None of which
were resistant to rust, so Brearley launched his 'rustless steel', later
renamed as the more catchy stainless
steel.

12. Blue Jeans  Jacob Youphes was born in 1834 in Riga Latvia. He came to the US and then to
San Francisco in the 1854 and changed his name to Jacob Davis. He
operated a tailor shop in New York City and Augusta, Maine. By 1869, he
had opened a tailor shop on the town's main thoroughfare, Virginia
Street, where e began fabricating wagon covers and tents from a rugged
off-white duck cloth sold by San Francisco's Levi Strauss & Co. In
1868 Jacob settled in Reno, Neveda tailoring fine clothing and
manufacturing utilitarian items such as tents and horse blankets from
"duck" (a sturdy cotton fabric) with copper rivets for added strength.
In the late 1870s a woman came to him for a pair of "cheap" pants for
her "large" husband who had the habit of going through pants rather
quickly. Having found that thread alone did not always adequately hold
the pockets onto work pants, Jacob decided to try out rivets, which had
proven their worth on horse blankets on the pockets for these pants. By
1871 Davis was routinely using rivets on the pants he made, first on
duck, soon after on denim, and was beginning to be imitated by other
tailors. He contacted Levi Strauss, his fabric supplier, to help him
apply for a patent. The patent application was rejected several times by
the patent office but finally granted jointly in the names of Davis and
Levi Strauss & Company on May 20, 1873. The term "Levi's," though,
was not the company's–it
originated with the public, just as the public invented the term "coke"
for Coca-Cola. But when the public started referring to the pants
generically as "Levi's," the company quickly trademarked it.
Unfortunately, because Davis didn't insist on his name being included in
the product name, Levi Strauss' name alone became a synonym for the
pants, leading to the spread of a myth that Strauss invented them.

11. PenicillinIn 1928, British researcher Alexander Fleming unexpectedly discovered
penicillin, the active ingredient in a mold that has potent
infection-fighting abilities. At the time, Fleming determined that the
penicillin was too unstable to work with. However, within 10 years, the
Oxford team of Howard Florey and Ernst Chain was able to successfully
purify a form of penicillin in sufficient concentration to offer
therapeutic value in the treatment of human disease. With the help of
the British government, Florey and Chain used a beer-brewing technology
to produce the quantities of moldy liquor needed for large-scale
penicillin production. When demand outstripped their production
capacity, Florey went to the United States to establish mass-production
agreements with U.S. pharmaceutical companies.

10. The Microwave OvenDuring World War II, two scientists invented the magnetron, a tube that
produces microwaves. It was during a radar-related research project
around 1946 that Dr. Percy Spencer, a self-taught engineer with the
Raytheon Corporation, was testing a new type of magnetron when he
discovered that the candy bar in his pocket had melted. This intrigued
Dr. Spencer, so he tried another experiment. This time he placed some
popcorn kernels near the tube and the popcorn popped all over his lab.
Spencer decided to put the magnetron tube
near an egg, which also cooked. The scientist thought if popcorn and a
egg can be cooked that quickly, why not other foods? In 1947, Raytheon
built the Radarange, the first microwave oven in the world. It was
almost 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, weighed 750 pounds (340 kg) and cost close
to $5,000. It was water-cooled, so also required built-in plumbing.

9. Ice Cream ConesBefore 1904, ice cream was served on dishes. It wasn't until the World's Fair
of that year, held in St Louis, Missouri, that two
seemingly unrelated food items were paired. It happened that the
weather during the event was very hot, and given the combination of
temperature and crowds, a stall selling ice cream quickly ran out of
dishes. The neighboring stall was selling a type of wafer waffle – and
since his business was lagging he offered to help out the overly busy
ice cream vendor. The spontaneous innovation was to roll his Zalabia
into cone shapes and place the ice cream on top, which was an instant
hit. This may be legend to a certain, as it was known that edible cones
were being served in England prior to the 1904 World's Fair.

8. Champagne
Although Dom Perignon did not invent Champagne, he did develop many advances in
production of the drink, including holding the cork in place with a wire
collar to withstand the fermentation pressure. In France, the first
sparkling Champagne was created accidentally; its pressure led it to be
called "the devil's wine" as bottles exploded or the cork jolted away.

7. Potato chips/crispsDuring one summer of 1853, Chef George Crum of Moon Lake Lodge Restaurant, in
Saratoga Springs, New York, prepared the regular French-fried potatoes
for a fastidious dinner guest who promptly rejected them for being too
thick. Chef Crum served that diner with a thinner batch which was also
rejected. Annoyed and exasperated, the chef decided to get back at the
tough diner by making the potatoes so thin and crisp that even the fork
could not skewer them. Instead of riling that diner, the paper-thin and
crispy potato slices appealed to that diner so much he requested for
more. Soon, all the other diners began to request for the paper-thin and
crispy potato chips and they became a regular, house specialty item
called Saratoga Chips on the menu. The popularity of the paper-thin
potato chips grew quickly and soon it was packaged and sold as a
portable convenience food. Eventually, Chef Crum opened his own chips
restaurant.

6. The Slinky 
Like Silly Putty, the Slinky was an accidental by-product of World War II
research and development transformed into a hugely successful children's
toy. In 1943, engineer Richard James of greater Philadelphia was
working in his home laboratory to invent a set of springs that could be
used to support sensitive instruments on board ships and stabilize them
even in rough seas. When he once accidentally knocked one of his springs
off a shelf, James saw that, rather than flopping in a heap onto the
floor, the
spring "stepped" in a series of arcs from the shelf, to a stack of
books, to a tabletop, to the floor, where it re-coiled itself and stood
upright. He and his wife, who is credited with coming up with the name
"Slinky", founded James Industries, in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, to
market their product. Richard invented machines that could coil 80 feet
of steel wire into a Slinky in about 10 seconds. By the time of its 50th
anniversary (1995), that same company, using those same machines, had
sold over a quarter of a billion Slinkys, all over the world. While the
toy is cool, it can be argued that the real invention was the machine
that can take 80 feet of steel wire and coil it into a Slinky in 10
seconds. Now that's an invention.

5. The PacemakerCanadian, John Hopps invented the first cardiac pacemaker. Hopps was trained as an electrical engineer at the University of Manitoba and joined the National Research Council in 1941, where he conducted research on hypothermia. While experimenting
with radio frequency heating to restore body temperature, Hopps made an
unexpected discovery: if a heart stopped beating due to cooling, it
could be started again by artificial stimulation using mechanical or
electric means. This lead to Hopps' invention of the world's first
cardiac pacemaker in 1950. His device was far too large to be implanted
inside of the human body. It was an external pacemaker.

4. The Popsicle
In 1905, the Popsicle was invented by an 11 year-old Frank Epperson. He
had left his fruit flavored soda
outside on the porch with a stir stick in it. The drink froze
overnight, and the next morning he discovered the frozen treat. He
originally called it the "Epsicle" (no relation to the Epilady), which
his children later re-named to the more palatable "Popsicle."

3. Brandy
Medieval wine merchants used to boil the H20 out of wine so the cargo would keep
better and take up less space at sea. Removing the water also made the
load less expensive to ship, since tax was assessed by volume. Legend
has it that the intent was to add the water removed by distillation back
to the brandy before consumption, essentially to turn it back into
wine, but after having been stored in wooden casks, the resulting
product had improved over the original distilled spirit.

2. LSDWow man. The unintentional discovery of
d-lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate-LSD-25 took place in in 1938 by
Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman. The actual discovery of LSD as a
hallucinogen occurred when Dr Hoffman was involved in pharmaceutical
research in Basel, Switzerland, hoping to produce drugs that would help
ease the pain of childbirth. Having synthesized what would later become
known as LSD; Hoffman catalogued the untested substance and placed it in
storage, after finding nothing particularly interesting about it during
the initial analysis. Five years later Hoffman discovered the true
properties of the compound after inadvertently absorbing a dose of it
when handling the chemical at work without wearing gloves. On his
bicycle ride back home he observed "an uninterrupted stream of fantastic
pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of
colors". Early researcher Dr Richard Alpert claimed to have administered
LSD to 200 test subjects by 1961, and reported that
85% of his test subjects said that the experience was the "most
educational" of their lives. 
Francis Crick,
the Nobel Prize-winning father of modern genetics, was under the
influence of LSD when he first deduced the double-helix structure of DNA
nearly 50 years ago.

1. X-Rays
Wilhelm Roentgen, Professor of Physics in Worzburg, Bavaria, was the first
person to discover the possibility of using electromagnetic radiation to
create what we now know as the x-ray. Roentgen was exploring the path
of electrical rays passing from an induction coil through a partially
evacuated glass tube. Although the tube was covered in black paper and
the room was completely dark, he noticed that a screen covered in
fluorescent material was illuminated by the rays. He later realised that
a number of objects could be penetrated by these rays, and that the
projected image of his own hand showed a contrast between the opaque
bones and the translucent flesh. He later used a photographic plate
instead of a screen, and an image
was captured. For the first time ever the internal structures of the
body could be made visible without the necessity of surgery. The first
image created by his x-ray Roentgen was an image of his wife's hand,
noted by the wedding ring

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