Most Important Accidental Scientific Discoveries

Science, at its root, is based on experiment and observation. Researchers labor for hours trying to justify claims and demonstrate the effectiveness of various techniques. However, this does not necessarily mean that all great observations must be related in any way to your original experiment or hypothesis. In fact, some of the greatest discoveries were uncovered accidentally, often while looking for a solution to another question. Here is list of some of the most important accidental discoveries in science.

1) Penicillin and antibiotics. While researching influenza in 1928, Alexander Fleming left his petri dishes with staphylococcus bacteria unattended. When he returned, after vacation as the story goes, he discovered that mold had grown on his plate. The discovery was that bacteria did not grow anywhere near the mold, leading him to discover penicillin, the first and most recognizable antibiotic.

2) Plastic. Shellac was a common compound used as insulation in electronics in the early 1900s. However, the compound was incredibly expensive to produce and import, so Leo Hendrik Baekeland investigated producing a quality alternative. His experiments led to a material that was easy to mold and could survive high temperatures without distortion This was a precursor to plastic, which is used in just about everything today.

3) The pacemaker. Wilson Greatbatch, an engineer, was working on a circuit that could record fast heart sounds. However, he installed a 1-megaohm resistor instead of a 10-megaohm resistor, which drastically changed its pulse rate. The resulting pulse was recorded at just under 2 milliseconds, followed by dead silence for an entire second before pulsing again. This was identical to the human heartbeat, leading to the development of the pacemaker.

4) Vulcanized rubber. In 1839, Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a rubber-sulfur compound onto a hot plate, which resulted in what we now know as vulcanized rubber, which is incredibly important in the manufacture of tires and hockey pucks.

5) Reactivity. Henri Becquerel, in 1896, left a uranium rock in a drawer for nearly a week. When he returned, the rock had imprinted itself onto a photographic plate. Future work with Marie and Pierre Curie led to the discovery that the uranium had done this because of its radioactivity.

6)Teflon. Roy Plunkett, a chemist in the 1930s, was developing a new kind of chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC, for refrigeration. In some of his reactions, he mixed TFE and hydrochloric acid to try to produce a new theoretical form of refrigerant. However, the reaction was a failure as it only produced some inert flakes. However, other researchers at his employer, DuPont, discovered another use for this material as a non-stick coating for a variety of surfaces.

7) Insulin. A pair of German doctors, while studying the digestion of dogs, noticed that the urine of a particular specimen attracted flies. They found that the urine had a great deal of sugar, a symptom of diabetes. From this they found insulin, elucidated its role in the disease and eventually a treatment for diabetes was developed.