All caused by accident...
Sometimes, accidents happen. But then there are times when a coincidence is just enough to create a scientific breakthrough, an amazing invention, an unprecedented discovery or something else that it's actually benefiting society.
It's a popular trope in comedy. A clumsy professor falls, drops something or makes a mistake, causing an unexpected discovery to occur. Just as often it's his bumbling assistant. Or just one of the protagonists, usually the stupid one. In some cases this accident turns out bad and causes a Freak Lab Accident
. But in this case it actually turns out for the better! Another great scientific leap has been made and all due to something that seemed to be a mistake or an unintentional event.
This page is only for accidents that result in major discoveries or inventions in the field of science. For the cultural equivalent, see Accidental Art
- A stock cliché in many comic books with an Absent-Minded Professor.
- Nero: One story has boy genius Adhemar discover a miracle cure, but not any disease that would make it useful.
- Forrest Gump does this several times, though he never takes advantage of this himself.
- His jerky movements due to his legs being in braces inspire Elvis Presley to invent his famous 'hip shaking'.
- He unknowingly helps two advert men think up the "Smiley" and "Shit happens" bumper stickers.
- In Steins;Gate, the greatest inventions our teenage wannabe Mad Scientist has come up with include a camera attached to a toy helicopter and a toy lightsaber made of a glowstick and a handle. Then, when trying to create a remotely-operated microwave, he and his friends create a functional time machine.
- The Simpsons episode "Flaming Moe's": Homer discovers the tonic while 'accidentally' mixing some coughing syrup and medicines.
- A Treehouse of Horror VII segment had Lisa accidentally creating life by putting one of her teeth into a glass of cola.
- Most big discoveries and scientific breakthroughs were just stumbled upon by accident. Imagine how different things would have been without them:
- The Greek scientist Archimedes provided the world's most famous Eureka Moment when he was trying to find a way to check whether a golden crown his king received was genuine or fake? As he sat in his bath he noticed that the water level had risen because of his body displacing its water. This, of course, led him to the idea that a golden crown could be put under to determine its exact volume, then weighed, and its density calculated from there.
- Isaac Newton is said to have discovered gravity when he was sitting beneath an apple tree and saw an apple hit the ground. Thus he understood that the Earth pulls objects to itself: the principle of gravity.
- Christopher Columbus discovered America by accident. He was actually trying to find a passage way to India.
- Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin when he returned from a vacation and discovered his laboratory to be dirty. He found a strange fungus on a culture he had left behind - a fungus that had killed off all surrounding bacteria in its vicinity.
- Hans Lippershey was a lense smith in the Netherlands. One day, while he was comparing two lenses he held one of them behind the other and gasped as he saw a spider on his wall suddenly ten times as big as usual. He had discovered the principle of the telescope...
- Percy Spencer was an American engineer who one day just walked in front of a magnetron, a vacuum tube used to generate microwaves, and noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted. This eventually led to the invention of the microwave oven.
- Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral once found burrs clinging to his pants and to his dog's fur. On closer inspection, he found that the burr's hooks would cling to anything loop-shaped. By artificially re-creating the loops he invented "Velcro".
- In 1938, Roy Plunkett, a scientist with DuPont, was working on ways to make refrigerators more home-friendly by searching for ways to replace the current refrigerant, which was primarily ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and propane. After opening the container on one particular sample he'd been developing, Plunkett found his experimental gas was gone. All that was left was a strange, slippery resin that was resistant to extreme heat and chemicals. He had invented "Teflon".
- Saccharin, the oldest artificial sweetener, was accidentally discovered in 1879 by researcher Constantine Fahlberg after he forgot to wash his hands before lunch. He had spilled a chemical on his hands and it, in turn, caused the bread he ate to taste unusually sweet.
- Play-Doh was accidentally invented in 1955 by Joseph and Noah McVicker while trying to make a wallpaper cleaner.
- George Crum reportedly created potato chips in 1853 at Moon's Lake House near Saratoga Springs, New York. Fed up with a customer who continuously sent his fried potatoes back, complaining that they were soggy and not crunchy enough, Crum sliced the potatoes as thin as possible, fried them in hot grease, then doused them with salt.
- Naval engineer Richard James was trying to develop a spring that would support and stabilize sensitive equipment on ships. When one of the springs accidentally fell off a shelf, it continued moving, and James got the idea for the Slinky toy.
- Italian scientist Galileo Galilei thought up the idea that a pendulum could be useful to measure time by viewing the swinging motion of a chandelier in the Pisa cathedral. As he saw the chandelier making the same periodic movement over and over, he thought this would be the best way to keep up the time.
- Charles Goodyear discovered vulcanized rubber when he accidentally dropped his rubber concoction on a hot stove. He saw a charred leather-like substance with an elastic rim, which would make rubber weatherproof.
- While searching for a way to cure headaches John Pemberton's lab assistant accidentally mixed carbonated water with Pemberton's own mix between coca leaves and cola nuts. And thus Coca Cola was born...
- In 1896, French scientist Henri Becquerel was working on an experiment involving a uranium-enriched crystal. He believed that sunlight was the reason that the crystal would burn its image on a photographic plate. With dark clouds rolling in, Becquerel packed up his gear and decided to continue his research on another sunny day. Some days later, he retrieved the crystal from a darkened drawer, but the image burned on the plate (above) was, as he described, "fogged." The crystal emitted rays that fogged a plate, but were dismissed as weaker rays compared to William Roentgen's X-ray. Becquerel had discovered radioactivity.
- "Viagra" was discovered when the pharmaceutical company Pfizer developed a pill relieving chest pains, while producing an unexpected but great side effect....
- A chemistry graduate student, Jamie Link, was working on a silicon chip when the chip shattered. She discovered (with the help of her professor) that the tiny bits of the chip were still sending signals, operating as tiny sensors. They coined the term "smart dust" for the small, self-assembling particles. Smart dust has myriad potential applications and plays a large role in attacking and destroying tumors.
- When Will Kellogg once accidentally left some boiled wheat sitting out, it had turned stale by the time he returned. Rather than throw it away, he and his brother John Harvey sent it through rollers, hoping to make long sheets of dough, but they got flakes instead. They toasted the flakes, which were a big hit with patients, and patented them under the name Granose. The brothers experimented with other grains, including corn, thus coining corn flakes.
- During World War II, while attempting to create a synthetic rubber substitute, James Wright dropped boric acid into silicone oil. The result was a polymerized substance that bounced, but it took several years to find a use for the product. Finally, in 1950, marketing expert Peter Hodgson saw its potential as a toy, and renamed it Silly Putty.
- Albert Hoffmann discovered LSD when he was actually trying to find a substance to treat migraine and bleeding after childbirth.
- The prehistoric caves of Altamira in Spain were discovered by a group of children who were playing near its vicinity.