Im­por­tant inventions that were re­ally lucky ac­ci­dents


The Golden Duck founders on salted egg yolk potato chips


Upon re­turn­ing from a hol­i­day, Alexan­der

Fleming, a rather slap­dash sci­en­tist, found un­usual ac­tiv­ity on one of the Petri dishes he had left out. Closer ex­am­i­na­tion re­vealed that mould had con­tam­i­nated his sam­ples of a bac­te­ria, pre­vent­ing its nor­mal growth. Af­ter some re­search, Fleming con­cluded that this par­tic­u­lar mould could be used to de­velop a drug to com­bat in­fec­tious dis­eases. Fleming’s slop­pi­ness led to his dis­cov­ery of the

world’s first an­tibi­otic.


Back in the day, pace­mak­ers were bulky and re­quired the use of ex­ter­nal power to func­tion. That changed in 1956 when the late Wil­son Great­batch made a for­tu­itous find­ing. While build­ing an os­cil­la­tor to record heart sounds, he made a mis­take

that re­sulted in the de­vice pro­duc­ing elec­tri­cal pulses in­stead of just record­ing them. The in­ven­tor stared at his de­vice in dis­be­lief, re­al­is­ing it could be im­planted in a per­son to elec­tri­cally sim­u­late and

stim­u­late a heart­beat.


Ev­ery time you seam­lessly flip an omelette, you have Dr Roy Plun­kett to thank. The chemist was re­search­ing new non-toxic al­ter­na­tives to re­frig­er­ants when he and his as­sis­tant ac­ci­den­tally dis­cov­ered poly­te­traflu­o­roethy­lene (PTFE) resin. The ma­te­rial was found to be in­ert to al­most all chem­i­cals and is con­sid­ered

one of the most slip­pery ma­te­ri­als in ex­is­tence. Patented and trade­marked as Te­flon, it now saves you the an­guish of

food stick­ing to pans.


In 1968 re­searcher Dr Spencer Sil­ver was at­tempt­ing to cre­ate an ex­tremely strong ad­he­sive for use in the aerospace in­dus­try, but ended up with a very weak one in­stead. By way of sal­vaging his work, he pro­posed spray­ing bul­letin boards with

it so paper notices could be pasted and re­moved eas­ily. No one took no­tice. A few years later his col­league Art Fry tweaked the idea, putting Sil­ver’s ad­he­sive on lit­tle pieces of paper in­stead of a bul­letin board

and the Post-It note was born.

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