July 09, 2007: Top 10 Accidental Discoveries

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I recently got a forward of some accidental discoveries I thought I'd share with you.  I am not sure how accurate these are... but definitely interesting.  Super Glue was an accidental discovery?  wow... read on...


The history of Champagne dates to about 1700 AD and a monk cellarmaster at the Abbey of Hautvillers near the city of Reims, the "capital" of the Champagne region. As the story goes, a monk named Dom Pirignon was making wine for his colleagues when, unbeknownst to him, he failed to complete the fermentation before bottling and corking the wine. During the cold winter months the fermentation remained dormant, but when spring arrived the contents of the sealed bottles began to warm and fermentation resumed producing carbon dioxide that was trapped in the bottle. Later that spring Dom noticed that bottles of wine in the cellar were exploding, so he opened one that was intact and drank, declaring "Come quickly! I'm drinking stars!" Thus, Champagne was born and named after the region where it was discovered. Today Muet & Chandon make a Champagne named in honor of Dom Pirignon, the serendipitous inventor of Champagne. A bronze statute of the famous monk stands outside Möet & Chandon in Epernay, France.


Medieval wine merchants used to boil the H20 out of wine so their delicate cargo would keep better and take up less space at sea. Before long, some intrepid soul - our money's on a sailor - decided to bypass the reconstitution stage, and brandy was born. Pass the Courvoisier!

Click here for information about Brandy >>

Microwave ovens

Microwave emitters (or magnetrons) powered Allied radar in WWII. The leap from detecting Nazis to nuking nachos came in 1946, after a magnetron melted a candy bar in Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer's pocket.


Stephanie Kwolek's research with high performance chemical compounds for the DuPont Company led to the development of a synthetic material called Kevlar which is five times stronger than the same weight of steel. Kevlar, patented by Kwolek in 1966, does not rust nor corrode and is extremely lightweight. Many police officers owe their lives to Stephanie Kwolek, for Kevlar is the material used in bullet proof vests. Other applications of the compound include underwater cables, brake linings, space vehicles, boats, parachutes, skis, and building materials.


The story of Teflon® began April 6, 1938, at DuPont's Jackson Laboratory in New Jersey. DuPont chemist, Dr. Roy J. Plunkett, was working with gases related to Freon® refrigerants, another DuPont product. Upon checking a frozen, compressed sample of tetrafluoroethylene, he and his associates discovered that the sample had polymerized spontaneously into a white, waxy solid to form polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).

The invention of PTFE has been described as "an example of serendipity, a flash of genius, a lucky accident ... even a mixture of all three." Whatever the exact circumstances of the discovery, one thing is certain: PTFE revolutionized the plastics industry and, in turn, gave birth to limitless applications of benefit to mankind.

PTFE is inert to virtually all chemicals and is considered the most slippery material in existence. These properties have made it one of the most valuable and versatile technologies ever invented, contributing to significant advancements in areas such as aerospace, communications, electronics, industrial processes and architecture.

Super Glue

In 1942 the original cyanoacrylates (chemical name) were discovered while searching for materials that could make clear plastic gun sights for the war. While searching for these materials, scientists came upon a formulation that stuck to everything it came into contact with. These cyanoacrylates were rapidly rejected by American researchers for the sole reason that they stuck to everything they came in contact with. It wasn't until 9 years later that these cyanoacrylates were rediscovered by researchers from Eastman Kodak. Fred Joyner and Harry Coover recognized the true potential for these cyanoacrylates and it was first sold as a commercial product in 1958


Several 19th-century scientists toyed with the penetrating rays emitted when electrons strike a metal target. But the x-ray wasn't discovered until 1895, when German egghead Wilhelm Röntgen tried sticking various objects in front of the radiation - and saw the bones of his hand projected on a wall.

Silly Putty

In the early 1940s, General Electric scientist James Wright was working on artificial rubber for the war effort when he mixed boric acid and silicon oil. V-J Day didn't come any sooner, but comic strip image-stretching practically became a national pastime.

Potato chips

Chef George Crum concocted the perfect sandwich complement in 1853 when - to spite a customer who complained that his fries were cut too thick - he sliced a potato paper-thin and fried it to a crisp. Needless to say, the diner couldn't eat just one.


Men being treated for erectile dysfunction should salute the working stiffs of Merthyr Tydfil, the Welsh hamlet where, in 1992 trials, the gravity-defying side effects of a new angina drug first popped up. Previously, the blue-collar town was known for producing a different kind of iron.


Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann took the world's first acid hit in 1943, when he touched a smidge of lysergic acid diethylamide, a chemical he had researched for inducing childbirth. He later tried a bigger dose and made another discovery: the bad trip.


Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming was researching the flu in 1928 when he noticed that a blue-green mold had infected one of his petri dishes - and killed the staphylococcus bacteria growing in it. All hail sloppy lab work!

Vulcanized rubber

Rubber rots badly and smells worse, unless it's vulcanized. Ancient Mesoamericans had their own version of the process, but Charles Goodyear rediscovered it in 1839 when he unintentionally (well, at least according to most accounts) dropped a rubber-sulfur compound onto a hot stove.

Artificial sweeteners
Speaking of botched lab jobs, three leading pseudo-sugars reached human lips only because scientists forgot to wash their hands. Cyclamate (1937) and aspartame (1965) are byproducts of medical research, and saccharin (1879) appeared during a project on coal tar derivatives. Yummy.

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