Accidental Discoveries that Changed the World

I would like to say that based on my last blog, that Chemistry and science is very neat and orderly because of the Scientific Method. But I can’t. In fact, some of the most important discoveries the world has been able to use in everyday life came about purely accident. We will just look at a few here, especially those that are about Chemistry.


Are Pharmacists Chemists? Well, not so much today but back in the 19th century they were known to conduct some of their own experiments. John Walker, a British pharmacist, was stirring a batch of chemicals and saw a dried lump of something on the end of his mixing stick. Naturally, he went to scape it off and the result was sparks and flame, creating the first (fire) match.


Super Glue is something we absolutely need in a pinch, but it was the result of a failed experiment. Harry Coover, Jr. was in the process of experimenting with specific chemical compounds known as acrylates. His experiments led him to trying to create a heat resistant coating for cockpits on jets, and when he took two plastic lenses and spread this new acrylate between them, he could not separate them. What he had expected to happen, that he would be able to separate the two pieces for further examination, never happened. It took a little thought and ingenuity, but Coover would market this accidental product as Super Glue a few years later.


This last one is something that is non-chemical but everyone should be familiar with. Text messaging. Long ago in 1987, mobile phones (not smartphones) were being worked on by European engineers with the idea of making them smaller and more portable. Back then, some cell phones were the size of a World War II walkie-talkie. (That is such a cute name!) The primary goal was to create a system that would work throughout all of Europe. To test the system, a script was written that allowed the engineers to send short messages to one another. Voila! SMS texting was born.


What does all this show you? That you should always be looking for opportunities in your everyday life to see something that everyone else has missed. As a chemistry student, applying the scientific method is essential for you to become proficient at Chemistry, but in the real world everything does not always end up the way we think.