5 Accidental Discoveries That Changed the History of Humankind
There’s a well-known fact that Mendeleev saw his periodic table of elements in his dreams. However, it’s worth mentioning that he worked on this project for many years, so his dream seemed to be a logical conclusion. Still, some great discoveries that changed the history of the world happened by sheer accident.
Bright Side put together a list of these “accidental” inventions which have made our reality completely different.
1. Iron-reinforced concrete
At the Paris Exposition of 1867, French gardener Joseph Monier presented his invention, a concrete flowerpot with embedded iron mesh. Monier used to work in the Tuileries Gardens where he took care of orange trees. During the summer, the plants that were grown in cement containers were taken outside, while in winter they were moved to a glass greenhouse. The containers always cracked and broke because of the fluctuation of temperatures.
To make them stronger, Monier began to do experiments with iron mesh which he embedded into the casting forms of concrete containers. During his experiments, Monier noticed that the most durable containers were those where rods were placed both horizontally and vertically. Perhaps he had heard of the similar experiments with concrete and iron, but he was the first who tried to strengthen concrete not with just iron rods, but with a net made of iron.
By the way, the invention of construction beams made of iron-reinforced concrete also belongs to him.
2. Nobel prize
In 1888, Alfred Nobel was astonished to read his own obituary titled The Merchant of Death is Dead, in a French newspaper. However, the obituary was a mistake, because it was Ludvig Nobel, Alfred’s brother, who died that year in one of the hospitals in Cannes.
When reading his obituary, the inventor of dynamite was concerned with the legacy he would leave after his death. He didn’t want to be called “the merchant of death” until the end of time. So, he decided to change his will which directed that his fortune be used to create a series of prizes for those who confer the “greatest benefit on mankind” in various fields of science.
3. Safety glass
In 1903, French scientist Edward Benedictus was working in his laboratory and needed to get certain chemicals from a high shelf when he accidentally knocked over a flask. Looking down at the broken glassware, Benedictus noticed something quite interesting—the glass had not completely shattered, as was to be expected. Instead, even though the glass was cracked and broken, it still retained its general shape. It turned out that the flask contained the remains of cellulose nitrate which, when dry, protected the vessel from the inside.
At that time, cars had regular glass in their windows and the shards could hurt a driver and passengers badly during accidents. When Benedictus read about another car accident in newspapers, he started experimenting with his finding and eventually invented safety glass which consisted of two sheets of glass with a layer of cellulose nitrate between them. When heated, cellulose melted and glued the glass sheets tightly.
The scientist patented this “sandwich” which he called Triplex glass. Subsequently, Henry Ford was the first one who began to install this glass in his cars in 1919.
In 1896, French scientist Henri Becquerel experimented with recently, and also accidentally, discovered X-rays. He was trying to understand whether there was a connection between the X-rays and uranium salts.
Becquerel used a mineral with uranium salts in it for his experiment. He kept it under sunlight for a while, then put it together with a metal object on a photo plate where a certain “photographic” image appeared after some time. The precision was not as great and he assumed that the problem was insufficient sunlight and decided to wait for a more sunny day.
But nature didn’t cooperate as he expected, so he decided to put the mineral and the photo plate aside wrapped in dark fabric together with a Maltese cross. A few days later, he developed the film and saw the image of the cross on it, so he assumed that radiation had nothing to do with sunlight.
In further research of the mysterious “rays,” radioactivity was discovered for which Henri Becquerel together with Pierre and Marie Curie received a Nobel prize in 1903.
In 1844, Horace Wells attended a demonstration by Gardner Quincy Colton, a showman and a chemist, during which a local apothecary shop clerk became intoxicated by nitrous oxide. While under the influence, the clerk did not react when he struck his legs against a wooden bench while jumping around. The following day Wells conducted a trial on himself by inhaling nitrous oxide and having his colleague extract a tooth. The operation was painless, so the doctor decided to use this gas on his patients.
When Wells decided to demonstrate nitrous oxide in action for his colleagues, the experiment failed, probably because the dosage of the gas was too small. The patient cried out and his colleagues made fun of Wells. His further attempts to introduce his method of anesthesia also failed. Besides, during this time chloroform and ether were in favor, so nitrous oxide was forgotten for a while.
In 1848, Wells committed suicide by slitting his left femoral artery with a razor after inhaling an analgesic dose of chloroform to blot out the pain. Almost 20 years later, Colton, who started the history of anesthesia began to use Wells’ method quite successfully which eventually spread across all of America and then Europe.
In 1987, Dr. Jean Carruthers, a Vancouver-based ophthalmologist pioneered the use of Botox, a botulism-based toxin that temporarily paralyzes muscles, for cosmetic purposes. The preparation was injected into a woman suffering from blepharospasm, a symptom which causes involuntary closing of the eyelids.
Sometime later, the patient returned to Dr. Carruthers and asked for another injection. When Jean said that there was no need for that because the blepharospasm had disappeared, the woman confessed that after the first injection her gaze became more open and young.
Dr. Carruthers suggested that her husband, Alastair Carruthers, who worked as a dermatologist in the same clinic, try Botox for wrinkle treatments. Jean herself together with Cathy Swann, the clinic receptionist, became the first patients to be injected with Botox for cosmetic reasons, to get rid of wrinkles.
Have you ever experienced accidents that changed your life for the better? Share your thoughts in the comments below.