Thursday, August 8, 2013

Accidents That Changed the World

Welcome back everybody! Like last week, I have no updates to talk about (it's been so busy around here, that I've hardly had time for my stop-motion series), so I'll cut right to today's non-fiction article:

Penicillin is a group of antibiotics that is famous for saving countless millions of lives. But do you know what and where it comes from? Well, penicillin is actually derived from Penicillin fungi! Isn't it amazing that God has created special types of fungi that can help cure people from serious diseases? Penicillin has been around for a long time, and quite obviously, it's still widely used today. Penicillin is one of those handy things that we tend to take for granted these days. Have you ever questioned who thought of the idea of using penicillin for medical uses? Well, would you believe me if I told you that it was a . . . (how can I break the news to you?) . . . MISTAKE! That's right!

The discovery that penicillin could be used for medical uses was accidental. How did it happen? It all started when, Alexander Fleming, a Scottish biologist, pharmacologist and botanist, returned from a vacation on September of 1928 to check on an experiment he was conducting before he left. Before going on his vacation, Alexander put a number of Petri dishes to the side of his work bench so that another person could use the bench while he was gone. When he returned to check on his experiment, he found that one of his dishes had been contaminated by some type of mold, and this mold had apparently killed the germs he had been growing in the dish for his experiment. This intrigued him greatly. Alexander then decided to run a few tests on the mold and found it to be non-toxic, but deadly to harmful bacteria. A light bulb clicked on in Alexander's head – he had discovered penicillin!

This is Alexander Fleming, the man who accidentally discovered penicillin.
The accident of the discovery of penicillin has saved millions of people. But did you know that there are many other handy inventions that were also created by pure accidents? Read on to find out more about accidents that changed the world!

The year was 1943 when a naval mechanical engineer named Richard James was working on metal springs to support the instruments on the ship during the rough and stormy seas. All of a sudden, he accidentally bumped a little spring off the shelf and he watched with glee as it “walked” from a series of arcs, to a stack of books, on top of a tabletop and down onto the floor where it stood itself back upright. This gave him an idea. Yes, you guessed it – the Slinky was born!

He came home to his wife Betty and spawned the idea to make and sell toy springs that could “walk” across differently elevated objects, as if walking down steps. She was skeptical at first, but neighborhood kids loved the idea, so the pair began to work on this idea. Betty was the one who gave this new toy its name: Slinky (meaning “sleek and graceful”).

As with any new product, the James' had difficulty selling their new toy to department stores, but Gimbels finally granted them permission to sell. Gimbels soon learned that they made a wise decision, as 400 units of Slinkies were sold withing 90 minutes!

Slinkies were invented ages ago, and they're still around today!
Dr. Spencer Silver decided to make a really strong type of glue in 1968, and guess what he accidentally made instead – a weaker glue! You can bet he was pretty bummed! Spencer decided to try promoting his invention, but no one bought it. However, it was a good thing that a colleague of Spencer – Art Fry – likes the idea of a weaker glue. His idea was to use this glue to anchor his bookmark to his hymnbook and it worked wonderfully. The glue was strong enough to keep the bookmark in place, yet weak enough to leave the book page unharmed!

This nifty invention was a hit with 3M and they launched the product in stores in 1977. They dubbed the invention, “Press 'n Peel”! Not surprising with a name like that, the results were very discouraging, but 3M didn't give up just yet. Next, they issued free samples, and 94% of the people who tried the samples liked the product. Finally in 1980, they released their product in stores, this time under a arguably better name. Meet the “Post-It Notes”!

As we all know, Post-It's are still in a very high demand today. I know very well how useful they are – if there's something I need to remember, all I have to do is write it on a Post-It and “post it” on a wall or on the door to my room. Thanks for the mistake Dr. Spencer!

Our last accidental invention happened in 1945 when Percy Spencer, a self-taught engineer, was working with an active radar set that emitted microwaves (hint, hint) called a magnetron when he noticed his Mr. Goodbar was starting to turn into a “mush-bar”. This gave him a marvelous idea – he sprinkled a few popcorn kernels around the radar set and they popped! He just couldn't get enough of this effect, so the next thing he tried was an egg – and the egg was a success (a messy one at that, because the egg exploded into the face of one of the experimenters). These microwave-emitting devices were perfect for cooking food!

After learning that this invention could have it's upsides, Percy made a high density electromagnetic field by giving microwave power from his magnetron into a metal box and placed food in the box and BINGO! The food's temperature rose and the rest is history – we now have the microwave oven!

Where would we be without our handy-dandy microwave ovens?
So as you have just learned, many things we take for granted today were actually invented by pure chance, pure accidents, pure mistakes! Maybe mistakes aren't so bad after all; on the contrary, maybe they're really just a blessing in disguise!

Wow! In writing this article, I learned a lot of new stuff! Please be sure to stop by next time to hear Joy's latest article! Thanks for stopping by!

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