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  • Writer's pictureCassandra L. Wilkinson

Accidental Inventions

We have all heard the old saying, “necessity is the mother of invention.” But what happens when things go wrong? Sometimes, an invention is simply an accident, a twist of fate, or the result of laziness. Many times these “accidents” result in devices and products which change our lives and culture.
For instance, thank goodness a Scottish biologist was working with some petri dishes containing staphylococci right before he left for a two week vacation. Upon his return, he discovered that he had carelessly left one of the dishes out, and it was now covered in fungus. He noticed that the bacteria were no longer growing around the fungal mold. This eventually resulted in penicillin. Normally fatal infections could now be successfully treated.
Another significant accidental medical invention resulted in the pacemaker. In the 1950s, an inventor was working on a solution for a condition in which the heart does not receive messages from surrounding nerves to pump blood correctly. He accidentally installed the wrong transistor into a device that was intended to record heart sounds. When it gave off a steady pulse, he realized it was ideal for pulsating signals to the heart. It was also small and could be implanted into the human body.
The microwave oven was born because of an engineer with a sweet tooth. During the years after World War II, he was working on making magnetrons (a device capable of firing intense beams of radiation). He started noticing that the chocolate bar in his pocket was melting every day. So from there he tried popcorn kernels, and then an egg, which, as every 12 year old left home alone now knows, exploded.
While working with his brother preparing meals for the patients at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Will Kellogg was making bread one day. He had forgotten to include the boiled wheat. The dough had been sitting out for several hours when he decided to roll the wheat into the dough which became very flaky. He baked it anyway, and the patients loved the crunchy snack, which we now know as corn flakes.
Super glue, which is now a household staple, was invented by an engineer experimenting with different combinations of adhesives to make plastic lenses for rifle sights. The glue was impossible to work with because it stuck to everything. Now we use it for everything from woodworking to closing wounds in an emergency, such as on the battlefield during Vietnam.
Believe it or not, a dog helped to invent Velcro. Every time a Swiss engineer, George de Mestral, took his dog out for a walk, he noticed that burrs stuck to the dog’s fur (and his socks). Later, while looking under a microscope, he noticed the hooks that caused the burrs to stick to fabrics and fur. Of course, this led to the invention of Velcro. Can we imagine a world without Velcro?
So as you are reading this, let’s hope that someone out there somewhere is inventing the next device or product that will change our lives………….maybe even by accident.
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