Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Funday (Colombus Day edition): The Greatest Accidental Discoveries of All TIme!

In 1492 Columbus set sail to discover the riches is India. His navigational skill were about as good as mine and not surprisingly he got lost.  Unlike me, when he got lost he ended up discovering a new world (I usually only discover new ways to yell at my iPhone's horrible map app).

So In honor of the greatest accidental discovery of all time I decided to list a few other totally awesome accidental discoveries!  Enjoy the day off and have a little "Funday" with your "Monday"!

1. Chocolate Chip Cookies
According to Nestle, Mrs. Wakefield (owner of the Toll House Inn) was making chocolate cookies but ran out of regular baker’s chocolate, so she substituted it with broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate, thinking that it would melt and mix into the batter. It clearly did not, and the chocolate chip cookie was born. Wakefield sold the recipe to Nestle in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate chips (instead of patenting it and making billions!) Every bag of Nestle chocolate chips in North America has a variation of her original recipe printed on the back (margarine is now included both as a variant on butter and for those people who want to pretend it is healthy).

2. Popsicles
The Popsicle was invented by an 11 year who kept it secret for 18 years. The inventor was Frank Epperson who, in 1905, left a mixture of powdered soda and water out on the porch, which contained a stir stick. That night, temperatures in San Francisco reached a record low. When he woke the next morning, he discovered that it had frozen to the stir stick, creating a fruit flavored ice treat that he humbly named the epsicle. 18 years later he patented it and called it the Popsicle.

3. Microwave
Percy LeBaron Spencer of the Raytheon Company was walking past a radar tube and he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted. Realizing that he might be on to a hot new product placed a small bowl of popcorn in front of the tube and it quickly popped all over the room. Tens of millions of lazy cooks now have him to thank for their dull food!

4. Potato Chips
The first potato chip was invented by George Crum (half American Indian half African American) at Moon’s Lake House near Saratoga Springs, New York, on August 24, 1853. He was fed up with the constant complaints of a customer who kept sending his potatoes back to the kitchen because they were too thick and soggy. Crum decided to slice the potatoes so thin that they couldn’t be eaten with a fork. Against Crum’s expectation, the customer was ecstatic about the new chips. They became a regular item on the lodge’s menu under the name “Saratoga Chips” and a large contributing factor of the Western world’s obesity problems.

The invention of the humble Post-It Note was an accidental collaboration between second-rate science and a frustrated church-goer. In 1970, Spencer Silver, a researcher for the large American corporation 3M, had been trying to formulate a strong adhesive, but ended up only managing to create a very weak glue that could be removed almost effortlessly. He promoted his invention within 3M, but nobody took any notice.
4 years later, Arthur Fry, a 3M colleague and member of his church choir, was irritated by the fact that the slips of paper he placed in his hymnal to mark the pages would usually fall out when the book was opened. One service, he recalled the work of Spencer Silver, leading to an epiphany – the church being a good a place as any to have one, I suppose – and later applied some of Silver’s weak yet non-damaging adhesive to his bookmarks. He found that the little sticky markers worked perfectly, and sold the idea to 3M. Trial marketing began in 1977, and today you’d find it hard to imagine life without them.

More sticky stuff, though this one was famous for its high adhesive value, unlike Silver’s Post-It Notes. Superglue came into being in 1942 when Dr Harry Coover was trying to isolate a clear plastic to make precision gun sights for handheld weaponry. For a while he was working with chemicals known as cyanoacrylates, which they soon realized polymerized on contact with moisture, causing all the test materials to bond together. It was obvious that these wouldn’t work, so research moved on.
6 years later, Coover was working in a Tennessee chemical plant and realized the potential of the substance when they were testing the heat resistance of cyanoacrylates, recognizing that the adhesives required neither heat nor pressure to form a strong bond. Thus, after a certain amount of commercial refinement, Superglue (or “Alcohol-Catalyzed Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Composition”, to give it its full name) was born.
It was later used for treating injured soldiers in Vietnam – the adhesive could be sprayed on open wounds, stemming bleeding and allowing easier transportation of soldiers; adding a delicious layer of irony to the story in that a discovery made during an effort to improve the killing potential of guns ended up saving countless lives.

7. Vulcanized Rubber
Charles Goodyear had been waiting years for a happy accident when it finally occurred.
Goodyear spent a decade finding ways to make rubber easier to work with while being resistant to heat and cold. Nothing was having the effect he wanted.
One day he spilled a mixture of rubber, sulfur and lead onto a hot stove. The heat charred the mixture, but didn't ruin it. When Goodyear picked up the accident, he noticed that the mixture had hardened but was still quite usable.
At last! The breakthrough he had been waiting for! His vulcanized rubber is used in everything from tires, to shoes, to hockey pucks.

8.  Pacemaker
This list wouldn't be complete without at least one absent-minded professor. But it's not flubber clocking in at No. 2, it's a life saving medical device. That pacemaker sewn into a loved one's chest actually came about because American engineer Wilson Greatbatch reached into a box and pulled out the wrong thing.
It's true. Greatbatch was working on making a circuit to help record fast heart sounds. He reached into a box for a resistor in order to finish the circuit and pulled out a 1-megaohm resistor instead of a 10,000-ohm one.
The circuit pulsed for 1.8 milliseconds and then stopped for one second. Then it repeated. The sound was as old as man: a perfect heartbeat

And there you have it, eight awesome discoveries that happened totally on accident!

The moral of this story? Keep your eyes open today, you never know when a "chance" encounter may lead to the discovery of a new idea, dream, relationship or opportunity.  God's ways are higher than ours and if we stay open to His lead we may find ourselves (not unlike Mr. Columbus) in an unexpected new world, full of possibility we never knew existed. 

God bless and enjoy your Monday! 

(Special thanks to, and for the ideas...)  

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