Accidental Discoveries Role in the History of Science


Scientific discoveries have molded the development of science in the entire history. However, a number of those major discoveries which have created major difference in our lives today happened like as an accident. In most cases, the scientists involved were struggling with one thing when they discovered something different, which was either related or unrelated to what was being investigated. This mostly diverted researcher’s attention from their initial goals, into developing the new idea that came across during their initial research. Among the discoveries made accidentally include discovery of penicillin, x-ray, microwaves, and radioactivity among others (Royston, 1989). This paper evaluates the role of these accidental discoveries in the development of science.

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Accidental Discoveries and their Contribution to Science Development

There are a number of accidental scientific discoveries which have highly contributed to the development of science in the world. Penicillin is one of these discoveries that brought a new light to the life of humanity. Penicillin is among the best antibiotics used to cure both mild and severe bacterial infections. Penicillin mold was accidentally identified in 1928 by Dr. Alexander Fleming and since then became the best antibiotic discovery in history. This is not just due to the accidental nature of the discovery but due to the fact that penicillin has remained among the most valuable discovery which triggered other priceless research in a range of antibiotic drugs. Penicillin was discovered while Dr. Fleming was researching on the flu. The doctor noticed of a few molds that had contaminated one of the Petri dishes with flu culture. However, he decided to closely analyze the moldy sample rather than throwing it out.  In the analysis, Fleming realized that the region enclosed by growing mold in the dish was clear. This was a clear indication that the mold was deadly to the powerful staphylococcus bacteria that were in the dish. This discovery pushed the Fleming urge to segregate the mold, and categorized it eventually to belong to the penicillium genus. He then conducted a number of tests using this mold and it is then that he recognized that he had discovered a non-toxic substance of antibiotic, with ability to killing a number of bacteria which causes both severe and minor infections in people as well as other animals. This was a great discovery such that his work has saved millions of lives and also won him a Nobel award in 1945 (Krock, 2001).

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X-ray is another scientific technology which was accidentally discovered and that has been of great importance in the medical diagnosis. X-ray was discovered by Wilhelm Conrad, a German physicist in 1895. During this discovery, Wilhelm had very little to do with medical related experimentation.  Wilhelm was researching on cathode rays, which involved the phosphorescent electrons stream utilized today by fluorescent light bulbs and televisions. Previously, scientist had established that cathode rays can go through thin metal pieces, and light up a fluorescent screen located one or two inch away from a slim aluminum window placed in a glass tube. Wilhelm wished to establish if he could observe cathode rays completely escaping from a glass tube enclosed with black cardboard. It is during this experiment that Wilhelm noticed that there was a glow a number of feet away in his dark laboratory, away from the cardboard-enclosed glass tube.

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He initially thought that the light from the cathode- ray tube’s high-voltage coil was permitted to escape via the paper sheathing tear. However, he later established that what had taken place was very different from his first thought.  He established that the light rays were passing light via the thick paper and this was seen on a fluorescent screen located more than a yard away. Wilhelm established that this new ray was quite different from the cathode ray he was studying. He tried putting a number of solids on the ray and the glow was still there. He then put his hand in the tube front and his bones silhouette was displayed on the screen. It is then that Wilhelm concluded that the ray can display human skeleton image on a photographic negative. Though an accidental discovery, this earned him a Nobel Prize in 1901. It also acted as one of the most essential tool in diagnoses of injuries in human skeleton. X-ray has since been used and up to date, x-ray is an essential physician’s tool in the entire world (Mosley, 2010).

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Insulin use in sugar control in the body is another discovery that was developed from an accidental discovery. The initial clue of insulin use in sugar control happened in 1889 when Oscar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering German physicians extracted a pancreas from dog that was healthy with intention of studying the pancreas role in digestion. A few days later the two doctors observed a huge swarm of flies noshing on the puddle of the urine of the same dog. They decided to test the dog’s urine to establish what has suddenly attracted flies into its urine. It is then that they established that the urine contained a lot of sugar, which was an indication for diabetes. The two doctors realized that this condition started after the removal of the pancreas, since the dog was very healthy before. They therefore concluded that pancreas contained something used by the body to control the blood sugar.

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However, they were not able to isolate the actual hormone or grand. However, they created a base for future research regarding the same. Since then, there were so many studies that were carried to identify the actual substance secreted to control sugar in the body, but it was not until 1923 when Professor Kohn J. R. MacLeod and a young Canadian doctor Fredrick G. Banting isolated insulin as the substance used in sugar metabolism control. They also discovered that this insulin can be used in control of diabetes. This discovery won them a Nobel Price award. Since then, insulin has been used up to date in control of diabetes in the entire world and it has played a great part in saving lives of individuals diagnosed with diabetes type I (Krock, 2001).

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Microwave technology was another accidental scientific discovery which has been of great importance to the life of people in the world. It was initially discovered by Percy Spencer when he was working on technology radar during the Second World War. Spencer had carried a chocolate bar that day in his pocket while working on a magnetron. A magnetron is a vacuum tube which fires intense radiation beams. Spencer realized that the chocolate bar had mysteriously melted. However, instead of worrying of the effect these beams had on his body, he was more concerned on their role in melting the chocolate bar. Spencer then made an experiment with popping corn kernels. He ultimately established a way of developing a suitable version for home kitchen, but after a while. Microwave has been very essential in most households, and offices, and it is expected to remain useful in the two places even in the future (Planet Science, 2011).

Smallpox vaccine and the vaccine technology were also discovered accidentally. This happened in 1796 when a surgeon and a British scientist Edward Jenner was informed by a milkmaid that individuals who developed cowpox: a harmless disease associated with those who get into contact with cows, did not develop chickenpox: a more deadly disease that killed so many people then. After brainstorming this information, Jenner extracted pus from a milkmaid with cowpox and injected it into a boy who was healthy. The boy got a few lesions and a fever. A few months later, Jenner gave the boy another injection containing smallpox. However, the boy did not develop any disease. Although this could not be explained then, 50 years later, the medics were able to categorize it as a vaccine for smallpox, and the vaccine technology was born. This served as the best discovery in fighting tough viral diseases that are not treatable even to date (Sage, 2010).


Based on the discussed examples, it is evident that accidental scientific discoveries have been very essential to our life and in the field of scientific research. They have played a major role in fighting complex life challenges that include diseases. They have also played a major role in enhancing the life of human being by discovering devices that make life more enjoyable and comfortable. However, the most interesting thing is that most of these discoveries were accidentally made, when the involved scientists were trying something else or while one had no idea of developing anything. However, despite of how they were developed, these major discoveries especially in the medical science, have been of great importance in human life. They have also created the bases for new discoveries that have enhanced the life of human being even further. Thus, accidental discoveries will remain treasured due to the contribution they have made in the development of science in the world.      

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