From medicine to electricity to gravity itself! Join me as we show you experiments that led to amazing discoveries!
When it comes to discoveries, some are planned, but there are also times that accidental find change the world forever. While it may not seem like it do to its importance, Penicillin was discovered by accident. For while we can’t imagine our world without it, the life-saving medicine wasn’t actually discovered until 1928 by a man named Alexander Fleming.
Fleming was a biologist out of Scotland, and his day job was investigating Staph. After a long time of working, Fleming decided to take a vacation, and left his lab exactly how it was when he was done working. Everything seemed fine and dandy, nothing to be concerned about.
However, when he returned to the lab, he noticed that there was a weird fungus growing on a culture. Further examination revealed that the fungus had actually killed every single bacteria that was within its reach. Which was something he most definitely didn’t expect to see.
Knowing he was on to something with this find, he then grew the fungus on his own (intentionally this time), and realized that this could have many uses in the world today. And thus Penicillin was born, right? Not so much.
Ironically, people weren’t interested in Penicillin when he created it. They felt it was too experimental at the time, and couldn’t be used properly. Like I said, ironic. But after years of tests and papers, it slowly started to be used on animals and humans, and numerous issues were found to be cured by it.
Today, Penicillin is one of the most important basic medicines in the world, and a lot of people would be sick or dead if it hadn’t been for this unexpected discovery.
So while it was an unintentional experiment based on something else he was working on, it soon became a discovery that truly changed the world.
There are several principles in our world today that at one time were likely considered to be nothing more than “accepted” or even the “will of God”. After all, as one scientist said, “Anything that isn’t explained is God”.
Gravity is something that we all know about now, but when it came to the time of Sir Isaac Newton, it was just another thing that was accepted. But it wasn’t until he started testing out the prowess of gravity via his own experiments that he started to realize how the universe works on a very grand scale.
He realized that gravity wasn’t just something that keeps us down, it’s a force that is exerted via objects with large mass. Thus why everything in the Earth’s orbit that wasn’t bigger than it was pulled down towards it.
Now, whether the actual apple tree incident with an apple clonking Isaac Newton on the head actually happened is a bit up for debate, but the idea is there.
His research led to the conclusions not just about gravity, but about the orbits of the planets and stars. Such as how the moon revolves around the Earth because of the planet’s gravitational force. Yet, the Earth revolves around the sun because of its gravitational force.
Everything is connected, and eventually, the science of gravity became a well-known study in our world.
Let’s head back to another unintentional discovery, shall we? This one you’ll definitely be glad was found. For when you think about the humble microwave, you likely think that this was something thought about years before its creation because of how it is a mainstay in our worlds now. It was likely designed brilliant from a notion, then carefully studied and processed until a version of the model we know now was before them and rejoiced in the clever contraption that they conceived. Yet…that’s not what happened, at all. Not unlike various other discoveries, the idea of the microwave was discovered quite by accident by a man named Percy Spencer.
This all started in 1946, Percy Spencer was contracted by the Raytheon Corporation to work on a project related to radar. Something that was big at that time because of World War II. While working on a vacuum tube, he noticed something wrong with his pocket. Mainly, the chocolate bar that was in it was fully melted. Considering that he wasn’t near anything hot, and the bar was perfectly not-melted when he put it in his pocket, he knew that something was very off about the situation.
Realizing that the only the way this was possible was via the tube he was working on, he pointed it at other food objects, and watched as they all got cooked. Seeing this, he realized they were being cooked by microwaves, and later on he filed a patent for the first microwave machine. By the time 1965 came around, the first countertop microwave was released.
So imagine if you will what would’ve happened if he didn’t have that chocolate bar in his pocket? Or if something had been done differently with that vacuum tube? We might not have gotten microwave ovens. Or at least, we wouldn’t have gotten it until much later.
The question about life and how it became a part of the Earth itself has long been a subject of debate. The questions of how many “forms” of man came before Homo Sapien, how our minds evolved, or how we went from single-celled organisms to where we are now is something many think about. And while that debate still rages, one principle has long since been proven to be true in one form or another. The theory of Evolution.
To put it in the most basic of terms, Evolution is an organisms ability to grow and adapt to certain situations in order to survive. This happens after many generations and often takes hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. But it does happen. This was proven definitively by Charles Darwin. On a journey to the Galapagos Islands (as well as other places like South America), he noticed that many animals of similar species had started out in the same place, but grew to be entirely different because of various stimuli.
Such as birds developing harder beaks so that they can crack into nuts they couldn’t before and thus get food. Or prey evolving an adaptation that makes them harder to kill by predators. This theory of Evolution, also known as Natural Selection, has been shown to happen by many animals, including humanity itself.
Further proof came in how many species of animals across time and history went extinct because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, evolve.
Obviously, there are those who dispute this as the true “origins” of life, however, when it comes to the enhanced state of life…it does make sense.
There are so many things in the modern world today that are taken for granted in regards to their discoveries. Back in 1895, the idea of X-Rays weren’t even on the minds of doctors and scientists the world over. Which is almost scary to think about because they are now a standard medical practice, even being given for free under the right insurance plan.
Anyway, one day, a German Physicist named Wilhelm Roentgen did an experiment that led to very unexpected results. He was working on a cathode ray tube, and noticed that he could see an image. This was odd, as the tube itself was completely covered, yet it was showing on a fluorescent screen nearby when the room was pitch black. This should’ve been impossible based on the science that was known at the time.
Intrigued by what was going on at this moment, he tried to block the “glow” that was showing up on screen, including putting his hand in front of the tube to try and block it. When he did, he saw an image of his bones within his hand on the screen. Understanding (in part) what was going on, he swapped the tube for with a photographic plate, and thus, X-Ray imagery was born.
Now, anyone who knows how X-Rays work knows that there should be a catch to this. And there was. Because at first, doctors and such didn’t exactly know that X-Rays were harmful to people. So there were some unfortunate side effects during the first days.
Of course, they did figure it out, and when they did, they turned X-Rays into the vital medical practice we know and appreciate. Because without it, we wouldn’t be able to look inside the human body to see what was wrong with certain people.
James Watson of the United States and Francis Crick of England are credited with one of the most important finds in the history of the world. Mainly, they were able to identify and then take an X-Ray picture of a strand of DNA.
They discovered this on February 28, 1953 after many experiments and research. Which is good, because they basically helped find the one of the most important things in the human body itself, and helped rewrite the book on humanity and why we are what we are.
After all, within the helix-pattern that is our DNA are several markers that determine who we are going to be from top to bottom. From how tall we are, to our hair and eye color, and more. Because of this discovery, we are able to break down what makes life life in its most basic of elements. Why are what we are? Our DNA tells us a lot. And it can help us predict a lot in terms of diseases, health, and more.
The discovery of DNA was so important that the two got a Nobel Prize for their discovery in 1962. And not unlike many great scientific discoveries, this is one that is going to help a great many people for many years to come.
3. The Pacemaker
When it comes to the human body, few things are as important as the heart. There are plenty of diseases and conditions that can cause the heart to beat irregularly, and quite painfully for the host. And the treatments for some of these things are few and far between at times. So thus, the Pacemaker is a valuable tool, as it is able to stimulate the heart into beating regularly. But what if I told you that the only reason for this mistake was because of a wrong part for an entirely different machine?
This has to do with a man named Wilson Greatbatch, who was actually trying to build a machine to record the sounds of a heartbeat. Which for the record is a LONG way away from stimulating it. He needed a resistor to finish his machine, but he got the wrong one out of his toolbox. Not realizing it, he finished the machine, and noticed that it started to emit electrical impulses. What’s more, it was doing it very rhythmically. What a coincidence.
What was the true irony of the situation though was that Greatbatch had thought about the concept of a Pacemaker in the past, but didn’t think it was possible. Going so far as to think that electrical stimulation of the heart could help make it better, but he could never figure out how to make it work. He went to work on making a smaller version of the device, and by May 7th, 1958, the first pacemaker was successfully put into a dog.
Eventually, human test subjects were used, and you all hopefully know what happened after that. Wrong part, right guy, perfect creation.
2. The Telephone
Where would we be without the telephone? Cell phones wouldn’t exist (ok, that might be something we could do without in some cases), communication across the world would be much more primitive, and so on and so forth. And all of this was possible because of the rigorous experiments involving Alexander Graham Bell.
What might be the most interesting thing about the telephone experiments is that Bell did it not out of vanity or divine inspiration, but because of his family. His mother, and later on his wife, were deaf, so the idea of communication was almost always on his mind. Furthermore, the men in his life, including his grandfather, father, and even his brother were all very well versed in the study of speech, sounds, tones, etc.
When he started to make the telephone, all he had was an idea and a deep understanding of how things like the telegraph worked. It wasn’t until many attempts and accidents happened that he was able to fine tune how to transmit voices across wires to other phones. But he did it.
Also ironic, the head of Western Union had the chance to buy the patent for the phone for $100,000, and refused because he thought it was “a toy”. Later on, when the phone had hit its popularity streak, he said it would be a “bargain” to get it for $25 million. Oops.
So needless to say, the discovery and experiments that helped create the phone area key part of history. Especially with how advanced the phones in the modern world today are.
What? I can’t have a little fun with the final topic?
Play-Doh is one of the biggest kids toys in the world, but it didn’t start out that way. This special clay was made back in the 1930’s by Noah McVicker, but he didn’t intend it as a kids toy. Rather, it was a wallpaper cleaner! No, seriously.
And it worked…until it was obsolete via vinyl wallpaper.
But here’s the twist, at the time, this product was also being used at schools, and one of the teachers used it in class to play with the students. Which they loved. Her brother in law was the nephew of Noah McVicker, and so they slightly changed the formula to be more safe for kids, added colors, and gave it the Play-Doh name.
And now kids the world over have a wonderful and safe toy to have fun with.