In 1929, a bacteriologist returned to his lab from a vacation to find that he had inadvertently left out in the open a petri dish of Staphylococcus bacteria. A mold had formed and had killed most of the bacteria. That was the accidental birth of penicillin.
The microwave oven was accidentally discovered in the 1940s while an engineer at Raytheon was working on a military radar project involving magnetron tubes.
Chocolate chip cookies were discovered by accident when the owners of the Toll House Inn ran out of baker’s chocolate in 1937 and chopped up a chocolate candy bar instead. It didn’t melt the way it was supposed to but the results were the first chocolate chip cookies.
I would consider these to be accidental discoveries that changed the world. Chocolate chip cookies may be a stretch, but my son would insist on their inclusion. I’m hoping that a recent accidental discovery will help in changing the world.
An article in the National Geographic website is reporting that a study designed to measure plankton has unintentionally recorded for decades the increasing levels of plastic pollution. Researchers in the UK have taken the data and estimated that plastic in the North Atlantic has tripled since the 1960s.
According to National Geographic:
“To look for increases in North Atlantic Ocean plastic, scientists turned to an old, reliable contraption called the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR). The torpedo-shaped contraption has been sampling the North Atlantic for plankton since the 1930s.
It's attached to the back of a boat via a metal wire and hauled along the water's surface.
‘They're very robust,’ says study author Clare Ostle, a marine biochemist at the Marine Biological Association. ‘They were designed in the 1920s, and the design stayed the same. That's why we have this dataset.’
In the CPR's history, the small metal devices have travelled more than 7.4 million miles throughout the North Atlantic, often being dragged behind fast moving container ships and ferries.”
Through the course of thousands of trips, these CPRs would sometimes get tangled in plastic debris. These incidents numbering in the hundreds would be noted in logs and have provided a dataset that’s decades old.
The hope is that by knowing what kind of plastic has been showing up in the CPR logs along with where and in what concentration, conservation efforts and waste management practices can be improved.
By the way, did you know the first fully synthetic plastic was created by accident? Look it up.