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Accidental Inventions That Changed the World
It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Someone sees a need for something and invents something to solve the problem. Not all inventions happen that way. Here are three examples:
Alexander Fleming was a highly disorganized scientist. Once an experiment was completed he often just set the petri aside and went on to the next experiment. So it was in 1928 that Felming finally took time off for a vacation. He left his laboratory scattered with petri dishes. Upon returning several weeks later, he found several petri dishes covered with mold. In sorting through the petri dishes, he noticed that in the petri dish that he had been growing bacteria, the mold had killed the bacteria. The mold was the fungus from the penicillium family that normally grew on bread. He wrote a scientific paper about his discovery and it was published. The discovery lay dormant until World War II. Doctors were seeking a way to treat wounds that soliders had. The wounds quicky became infected and therefore caused many soldiers to have the infected limb amputated. Doctors going over past medical jouranals found Fleming's articles and began experimenting with his discovery. It worked! Soon the mold was being made in unbelieveable quantities and rushed to the front. The name of this antibiotic? Penicillin. Fleming received the Nobel Prize for his discovery.
In the summer of 1945 scientist Percy Spencer was experimenting with a magnetron, the powerful tube used on most radar sets. One time, after using the magnetron, he reached into his pocket for a chocolate bar. The candy bar was a gooey blob. He wondered if the magnetron had anything to do with the bar becoming somewhat melted. He dicided to conduct another experiment. He set a cup of corn kernels in front of the magnetron and turned it on. Sure enough, the kernels popped. The first batch of microwave popcorn! Spencer quickly patented his discovery. The Raytheon Company snapped up his discovery and produced what they called the Radarange. It weighed 750 pounds and had a price tag of $3,000. It took nearly 30 years before the microwave oven became commonplace and in most kitchens.
Working in the research department for the 3M Company, in 1970, Spencer Silver was trying to develop a stronger adhesive. Silver developed a new adhesive, but it was even weaker than what 3M already manufactured. It stuck to objects, but could easily be lifted off. It was super weak instead of super strong. He set aside the new adhesive formula and continued working on a stronger adhesive. He never succeeded in finding a method of making a stronger adhesive. He did not give up on the "weak glue" and spent 5 years trying to find a use for it. Five years later, he convinced 3M to manufacture sheets of cork-colored paper and then cover the entire sheet on both sides with the new adhesive. Thi way people could "attach" the paper to a wall and be able to "pin" things on the make-shift bulletin board without pins. The product was a failure.
Then one Sunday four years later, another 3M scientist named Arthur Fry was singing in the church's choir. He used markers to keep his place in the hymnal, but they kept falling out of the book. Remembering Silver's adhesive, Fry used some to coat his markers. Success! With the weak adhesive, the markers stayed in place, yet lifted off without damaging the pages. 3M began distributing Post-it Notes nationwide in 1980 -- ten years after Silver developed the super weak adhesive. Today they are one of the most popular office products available.