Don’t be afraid to share your mistakes with the world, people. Sometimes brilliance strikes by accident, as with these five historic breakthroughs.
In his pursuit of strong adhesives, 3M scientist Dr. Spencer Silver discovered the opposite: one that stuck lightly to surfaces without bonding tightly to them. Years later, Silver’s 3M colleague, Art Fry, suggested that Silver use the adhesive to create a bookmark that adheres to paper without damaging it. The modern office has never been the same since.
In 1945, while tinkering with magnetrons—high-powered vacuum tubes that generate short radio waves called microwaves—engineer Percy Spencer felt a sizzling sensation in his pants: a chocolate bar in his pocket started to melt. He soon realized the culinary possibilities, much to the relief of busy moms and single dudes everywhere.
Discovered in 1928 as one of the world’s first antibiotics, penicillin was a lucky break for Dr. Alexander Fleming. He came across it by chance after leaving out cultures of Staphylococcus aureus in his lab for two weeks. Upton Fleming’s return, he discovered their growth had been prevented by the mold that went on to revolutionize medicine—Penicillium notatum.
Chocolate chip cookies
While Ruth Graves Wakefield, co-owner of the Toll House Inn, was baking chocolate cookies for her guests, she realized she was out of baker’s chocolate. So she substituted broken bits from a block of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate, thinking they would melty evenly throughout the batter. Turns out the chips were better.
While out hunting with his dog, Swiss engineer George de Mestral was struck by the pesky burrs that clung to his clothes and pooch. While examining the burrs under a microscope, he noticed the burrs have tiny hooks that stick to fabric and fur. It took years of experimenting with a variety of textiles to land on this newly invented nylon, and NASA made it wildly popular two decades later.