5 Unintended Discoveries That Changed the World

Penicillin: While tidying up his lab in 1929, young bacteriologist Alexander Fleming noticed that a petri dish of Staphylococcus was killed by an unattended mold surrounding the bacteria. The culprit was Penicillin. Today, it’s one of the most widely administered antibiotics.

Plastic: During Leo Hendrik Baekland’s search for a polishing shellac, he combined formaldehyde with phenol to produce a polymer that was durable enough to withstand intense heat and stress. The product was plastic and its durability is a testament to its indispensability across many industries at both an industrial and consumer level – from the preservation of food in packaging to the medical-grade plastics material used in 3D printing.

Velcro: While on a casual hike in the Alps, Swiss engineer George de Mestral noticed that the burdock burrs stuck on his clothes had small hooked seeds that would serve as a perfect fastener. Today, we know this material as Velcro.

Vulcanized Rubber: A chemist struggling to feed his starving family came across vulcanized rubber when during an experiment to source better utility for the material, he tossed rubber that had been treated with sulphur on a stove in a fit of emotion. When he noticed the substance didn’t melt and instead, turned to a leathery waterproof and heat-resistant material, he knew he had something of use.

Microwave: Your hard to come across a kitchen (or a 1950s piece of memorabilia) without these guys. Engineer Percy Spencer came across radioactivity while working on radar technology (guess he was bound to find something that would end up sci-fi fodder) when he noticed a candy bar in his pocket melted from the invisible waves. Today, it’s a beloved cookie storage machine for grandparents and a must-have for bachelors!

IMAGE SOURCE: Wellcome Collection; Wikicommons


  1. Thank you for another excellent article. Where else could anyone get that type of info in such an ideal way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: