Accidental Inventions

Everybody knows that necessity is the mother of inventions. However while good inventions are so often the product of necessity, great inventions are completely accidental. Here is a list unintentional scientific achievements that too often we find ourselves taking for granted.


Everybody knows the story or at least, should – the brilliant yet notoriously absent-minded biologist Sir Alexander Fleming was researching a strain of bacteria called staphylococci. When he returned from a holiday once, he noticed that one of the glass culture dishes he had accidentally left out had become contaminated with a fungus, and so he threw it away. It wasn’t until later that he noticed that the staphylococcus bacteria seemed unable to grow in the area surrounding the fungal mould.

Fleming didn’t even hold out much hope for his discovery: it wasn’t given much attention when he published his findings the following year, it was difficult to cultivate, and it was slow-acting but later on penicillin could be produced on an industrial scale, changing the way doctors treated bacterial infections forever.

The Microwave

In 1945 Percy Lebaron Spencer, an American engineer and inventor, was busy manufacturing magnetrons. It is a device used to produce microwave radio signals that was integral to early radar use.  Radar was an incredibly important innovation during the time of war, but microwave cooking was unintentional.

When he was standing near a functioning magnetron, Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted. He realized that it was the microwaves that melted his chocolate. He later experimented with popcorn kernels among other things. This gave birth to the microwave oven.

The Pacemaker

Like penicillin, here is another accidental invention that continues to save lives even today. American engineer Wilson Greatbatch was working on a gadget that recorded irregular heartbeats, when he inserted the wrong type of resistor into his invention by mistake. The circuit pulsed, then was quiet, then pulsed again, prompting Greatbatch to compare this reaction with the human heart and work on the world’s first implantable cardiac pacemaker.


It is widely accepted that the use of fireworks originated in China. It is believed that the Chinese had introduced its manufacturing almost 2,000 years ago, hence, there’s no particular person given credit for its invention. However, it is said that it was invented accidentally by an unnamed Chinese Cook who somehow managed to create a mixture of charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter. All these ingredients were available in the kitchen at that time. When he stuffed the mixture in a bamboo tube, an explosion occurred, and that was how fireworks or firecrackers were invented.

Archimedes’ Principle

Archimedes was given the task of finding out if a goldsmith, who worked for the king, was carefully replacing the king’s gold with silver. While doing this Archimedes decided he should take a break so went to take a bath. While entering the bath he noticed that when he placed his legs in, water spilled over the edge. Struck by a moment of realization, he shouted “Eureka!”.

He realised in the bathtub that a body’s displacement water allowed him to measure the weight-to-volume ratio of any irregularly shaped body, such as a gold crown. He informed the king that there was a way to positively tell if the smith was cheating him. Knowing that gold has a higher density than silver, he placed the king’s crown and then a gold crown of equal weight into a pool. The king’s crown caused more water to overflow, showing that it had a greater volume for the same weight. It was, therefore, less dense than gold, and Archimedes concluded that it contained silver, causing the smith to be executed.

A simple dip in the bath led to the Archimedes principle, which is now the back bone of fluid mechanics.

Raman Effect

When C.V Raman was on board a ship he was distressed and was looking at the vast ocean. The radiance of the blue sea enthralled him and this made him wonder what made the ocean look blue. He saw the rays of the sun get scattered in the sea. He called this the Raman Effect. This discovery gave him the noble prize.

Sai Harshavardha

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