In the field of science where important discoveries require expertise and no room for error, accidents and mistakes are unfavorable occurrences that scientists and inventors should always try to avoid. Errors are taboo in the experiment lab, and those who commit them see it as a blotch to their reputation. But sometimes, these ‘unwanted’ mistakes actually result in life-changing inventions. Don’t believe it? Here are a few of the most interesting electrical inventions discovered by accident that have changed our way of life and paved the way for newer technologies:
Top ‘Accidental’ Invention : The Pacemaker
Two people can claim the accidental discovery of the invention which is used by millions of people today: the pacemaker. First, John Hopps, an electrical engineer, accidentally discovered through his research on hypothermia that radio frequency heating does not only restore body temperature, but also restarts hearts by artificial stimulation. The second incident of accidental discovery of the pacemaker was in 1956 at the University of Buffalo, when Wilson Greatbach made a mistake while readjusting his prototype for a heart rhythm recording device. He used the wrong resistor in the device and upon installation, a familiar bodily rhythm resounded: the two-pulse beat of a human heart. Pacemakers in that day were as large as box-type TVs, but with Greatbach’s implantable invention of no more than two cubic inches, the chances of survival for people who had heart problems drastically increased.
The ‘Accidental’ Invention : The Microwave Oven
Engr. Percy Spencer of the Raytheon Corporation was working on a research project about radars in new vacuum tubes when he noticed that his favorite candy bars, which he always stored in his pockets, were melted by the time he finished his experiments. One day, he tested his theory that his vacuum tube was the ‘culprit’ by bringing along a bowl of corn kernels. When they instantly turned to popcorn right before his eyes, he realized that this new device may be an important kitchen appliance in the future—and he was right.
The Billion Dollar ‘Inkjet’ Idea by the Billion Dollar Company
Many office employees would still be using the old-style typewriter if not for a clumsy yet observant engineer from Canon. The details are sketchy, but it is believed that this unnamed engineer accidentally discovered the technology behind inkjet printers after pressing hot iron on a pen by mistake. The heat caused the pen to eject ink from its tip soon after. Using an electric-powered heating coil on ink-filled cartridges, this anonymous engineer found a way to control the ejection of ink onto a paper surface and create what is now known as the clearest printout in printing history.
The age-old saying that ‘nobody’s perfect’ is not only a reminder that humans are born to make mistakes; it is also a reflection of an optimist’s perspective that even from unfortunate incidents, good things can happen. The three accidental inventions listed above are just a few of the many accidental discoveries that have revolutionized science and changed man’s way of life. So, for everyone out there who thinks it’s unfortunate to be clumsy all the time, be aware: with a keen eye, your next big blunder could just give you a billion-dollar idea and fame beyond your wildest dreams.