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10 Amazing Accidental Discoveries that People ever Made

6. In 1977, Australian physicist John O’Sullivan tried to invent a tool to look for exploding, mini, black holes. He was unsuccessful, but instead, it became what we now call WiFi. 

John O'Sullivan and WiFi
John O’Sullivan and WiFi. Image Source: Encryptedruler, SATorchi/ Wikimedia Commons

After becoming inspired by Stephen Hawking’s theory on evaporating black holes and the resultant radio waves, O’Sullivan wanted to find them. But unfortunately, he found the signals to be too weak to tell them apart from the background radiation of the universe. So, he and his colleagues set out to invent a tool that would help them isolate these signals. The tool, however, did not work.

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Later, O’Sullivan was asked by CSIRO, an independent scientific research organization in Australia, to invent a device that would help computers communicate without wires. The tool that he invented to detect radio waves has now been found to have an unexpected use. With a bit of tinkering, the device was able to detect fuzzy radio signals emitted from a noisy environment, thus giving birth to modern WiFi. O’Sullivan patented his invention in 1992 in Australia and in 1996 in the US. (1, 2)

7. In 1986, Romanian workers accidentally discovered a cave, now named Movile Cave, that was sealed for 5.5 million years. This isolation has created evolutionarily distinct species which rely on sulfur-producing bacteria. 

The workers were testing to see if the ground was suitable for building a power plant when they discovered the cave. After Romanian scientist Cristian Lascu, only a handful of people have seen the cave. The cave’s environment is hazardous with just 10% oxygen (normal atmospheric levels being 20%) and 2% to 3.5% carbon dioxide (a hundred times more than normal), as well as methane, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia.

The isolated environment has resulted in the evolution of around 48 species of which 33 are found nowhere else in the world. Snails, shrimps, water scorpions, leeches, earthworms, and spiders are among some of the creatures that live in the cave. The lake has been sealed off to protect the endemic environment.

Since there is no sunlight, chemosynthesis, instead of photosynthesis, within the bacteria that creates oxidize sulfur and methane is responsible for producing nutrients for fungi and other living organisms. This microbial mat that forms on cave walls and lake surfaces is the basis of the food chain for the cave’s various lifeforms. (source)

8. In 1770, Edward Naine accidentally picked up a piece of rubber instead of a piece of bread which was used to erase pencil marks back then. Finding that it does an excellent job, he began selling rubber erasers. 

Edward Nairne and a Pencil Rubber or Eraser
Edward Nairne and a Pencil Rubber or Eraser. Image Source: Harvard University, Alex Morfin/ Wikimedia Commons

Until the English engineer Edward Naine’s discovery of rubber’s ability to erase pencil marks, various materials including crustless bread, tablets of wax, sandstone, and pumice were used. According to a Tokyo student from the Meiji Period, the bread also served as a snack when they were hungry. After his discovery, Naine began selling natural rubber erasers at three shillings for each half-inch cube.

Another interesting fact is that until sometime between 1770 and 1778, rubber was known as “gum elastic” or by its Native American name caoutchouc, and the word “rubber” meant any object that was used for rubbing. Rubber came to more practical use in 1839 when Charles Goodyear invented the process of vulcanization, making it more stable. (source)

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9. In 2009, a three-year-old boy playing for the first time with a metal detector with his father stumbled upon a 16th-century golden pendant. It is believed to be worth £2.5 million.

The pendant was found by James Hyatt from Billericay, Essex, and was dug up from six to eight inches of soil in a field in Hockley by him and his father Jason. According to the British Museum, the locket weighs a third of an ounce (8.68 grams) and is up to 73% gold. It has what is believed to be an engraving of the Virgin Mary supporting a cross with blood marks probably signifying the five wounds of Jesus. If the pendant is ever sold, the Hyatts will share the money with the landowner as is the common practice in all cases of treasure troves. (source)

10. In 1826, chemist and inventor John Walker was preparing a lighting mixture. Then he accidentally scratched the tip a stick dipped in the mixture against the hearth. When he saw it had caught fire, he had invented matches. 

John Walker and Matches
John Walker and Matches. Image Source: historyofmatches, Laurent Bélanger/ Wikimedia Commons

In 1818, after finishing his studies at Durham and York, Walker set up a chemist and druggist store in Stockton. At that time, although there were several mixtures that ignited in a sudden explosion, there was no way to transfer or sustain the fire in a controlled manner, a problem that interested Walker. Following his accidental discovery, he started making friction matches with wooden splints or cardboard sticks dipped in a mixture of sulfide of antimony, chlorate of potash, and gum. The idea was also independently arrived at by another inventor, Issac Holden.

Despite the possible monetary profits, he could reap from his invention and because he was already relatively well-off by then, Walker never patented it choosing to let others use the formula freely. He was only credited for his invention after his death in 1859. (source)

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