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  1. #1
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    Lucky Accidents!


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    An Introduction

    An Accident is an unplanned incident.

    One of the (N.R.I) swamijis defined an accident very differently.

    He said that when two persons or vehicles A and B try to be at at the same point P at the same time T an accident takes place. He was absolutely correct.


    Accidents occurring in man’s life may be unpleasant and scary…but not necessarily!


    When the right things come together, at the right place, under the right conditions, at the right time, a lucky accident happens!


    Some of the best discoveries have resulted from unforeseen and unplanned experiments - so to say accidents!

    They have later been proved to be ‘Lucky Accidents’.


    Let us take a closer look at some of such lucky accidents.
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    #1. X Rays



    X Rays is an important and indispensable tool in modern medical diagnosis. But it was not sought to become such a tool. In fact the very discovery of X rays was a lucky accident!

    German Physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen was studying Cathode Rays-the fluorescent stream of electrons-now widely used in everything from television to fluorescent bulbs.

    It had been proved already that Cathode Rays can penetrate thin pieces of metal and thin sheets of aluminum. Rontgen was investigating Cathode Rays with a fluorescent screen and a Crook’s Tube completely covered with black card board, in his darkened laboratory.

    He observed a glow appearing on the fluorescent screen kept several feet away! Were the Cathode Rays passing right through the black cardboard to illuminate the screen kept far away?

    Further investigations proved that the new rays emerging from Crook’s Tube were completely different from Cathode Rays. Rontgen named the new rays as X rays-since it was an unknown type of radiation!

    X Rays can penetrate through solids and pass through human body recording the images of the denser bones on a photographic plate.

    Rontgen discovered the medical possibilities of this ray quite by another incident. He saw the picture of his wife’s hand on a photographic plate caused by the X rays.

    It was the first ever photograph of a human body part with X rays! Now X Rays has become the most trusted medical investigation tool!

    In 1901,Rontgen was awarded Nobel prize for the discovery of X Rays.

    As told by Louis Pasteur,”Chance favors the prepared mind”. Rontgen had prepared his mind and kept it open for new possibilities. That is why he could discover the X Rays!

    Visalakshi Ramani
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    #2. Penicillin




    The story of Penicillin is probably the most famous of all accidental discoveries. In 1928, the Scottish scientist and Nobel Laurette Alexander Fleming was working on a certain strain of bacteria called Staphylococci.

    He went on a vacation. On returning he found that one of his glass culture dishes had been left open outside! It had got contaminated by a blue-green mold, with a visible growth!

    He threw it away! He later noticed that the Staphylococcus bacteria were no longer growing in the areas surrounding the molds.

    After doing further research Fleming published his results and findings. But it was not given the importance it deserved and Penicillin was not used in treatment of infections for almost twenty years!

    In 1945, it was found that Penicillin can be produced in an industrial scale. It was then penicillin was used to treat people with bacterial infections.

    Penicillin is made from Penicillium mould called Penicillium Notatum. Several derivatives of Penicillin have been formulated since and they are used in treating bacteria spread over a wide range!

    Visalakshi Ramani

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    #3. Teflon




    Polytetrafluoroethylene (P.T.F.E) is a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene, used in a number of applications.

    P.T.F.E consists of only the two elements Fluorine and Carbon. Neither water nor oil can stick to this. It has the lowest friction against any solid! So it is ideal for coating the cookwares like pan and pots, rendering them non-stick to oil and water!

    P.T.F.E was invented by Roy Plunkett of Kinetic Chemicals in New Jersey, in 1938, in a lucky accident! Plunkett was trying to make a new C.F.C refrigerant, when the lucky accident took place!

    Refrigerators from 1800 to 1929 used toxic gases like Ammonia, Methyl Chloride and Sulfur-Di-oxide as refrigerants. Several fatal accidents took place in 1920s due to the leakage of these toxic gases. People were forced to leave their fridges in their backyards!

    A Chlorofluorocarbon (C.F.C) is an organic compound consisting of Carbon, Chlorine and Fluorine. This is a much safer substitute for the toxic gases being used in the refrigerants.

    When Plunkett was trying to make a new C.F.C refrigerant, the perfluorethylene spontaneously polymerized in its pressurized storage container, using the iron of the container as a catalyst!

    Kinetic Chemicals patented it in 1941 and registered the Teflon trademark in 1945.

    The kitchenware were revolutionized with the nonstick pans -which need less cooking oil and are far more easier to clean!

    Visalakshi Ramani


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    #4. Velcro




    Velcro is the brand name for the fabric hook and loop type fastener. The hook side consists of several hundred tiny hooks and the loop side several hundred small loops. When the two are pressed together, the hooks get caught in the loops and the edges get fastened tight!

    When pulled with a tug, the two sides come off with a ripping sound. The name Velcro was coined out of the two French words Velours and Crochet.

    Velcro was invented by George De Mestral- a Swizz engineer, in 1941. After returning home from a hunting trip with his dog, he found hundred of burrs of burdock sticking to his clothes and to the dog’s fur. He had to remove them one by one with great difficulty!

    What made the burr cling to the clothes and fur so well?

    Microscopic examination revealed that burrs had thousands of tiny hooks which could cling to anything!

    The idea of Velcro was born. Mestral selected the newly invented Nylon, since it had many advantages over cotton. Nylon would neither rot nor break! It can be made into threads of any size.

    Mechanizing the process of weaving hooks took 8 years! The trimming of the loops to form tiny hooks took another year. On the whole it took 10 years of research and hard work to mechanize the process completely.

    Mestral submitted for the patent in 1951 and got it in 1955. Velcro, rightly called “The zipper-less zipper” was launched!

    Velcro is safe and easy to use. It is practically maintenance-free! Velcro has almost replaced buttons and zippers.

    Today it is found in every conceivable object-right from the disposable baby diapers to the diving suits and from the astronaut’s dress to the adaptive clothing worn by the physically challenged people!

    NASA uses specially made Velcro with Teflon loops and polyester hooks on a glass base. “Noiseless Velcro” has been specially designed for military use. Of course the process of making it kept a military secret too!

    Velcro has revolutionized our day to day life! All this was made possible by one lucky accident and one inquisitive mind!

    Visalakshi Ramani


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    #5. Mauveine




    Mauveine was discovered in 1856, by an eighteen year old boy named William Henry Perkin. He was trying to synthesize Quinine-the anti Malarial drug.

    In one of his attempts he oxidized Aniline using Potassium Dichromate. It produced a dark colored solid-a very common product formed in any organic synthesis that had failed.

    While cleaning his flask, Perkin noticed that a portion of the dark colored solid dissolved in alcohol giving a rich purple colored solution. This solution was able to dye silk and many other fabrics!

    Perkin patented his dye and started manufacturing it under the name Tyrian Purple-the name of the ancient natural dye obtained from mollusk. The name Mauve was given to the color in 1859. The chemists called it Mauveine.

    Mauve became highly fashionable in 1862, when Queen Victoria appeared at the Royal Exhibition in a mauve silk gown!

    Mauve fell out of fashion in late 1860s. By then Perkin had made a fortune. The synthetic chemical industry was launched. Many new synthetic colors were discovered.

    Mauve is one of the permitted food colors since early 20th Century.

    Visalakshi Ramani







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    #6. Post It Notes




    A Post It Note is a reusable strip of of paper with an adhesive at the back, for temporary attachments.The low tack adhesive can be attached to and detached from any surface easily, without leaving any mark on it!

    Post It Notes have become an essential stationary in every office, yet such a thing did not exist prior to 1968!

    Dr.Spencer Silver with the help of his fellow scientist Jesse Kops at the famous 3M at U.S.A. accidentally developed this low tack adhesive. It was reusable and sensitive to pressure! It could be stuck to any surface temporarily.

    No one knew what to do with an adhesive that would not stick! The discovery appeared to be useless and futile! In 1974, Art Fry-one of Jesse Kop’s coworker in the famous 3M-started using this adhesive on a book mark kept in his hymn book.

    Art Fry began to develop this idea and in 1977-almost 9 years after it discovery- 3M launched the Post It Notes.But they failed to impress the prospective buyers. A year later, free samples were handed out to create favorable impressions.

    The choice of yellow color was also another accident. The lab next door to the Post It Team had scrap yellow paper-which the research team used first!

    By 1980 Post It Notes was launched in USA followed by Canada and Europe a year later.

    Desk Top Notes are computer applications developed to allow user to put virtual Post It Notes on the their desktops and laptops.

    Post It Notes may not stick, but they have come to stay!

    Visalakshi Ramani
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    #7. Vulcanized Rubber



    Christopher Columbus was the first man to bring rubber balls to Europe! Rubber will rot slowly. It will change with the outside temperature and become brittle in cold weather and sticky in hot weather. So it could not be put to any use in such varying climates.

    Many inventors tried to make rubber weather proof! This would render rubber a stronger and a more reliable material!

    One of them was Charles Goodyear, who spent seven long years trying to make rubber stronger, by boiling it with different substances. But he could not get the right combination!

    In 1839, a concoction of rubber and sulfur fell from his hands by chance, on a hot stove. They melted and combined to form strong rubber.

    Sulfurized rubber steamed at 132 degrees Celsius-under pressure for several hours-resulted in weather proofing rubber.

    Vulcan was the Roman God of Fire. His name was given to the rubber made stronger by heat treatment. The very first thing made out of vulcanized rubber was the puckered ruffles on fancy shirts!

    Today Vulcanized rubber is a multimillion dollar business, even though it was invented by a small lucky accident!

    Visalakshi Ramani
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    #8. Stainless Steel




    Harry Brearley-a specialist in steel- began doing research in Brown Firth Research Laboratories in 1908. His aim was to find a way to prevent the corrosion in the rifle barrels, due to the heat produced and gas released during firing.

    He was trying varying amounts of Chromium mixed with carbon iron to produce the perfect alloy. On August 13, 1913, he mixed 0.24% of carbon and 12.8% of Chromium with steel to create the new alloy now popularly known as Stainless Steel!

    So the 13th of August (19)13, doubly unlucky for every one else, turned out to be his luckiest day!

    He tested the new alloy with lemon juice and vinegar, the most commonly used liquids in cooking, but it did not react with them in the same way as plain steel would!

    So it was decided that the alloy would be ideal to produce kitchenware and cutlery-which do not get tarnished or corroded! The kitchen- ware revolution had begun!

    Even the world of architecture has undergone major changes- thanks to the stainless steel! The Gateway Arch at St. Louis is completely coated with stainless steel. The pinnacle of The Chrysler Building is made with this wonderful alloy.

    Unisphere in New York, the largest global structure in the world, is made with stainless steel. Patronas Twin Towers and Jin Mao Building-two of the world’s tallest skyscrapers-have their exterior made of stainless steel.

    Art deco sculptures use of stainless steel which can withstand the onslaught of Sun, rain, snow and Time!

    Modern light weight furniture are made with stainless steel-especially those used near beach areas, since they are strong, sturdy, weather proof and elegant to look at!

    Mechanical and machine parts as well as medical equipments are now made out of stainless steel.

    Looking around us we are forced to wonder at two things: what will the world be without this alloy and is it really less than a century, since this stainless steel was invented!

    Visalakshi Ramani






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