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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Top 10 Accidental Discoveries

By Natasha Stillwell, April 19, 2004

Just this week I was filming an item with Pam Charbonneau at the Guelph Turf Institute. We were discussing lawn care and Pam introduced me to "Diatomaceous Earth". It's ground up fossilized diatoms- prehistoric algae and if you look at it under a microscope, it resembles tiny shards of glass. It's used in industry for filters but by accident, someone discovered it was a great insecticide. The DE lacerates the insect's exoskeleton then mops up its body fluids. The insect dies from dehydration. DE is still undergoing research as an organic lawn insecticide but it did motivate me to explore what other accomplishments we owe to serendipity.

So say hello to this weeks Top Ten Accidental Discoveries:

10. The Popsicle
Frank Epperson was but a young lad of eleven, when he accidentally came up with what some would later describe as the most important invention of the twentieth century. Who would say that exactly I'm not sure, but Lady Luck was surely smiling the day Frank, mixed himself a drink of soda water powder and water- a popular drink back in 1905. For some reason he never got round to drinking it and left it on the back porch overnight with the stirring stick still in it. Of course, when the temperature dropped overnight, the mixture froze and Frank had a stick of frozen soda water to show his friends at school. Eighteen years later, Frank remembered the incident and started producing what he called 'Epsicles' in seven fruit flavors. The name never took off, but today over three million 'Popsicles' are sold every year.

9. Velcro
In the early 1940's, Swiss inventor George de Mestral was walking his dog. When he got home, he noticed his dog's coat and his pants were covered with cockleburrs. When he took a closer look under the microscope he discovered their natural hook-like shape.

He recognized the potential for a new fastener, but it took him eight years to perfect the invention. Eventually he developed two strips of nylon fabric, one containing thousands of small hooks, just like the burrs, and the other with soft loops, just like the fabric of his pants. When the two strips were pressed together, they formed a strong bond, but one that's easily separated, lightweight, durable, and washable. Voila Velcro!

8. Superglue
Superglue, or Krazy Glue, is actually a substance called 'cyanoacrylate'. Dr. Harry Coover accidentally discovered it twice, the first time in 1942, when he was trying to develop an optically clear plastic for gun sights and the second time nine years later, when he was trying to develop a heat-resistant polymer for jet canopies. On both occasions his new product proved to be too sticky for the job, in fact he got into trouble when he stuck together and ruined a very expensive pair of glass lenses. Finally he realized his super sticking glue might have a use and in 1958 it was marketed as Superglue.

In fact Superglue turned out to be more than just useful. It saved the lives of countless soldiers in Vietnam when it was used in to seal battlefield wounds before the injured could be transported to a hospital.

read the | Discovery


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