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10 Times Useless Science Led to Useful Inventions

The Principle of Limited Sloppiness is a phrase used to describe fortuitous or accidental discoveries (we’re talking screwups) that actually helped humankind. Here are some examples.

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Halfway through an experiment with bacteria, he up and went on vacation. Slob that he was, he left a dirty petri dish in the lab sink. When he got back, he found bacteria had grown all over the plate, except in an area where mold had formed. That discovery led to two things: 1) penicillin and 2) Mrs. Fleming hiring a maid. These are 8 hysterically bad ideas that actually worked out really well.

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He used heat to concentrate wine in order to make it easier to transport, with the idea of adding water to reconstitute it when he arrived. “Burnt wine,” or “brandewijn” in Dutch, became a big hit. Call it brandy, since after a few drinks of the stuff, there’s no way you can pronounce brandewijn so a bartender can understand what you’re ordering.

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Nitrous oxide

In its salad days, nitrous oxide was strictly a party toy, since it made people howl like hyenas. But a friend of the dentist took too much of the stuff at a laughing-gas stage show and gashed his leg. When the friend hadn’t realized he’d hurt himself, nitrous oxide became an early form of anesthesia. Dentists also play a role in the 10 most ironic inventions ever!

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After spending the day studying coal tar derivatives, Fahlberg left his Johns Hopkins laboratory and went to dinner. Something he ate tasted particularly sweet, which he traced to a chemical compound he’d spilled on his hand. Best of all, it turned out to be calorie-free. He cut Remsen and the university out of millions of dollars when he secretly patented the breakthrough discovery, saccharin.

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Silly Putty

During the war years, the General Electric engineer combined silicone oil and boric acid in an attempt to find a cheap alternative to rubber for tank treads, boots, etc. It didn’t work. But the scientists had a blast bouncing and stretching his mistake, when they weren’t using it to transfer comics onto paper. Kids had a blast playing with the Silly Putty too. You’d never believe these science “facts” that have been proven wrong.

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Chewing gum

He was experimenting with chicle, the sap from a South American tree, as a substitute for rubber. After mounting failures, the dejected inventor popped a piece into his mouth. He liked it! Adams New York No. 1 became the first mass-produced chewing gum in the world.

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With the end of World War II, the Raytheon engineer was looking for other uses for the magnetron, which generated the microwaves for radar systems. While Spencer was standing next to the device one day, a chocolate bar in his pocket melted. The magnetron worked even better on popcorn …. and that’s how Orville Redenbacher became very rich.

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Synthetic dye

He was intent on discovering a cure for one of the deadliest diseases in the world, malaria. While trying to replicate the malaria fighter quinine in his laboratory, Perkin inadvertently discovered the color mauve instead. Perkin forgot about malaria and made a mint establishing the synthetic dye industry. Check out the 13 of weirdest discoveries archaeologists have made.



The couple were using small doses of a deadly toxin to treat “crossed eyes” eyelid spasms and other eye-muscle disorders when they noticed an interesting side effect: Wrinkles magically disappeared.

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A Welsh hamlet was ground zero for a test on a pill to fight angina. Unfortunately for the afflicted, it had little success against the disease. Though it didn’t work, the men taking part in the study refused to give up their medicine. The scientists switched gears and marketed the drug, Viagra, for a very different purpose. Medicine like this is just the beginning of the top 10 accidental discoveries that changed the world.