Chance Inventions

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Accidental Technology Inventions

Some of the most common technologies we use today were discovered by accident. Innovators are always trying to come up with creative solutions for a specific problem, yet the results can turn out to be entirely different. In some cases, this has proven to be a positive side effect, as we would not be able to enjoy some of these “modern marvels” otherwise.


Unlike what most people may think, microwave ovens were not invented because someone was looking to heat up food in a short amount of time. Percy Spencer, the engineer many people around the world should thank every day for this invention, was looking to build something else entirely. In fact, he was working on a radar-related project with a new vacuum tube. While doing so, Spencer noticed a candy bar in his pocket started to melt. The team started investigating the phenomenon by placing random foods in a metal box at which a powerful magnetron was directed on – creating the word’s first microwave. In fact, the first food that they intentionally tested was popcorn kernels, creating the first microwaves popcorn. A revolutionary development, although not quite what he had intended at first.
Whenever someone goes to the hospital due to a serious illness or injury, it only seems normal they have an X-Ray scan taken. Interestingly enough, Wilhelm Röntgen was not planning to make a device that can scan the human body with relative ease. This realization only came while experimenting with cathode-ray tubes.

During this test, Röntgen was experimenting with an electron-discharge tube, he covered the rube with cardboard but noticed a glow on the glass. He called the glow X for unknown and later proceeded to block the tube with other materials such as: aluminum, copper, even the walls of his lab. Nothing seemed to block the rays, the real epiphany came about when Röntgen held a piece of lead in front of the electron-discharge tube, to his surprise he saw his own flesh glow around his bones on the screen behind his hand. He then proceeded to place a photographic film between his hand and the screen and subsequently captured the world’s first X-ray image.


These devices use electrical pulses to help the heart to beat at a normal rate, they are widely used to treat arrhythmias and have saved many lives over the past few decades. While Wilson Greatbatch – the inventor – wanted to construct an oscillator for recording the sounds of a beating heart, he used the wrong resistor. As it turned out this resistor sent out a steady pulse, Greatbatch realized that this rhythmic signal could be used to as a pacemaker. There were pacemakers beforehand, but they were the size of radios and had huge components. This new circuit allowed for the first implantable pacemaker which was one of the biggest technological breakthroughs at that time. Another accidental invention that has changed the world of technology for good.


In 2016, UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai made one of the greatest accidental inventions of the modern age. By coating a set of gold nano-wires in manganese dioxide, and applying an electrolyte gel, he created what could turn out to be the most efficient battery we have ever seen. In fact, it is so efficient this battery will last for eternity.
Lithium-based batteries struggle to maintain energy levels for longer periods of time. Gold nano-wires store current and last much longer than traditional batteries. Even after testing the batteries for over 100,000 times, the gold nano-wired battery keeps working without degradation. It remains to be seen if this battery will ever make its way into mainstream consumer devices anytime soon.
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