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8個歪打正著的科技發現(發明) -- E. Elfman
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8 Brilliant Scientific Screw-ups 

Eric Elfman

Hard work and dedication have their time and place, but

the values of failure and ineptitude have gone

unappreciated for far too long. They say that patience is a

virtue, but the following eight inventions prove that

laziness, slovenliness, clumsiness and pure stupidity can

be virtues, too.

1. Anesthesia (1844)

Mistake Leading to Discovery: Recreational drug use
Lesson Learned: Too much of a good thing can

sometimes be, well, a good thing

Nitrous oxide was discovered in 1772, but for decades

the gas was considered no more than a party toy. People

knew that inhaling a little of it would make you laugh

(hence the name “laughing gas”), and that inhaling a little

more of it would knock you unconscious. But for some

reason, it hadn’t occurred to anyone that such a property

might be useful in, say, surgical operations.

Finally, in 1844, a dentist in Hartford, Conn., named

Horace Wells came upon the idea after witnessing a

nitrous mishap at a party. High on the gas, a friend of

Wells fell and suffered a deep gash in his leg, but he didn’t

feel a thing. In fact, he didn’t know he’d been seriously

injured until someone pointed out the blood pooling at his

feet.

To test his theory, Wells arranged an experiment with

himself as the guinea pig. He knocked himself out by

inhaling a large does of nitrous oxide, and then had a

dentist extract a rotten tooth from his mouth. When Wells

came to, his tooth had been pulled painlessly.

To share his discovery with the scientific world, he

arranged to perform a similar demonstration with a willing

patient in the amphitheatre of the Massachusetts General

Hospital. But things didn’t exactly go as planned. Not yet

knowing enough about the time it took for the gas to kick

in, Wells pulled out the man’s tooth a little prematurely,

and the patient screamed in pain. Wells was disgraced

and soon left the profession. Later, after being jailed while

 high on chloroform, he committed suicide. It wasn’t until

1864 that the American Dental Association formally

recognized him for his discovery.

2. Iodine (1811)

Mistake Leading to Discovery: Industrial accident
Lesson Learned: Seaweed is worth its weight in salt

In the early 19th century, Bernard Courtois was the toast

of Paris. He had a factory that produced saltpeter

(potassium nitrate), which was a key ingredient in

ammunition, and thus a hot commodity in Napoleon’s

France. On top of that, Courtois had figured out how to

fatten his profits and get his saltpeter potassium for next

to nothing. He simply took it straight from the seaweed

that washed up daily on the shores. All he had to do was

collect it, burn it, and extract the potassium from the

ashes.

One day, while his workers were cleaning the tanks used

for extracting potassium, they accidentally used a

stronger acid than usual. Before they could say “sacre

bleu!,” mysterious clouds billowed from the tank. When the

smoke cleared, Courtois noticed dark crystals on all the

surfaces that had come into contact with the fumes. When

he had them analyzed, they turned out to be a previously

unknown element, which he named iodine, after the Greek

word for “violet.” Iodine, plentiful in saltwater, is

concentrated in seaweed. It was soon discovered that

goiters, enlargements of the thyroid gland, were caused

by a lack of iodine in the diet. So, in addition to its other

uses, iodine is now routinely added to table salt.

3. Penicillin (1928)

Mistake Leading to Discovery: Living like a pig
Lesson Learned: It helps to gripe to your friends about

your job

Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming had a, shall we say,

relaxed attitude toward a clean working environment. His

desk was often littered with small glass dishes—a fact

that is fairly alarming considering that they were filled with

bacteria cultures scraped from boils, abscesses and

infections. Fleming allowed the cultures to sit around for

weeks, hoping something interesting would turn up, or

perhaps that someone else would clear them away.

Finally one day, Fleming decided to clean the bacteria-

filled dishes and dumped them into a tub of disinfectant.

His discovery was about to be washed away when a

friend happened to drop by the lab to chat with the

scientist. During their discussion, Fleming griped good-

naturedly about all the work he had to do and dramatized

the point by grabbing the top dish in the tub, which was

(fortunately) still above the surface of the water and

cleaning agent. As he did, Fleming suddenly noticed a dab

of fungus on one side of the dish, which had killed the

bacteria nearby. The fungus turned out to be a rare strain

of penicillium that had drifted onto the dish from an open

window.

Fleming began testing the fungus and found that it killed

deadly bacteria, yet was harmless to human tissue.

However, Fleming was unable to produce it in any

significant quantity and didn’t believe it would be effective

in treating disease. Consequently, he downplayed its

potential in a paper he presented to the scientific

community. Penicillin might have ended there as little more

than a medical footnote, but luckily, a decade later,

another team of scientists followed up on Fleming’s lead.

Using more sophisticated techniques, they were able to

successfully produce one of the most life-saving drugs in

modern medicine.

4. The Telephone (1876)

Mistake Leading to Discovery: Poor foreign language

skills
Lesson Learned: A little German is better than none

In the 1870s, engineers were working to find a way to

send multiple messages over one telegraph wire at the

same time. Intrigued by the challenge, Alexander Graham

Bell began experimenting with possible solutions. After

reading a book by Hermann Von Helmholtz, Bell got the

idea to send sounds simultaneously over a wire instead.

But as it turns out, Bell’s German was a little rusty, and

the author had mentioned nothing about the transmission

of sound via wire. Too late for Bell though; the inspiration

was there, and he had already set out to do it.

The task proved much more difficult than Bell had

imagined. He and his mechanic, Thomas Watson,

struggled to build a device that could transmit sound. They

finally succeeded, however, and came up with the

telephone.

5. Photography (1835)

Mistake Leading to Discovery: Not doing the dishes
Lesson Learned: Put off today what you can do tomorrow

Between 1829 and 1835, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre

was close to becoming the first person to develop a

practical process for producing photographs. But he

wasn’t home yet.

Daguerre had figured out how to expose an image onto

highly polished plates covered with silver iodide, a

substance known to be sensitive to light. However, the

images he was producing on these polished plates were

barely visible, and he didn’t know how to make them

darker.

After producing yet another disappointing image one day,

Daguerre tossed the silverized plate in his chemical

cabinet, intending to clean it off later. But when he went

back a few days later, the image had darkened to the

point where it was perfectly visible. Daguerre realized that

one of the chemicals in the cabinet had somehow reacted

with the silver iodide, but he had no way of know which

one it was … and there were a whole lot of chemicals in

that cabinet.

For weeks, Daguerre took one chemical out of the cabinet

every day and put it in a newly exposed plate. But every

day, he found a less-than-satisfactory image. Finally, as

he was testing the very last chemical, he got the idea to

put the plate in the now-empty cabinet, as he had done

the first time. Sure enough, the image on the plate

darkened. Daguerre carefully examined the shelves of the

cabinet and found what he was looking for. Weeks earlier,

a thermometer in the cabinet had broken, and Daguerre

(being the slob that he was) didn’t clean up the mess very

well, leaving a few drops of mercury on the shelf. Turns

out, it was the mercury vapor interacting with the silver

iodide that produced the darker image. Daguerre

incorporated mercury vapor into his process, and the

Daguerreotype photograph was born.

6. Mauve Dye (1856)

Mistake Leading to Discovery: Delusions of grandeur
Lesson Learned: Real men wear mauve

In 1856, an 18-year-old British chemistry student named

William Perkin attempted to develop a synthetic version of

quinine, the drug commonly used to treat malaria. It was a

noble cause, but the problem was, he had no idea what he

was doing.

Perkin started by mixing aniline (a colorless, oily liquid

derived from coal-tar, a waste product of the steel

industry) with propylene gas and potassium dichromate.

It’s a wonder he didn’t blow himself to bits, but the result

was just a disappointing black mass stuck to the bottom of

his flask. As Perkin started to wash out the container, he

noticed that the black substance turned the water purple,

and after playing with it some more, he discovered that

the purple liquid could be used to dye cloth.

With financial backing from his wealthy father, Perkin

began a dye-making business, and his synthetic mauve

colorant soon became popular. Up until the time of

Perkin’s discovery, natural purple dye had to be extracted

from Mediterranean mollusks, making it extremely

expensive. Perkin’s cheap coloring not only jumpstarted

the synthetic dye industry (and gave birth to the colors

used in J.Crew catalogs), it also sparked the growth of the

entire field of organic chemistry.

7. Nylon (1934)

Mistake Leading to Discovery: Workplace procrastination
Lesson Learned: When the cat’s away, the mice should

play

In 1934, researchers at DuPont were charged with

developing synthetic silk. But after months of hard work,

they still hadn’t found what they were looking for, and the

head of the project, Wallace Hume Carothers, was

considering calling it quits. The closest they had come

was creating a liquid polymer that seemed chemically

similar to silk, but in its liquid form wasn’t very useful.

Deterred, the researchers began testing other, seemingly

more promising substances called polyesters.

One day, a young (and apparently bored) scientist in the

group noticed that if he gathered a small glob of polyester

on a glass stirring rod, he could use it to pull thin strands

of the material from the beaker. And for some reason

(prolonged exposure to polyester fumes, perhaps?) he

found this hilarious. So on a day when boss-man

Carothers was out of the lab, the young researcher and

his co-workers started horsing around and decided to

have a competition to see who could draw the longest

threads from the beaker. As they raced down the hallway

with the stirring rods, it dawned on them: By stretching the

substance into strands, they were actually re-orienting the

molecules and making the liquid material solid.

Ultimately, they determined that the polyesters they were

playing with couldn’t be used in textiles, like DuPont

wanted, so they turned to their previously unsuccessful

silk-like polymer. Unlike the polyester, it could be drawn

into solid strands that were strong enough to be woven.

This was the first completely synthetic fiber, and they

named the material Nylon.

8. Vulcanized Rubber (1844)

Mistake Leading to Discovery: Obsession combined with

butterfingers
Lesson Learned: A little clumsiness can go a long way

In the early 19th century, natural rubber was relatively

useless. It melted in hot weather and became brittle in the

cold. Plenty of people had tried to “cure” rubber so it would

be impervious to temperature changes, but no one had

succeeded … that is, until Charles Goodyear stepped in

(or so he claims). According to his own version of the tale,

the struggling businessman became obsessed with solving

the riddle of rubber, and began mixing rubber with sulfur

over a stove. One day, he accidentally spilled some of the

mixture onto the hot surface, and when it charred like a

piece of leather instead of melting, he knew he was onto

something.

The truth, according to well-documented sources, is

somewhat different. Apparently, Goodyear learned the

secret of combining rubber and sulfur from another early

experimenter. And it was one of his partners who

accidentally dropped a piece of fabric impregnated with

the rubber and sulfur mixture onto a hot stove. But it was

Goodyear who recognized the significance of what

happened, and he spent months trying to find the perfect

combination of rubber, sulfur and high heat. (Goodyear

also took credit for coining the term “vulcanization” for the

process, but the word was actually first used by an

English competitor.) Goodyear received a patent for the

process in 1844, but spent the rest of his life defending

his right to the discovery.

Consequently, he never grew rich and, in fact, wound up

in debtors prison more than once. Ironically, rubber

became a hugely profitable industry years later, with the

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. at the forefront.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

轉貼自

http://blogs.static.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/23600.html



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