5 Accidental Discoveries That Changed The World

Published May 25, 2015
Updated November 7, 2023
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In many ways, modernity can be viewed as little more than the the product of centuries of dumb luck. As you are about to see, some of the world’s most significant milestones were the result of nothing more than happy accidents.

Accidental Discoveries: Penicillin

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Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming changed modern medicine and saved countless lives by not being a very tidy man. Fleming left for vacation in 1928, failing to clean up his lab beforehand. When he returned, he noticed that some of his Petri dishes had developed mold that prevented bacteria to grow on them.

Accidental Discoveries Penicillin

Fleming won the Nobel Prize in 1945 for discovering penicillin Source: Wikipedia

Correctly guessing that the mold had antibacterial properties, Fleming went to work on identifying the culture – Penicillium notatum. From that, the scientist was able to extract penicillin and revolutionize the world of antibiotics.

Accidental Discoveries Penicillin Advertising

Penicillin became a panacea for all sorts of illnesses Source: Wikipedia

It should be noted that it took another decade before other scientists found a way to create a stable strain of penicillin that could be mass-produced. Likewise, Fleming wasn’t the first person to see the potential of moldy cultures. Other prominent scientists such as Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister also realized that certain molds could inhibit bacteria growth, not to mention the fact that moldy bread was a traditional infection remedy since ancient times.

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cox, Savannah. "5 Accidental Discoveries That Changed The World." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 25, 2015, https://allthatsinteresting.com/accidental-discoveries. Accessed June 19, 2024.