Most inventions are the product of months or even years of research and hard work. However throughout history there have also been a number of instances in which some of the greatest inventions ever made were discovered by accident, showcasing that sometimes genius is not always planned, and can in fact be the result of a happy accident. In the first part of our series on accidental miracles we take a look at some examples of inventions that owe their existence to chance.
James Dyson has earned himself a reputation as one of the foremost inventors in the UK, and rumour has it that many of his most notable inventions including the Dyson hand dryer were in fact the work of serendipity. The story goes that whilst experimenting with air blades and motors intended for use in vacuum cleaners, it was observed that these blades actually had the rather surprising ability to dry hands almost instantly and the engineers at Dyson began using these blades as a workshop dryer. Inspired by this, Dyson realised the potential of this technology for use as an effective hand dryer on a commercial scale, and the Dyson Airblade hand dryer was born.
Another invention that resulted from bit of accidental genius is the pacemaker. This device was initially invented by the electrical engineer John Hopps, who was conducting research into hypothermia. Whilst conducting this research he was to make an important discovery, namely that if a heart stopped beating due to cooling, artificial stimulation using a mechanical or electrical means could be used to start it again. This fortunate discovery led him to invent the first external cardiac pacemaker. Interestingly the story of the pacemaker doesn’t end here and in the 1950’s the inventor Wilson Greatbatch was also to make a rather serendipitous breakthrough. Whilst attempting to build an oscillator that would record heart sounds, he mistakenly used the wrong kind of resistor, only to discover that the resulting device began to emit a rhythmic electrical pulse, similar to a heartbeat, inspiring him to refine his device for use as an internal pacemaker.
The inkjet printer too was also discovered by accident, when a Canon engineer set a hot iron next to his pen, only to find moments later that his pen has begun to produce ink, providing the inspiration for this revolutionary piece of technology.
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