Some of the greatest inventions and innovations that make modern life easier for us have happened completely by chance. From today’s perspective, it’s hard to believe that penicillin, plastics, the X-ray machine or the microwave oven were created in situations where scientists and innovators were pursuing completely different goals. We bring you some recent examples of ideas and innovations that have occurred spontaneously, almost haphazardly, and that hold great technical potential.
5. Smart Dust
The Smart Dust idea itself isn’t new, but the accidental discovery around ten years ago at the University of California in San Diego has signified a huge leap forward in nanotechnology development. Jamie Link, a student who accidentally destroyed a silicon chip working on her assignment, shattering it into pieces, can take the credit for that. Namely, with the help of her professor, Jamie discovered that the tiny fragments of the chip were still operating as sensors, which resulted in the creation of the first self-assembling, self-orienting silicone particles. Smart Dust has already found its practical use in medicine, but its potential is truly endless and a wider variety of applications is now being awaited, especially in wireless networking technology.
4. Self-healing metal
When it comes to this one, the MIT scientists first thought that it was some kind of a mistake. While testing nickel by putting it under tension, they noticed something completely unexpected: instead of increasing, the microscopic cracks in the metal were becoming smaller and smaller. To put it simply – the metal was healing itself. After confirming beyond doubt the existence of the never-before-seen property, the discovery was published in scholarly journals this month, and many are now speculating that it’s the first step towards making a ‘liquid’ terminator from the famous blockbuster. However, it’s more likely that the discovery will result in devices, materials and infrastructure that ‘self-repair’ automatically, thereby preventing more significant damage to their integrity.
Swedish researchers of the Uppsala University announced this summer that they’d created a new material with a unique set of very useful properties, all as a result of a mistake. What happened was, they’d accidentally left one of their experiments running in the lab over the weekend, and when they came back to work, there was quite a sight for them to see. Namely, while they were gone, a new form of magnesium carbonate with incredible liquid absorption capacity was created. The Swedes called it Upsalite, and they soon announced their intention to dedicate themselves to the commercial application of this incredibly porous material. It could prove to be very useful in reducing the damage from liquid and chemical spills, as well as in electronic parts production, where humidity level control is crucial.
2. The thinnest glass in the world
More or less like in the previous case, researchers from Cornell University in the States and University of Ulm in Germany were doing a joint experiment with graphene. While trying to produce this carbon compound, an air leak caused a new layer of connected atoms of silicon and oxygen to be created instead of the graphene. To put it otherwise, what they had created was glass, but this glass is as thin as a single molecule! Researchers now think that the ultra-thin glass could be used in semiconductors, which would greatly improve the performance of computer and smartphone processors. By the way, this discovery has been included in the new edition of the Guinness Book of Records.
1. Fast-charging battery technology
Charging the batteries for all sorts of gadgets is an everyday hassle, especially considering how fast they generally tend to empty. However, the UCLA research team has announced this year that they’ve made a discovery which could drastically reduce the recharging battery time. The team was actually working on a project whose goal was to find ways of mass production of graphene, or pure carbon. Nevertheless, what they ended up accidentally creating was a supercapacitor which could recharge much faster and hold on to much more electricity than regular batteries. The potential for application is immense, so we shouldn’t be surprised to one day in the near future find ourselves recharging our cell phones in a minute! A great practical use might be found in electric cars as well.