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 Great Accidents

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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Great Accidents   Wed 06 Jan 2016, 10:17

Following  on from the discussion about the photo of drunks judged by some as art, several other accidents of note came to mind; Bakewell pudding and penicillin, for instance. There must be many more - what of accidental encounters and misunderstandings? (Not my humour on the Benefits thread, purr leease) Wake up dormant Res Hists, your site needs you.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Great Accidents   Wed 06 Jan 2016, 11:46

Duralumin

Alfred Wilm was a metallurgist working for the Dürener Metallwerke Aktien Gesellschaft. In 1903 he was trying to develop an aluminium alloy which could be deep drawn into rifle cartriges for the German army. (Aluminium was then a "new" metal in that a commercially viable production method was only developed in 1888. Prior to that aluminium was very expensive: Napoleon III is reputed to have held a banquet where the most honoured guests were given aluminium utensils, while the others had to make do with gold). One Friday Wilm prepared some samples of an aluminium-4%copper alloy, which he rolled into strips and then heated up to relieve the rolling stresses. To save time he quenched the hot metal pieces into water and began testing the hardnesses. But he didn't finish testing the batch before stopping work for the weekend. On Monday he started where he'd left off and was surprised to find that the samples he was now testing were considerably harder than the ones he done on Friday. He checked the calibration and retested some of the samples he'd already done before the weekend. The effect was real: the metal had increased in hardness just by sitting at room temperature for a couple of days.

He'd discovered the metallurgical process of age-hardening (or precipitation hardening) and with further work he established the best alloy combination and the temperature/time conditions for optimum hardening, and so was developed what he called "Duralumin" an alloy of Al-3.5%Cu-1%Mg, which was light and ductile, but once formed into shape could be strengthened. It wasn't suitable for rifle cartriges but it was eminently suitable for the strong/light frame-work of aircraft, initially airships and later aeroplanes. The original alloy has long since been surpassed by more sophisticated alloys but the majority of modern aerospace aluminium alloys are still of the duralumin, age-hardening type.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Great Accidents   Wed 06 Jan 2016, 12:23

Mauve.

I'm sure we've talked about this before but anyway; in 1856 the chemistry professor at the Royal College of Chemistry in London tasked 18 year od William Henry Perkin with trying to synthesise quinine. It didn't work but while cleaning up he noticed some purple liquid in the flask. He had produced the first of the aniline dyes that changed the look of the world forever by making bright colours available cheaply and thus making the fabrics on offer to all classes rival and indeed outdo the stronger colours that had previously been only the prerogative of the rich.

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Triceratops
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PostSubject: Re: Great Accidents   Wed 06 Jan 2016, 13:45

Pfizers research laboratory were working on a medicine for Angina Pectoris when they noticed that the product they were working on had "side effects";

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PostSubject: Re: Great Accidents   Thu 07 Jan 2016, 11:35

Columbus's discovery of the Americas

Columbus was of course attempting to sail westwards from Europe to China. To convince his backers that this was feasible he'd had to argue that the Earth was smaller than accepted evidence suggested, and that the eastern coast of China was considerably closer than it really is. If he hadn't accidentally bumped into America he and his crew would almost certainly have disappeared without trace.

When they encountered land the crew were on the verge of mutiny believing thay were about at the point of no return. In fact they were probably already past the point at which they would have had sufficient supplies to get back. Columbus had kept two records of the daily distances travelled, one, which he showed to his officers understated the distances, the other true record he kept secret. The captains of the other two ships, kept their own logs and suspected the truth, but to question the Admiral would have amounted to mutiny. Columbus knew they were unlikely to be able to get back and so the only course open was to push on in the hope of finding land. He didn't know there was an entire continent in the way, but luckily for him there was. If the Americas had not been there he'd have almost certainly pushed on further westwards, or turned around too late, but either way to eventually perish through lack of food and water.

While lucky for him, his crew and his backers ... the encounter wasn't quite so fortuitous for the indiginous populations.
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Triceratops
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PostSubject: Re: Great Accidents   Fri 08 Jan 2016, 09:39

Would this count?

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PostSubject: Re: Great Accidents   Sun 17 Jan 2016, 09:55

The microwave oven.

In the 1940s Percy Spencer, working for Raytheon in the US, was one of the leading experts in radar tube design. One day while building magnetrons, he was standing in front of an active radar set when he noticed the chocolate bar he had in his pocket had suddenly melted. Spencer was not the first to notice this phenomenon, but he was the first to investigate it. He created the first true microwave oven by attaching a high density electromagnetic field generator to an enclosed metal box. The magnetron emitted microwaves into the metal box which blocked any escape, allowing for controlled and safe experimentation. He then placed various food items in the box while observing effects and monitoring temperatures.

Raytheon filed a patent in 1945 for a microwave cooking oven, and two years later the first commercially produced microwave ovens went on sale. The Radar-range, as it was called, was 6 feet tall, weighed 750 lbs, and cost between $2,000 and $3,000. The first  relatively affordable and reasonably sized (counter-top) microwave ovens appeared in 1967. For his invention Spencer received no royalties, but he was paid a one-off $2.00 gratuity from Raytheon, the same token payment the company made to all inventors on its payroll at that time for company patents.
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: Great Accidents   Sun 17 Jan 2016, 10:45

Pay rol inventors still fare badly. I know of one who on going independent had to surrender all work he had done to date. This he did  with total honesty but he had managed to store a great deal of hard work extra knowledge in his head. He does not use a computer at all but his work place was broken into and 'done over' three times in search of - we assume - any stuff he might still have there.

Using his head-computer and drawing board he went on to explore new ideas and though in his eighties still refines his custom made 'babies' to meet requirements for specialized  and essential to parts of a huge industry. He now - at last - makes money but others milked his talent for far too long. We have  probably had many unnamed great inventors exploited and undervalued like this.
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