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14 Incredible Inventions That Were Discovered By Accident

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Sometimes the best inventions are discovered by accident.

One day in 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming returned to his lab in London after a two-week vacation to find that mold had developed on a contaminated staphylococcus culture plate. The scientist was searching for a “wonder drug” to cure a wide variety of diseases. A moldy Petri dish was not a part of the plan, but Fleming noticed the culture had prevented the growth of staphylococci. Further examination revealed penicillin, a powerful antibiotic that could be used to treat everything from tonsillitis to syphilis.

Sir Alexander Fleming’s careless mistake became one of the most important medical discoveries in history. Thanks to penicillin, the rate of death due to infectious disease is now 5% of what it was at the beginning of the 20th century.

Accidental Breakthroughs

Today’s infographic, from Broadbandwhatever, highlights some noteworthy accidental inventions in modern history and demonstrates that not all accidents are created equal.

Accidental Inventions

Other Noteworthy Accidental Inventions

Coca-Cola
The 1880s was the era of miracle elixirs and across America pharmacists were cooking up “cures” for every conceivable ailment. Atlanta-based pharmacist, John Pemberton, capitalized on the trend by selling a French Wine Coca concoction that was touted as a cure for headaches and nervous disorders. Pemberton’s business hit a speed bump in 1885, when Atlanta banned the sale of alcohol, so he omitted the wine and created a coca-based syrup that could be mixed with carbonated water and drank as a soda. He named this new “brain tonic” Coca-Cola.

Velcro
Swiss engineer George de Mestral was out hunting in the Alps with his dog when he noticed burrs sticking to its fur. To satisfy his curiosity about what makes burrs so “sticky”, Mestral viewed one under a microscope and observed the tiny hooks that allow it to latch on to surfaces like fabric and fur. For years, Mestral experimented with a variety of textiles before arriving at a solution: Velcro, which he eventually patented. The technology was useful, but really began to take off in popularity when Apollo astronauts used Velcro to keep objects secure in orbit.

Teflon
Next time you’re making breakfast, remember that Roy Plunkett is the reason you’re able flip pancake with ease. Long before CFCs became the environmental super-villain depleting the ozone layer, the chemist was aiming to create a new type of chlorofluorocarbon. One day, when Plunkett returned to a refrigeration chamber to check on an experiment, a canister that had contained gas had vanished leaving a few white flakes behind. Upon examining the mysterious substance, he realised it had a very high melting point and was very effective as a lubricant. Teflon was first used in military applications and is now famously applied to cookware around the world.

A Note On Silver Linings

Whether you’re experimenting with materials or working on a new business, you never know when a mishap can transform into your “Eureka” moment.

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Maps

Map: Where Are America’s Largest Landfills?

According to the EPA, the U.S. produced 292 million tons of solid waste in 2018, of which 150 million headed to some of the largest landfills in the country.

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Map: Where Are America’s Largest Landfills?

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on Apple or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

We map out America’s largest landfills, based on their total capacity (measured in millions of tons) for solid waste. Data for this graphic is sourced from Statista and is current up to 2023.

According to the EPA, the U.S. produced 292 million tons of solid waste in 2018. Of that, about 150 million tons headed to the country’s landfills. It would take more than 600 of the largest cargo ships (by dead weight tonnage) to move this much material at once.

Ranked: America’s Largest Landfills

Opened in 1993 and located 25 minutes from Las Vegas, Apex Landfill is believed to be one of the world’s largest landfills by both area and volume.

It spans 1,900 acres, or roughly the size of 1,400 football fields. Given its vast capacity, the landfill is expected to be able to accept waste for over 250 years.

Here are the top 10 largest landfills in the country.

RankU.S. LandfillStateCapacity (Million Tons)
1Apex RegionalNevada995
2ECDC EnvironmentalUtah482
3Denver Arapahoe Disposal SiteColorado396
4Columbia RidgeOregon393
5Lockwood RegionalNevada346
6OkeechobeeFlorida242
7Butterfield StationArizona226
8Roosevelt Regional MSWWashington219
9Wasatch RegionalUtah203
10Hillsborough CountyFlorida203

In a 2021 PBS interview, a spokesperson for Apex Landfill reported that the facility captured and treated enough landfill gas to power nearly 11,000 homes in Southern Nevada.

In fact, landfills can create electricity through a process called landfill gas (LFG) recovery. When organic waste decomposes, it produces methane gas which can be captured and purified to create fuel for generators.

As it happens, methane gas from landfills is the third-largest source of human-related carbon emissions, equivalent to 24 million gas passenger vehicles driven for one year. Its capture and treatment is a significant opportunity to combat emissions.

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