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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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Misc

Mapped: Each Region’s Median Age Since 1950

The world’s population is aging, but not at the same rate. This animated map visualizes the changes in median age in every region since 1950.

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median age by region

Mapped: Each Region’s Median Age Since 1950

Over the last 70 years, the global population has gotten older. Since 1950, the worldwide median age has gone from 25 years to 33 years.

Yet, despite an overall increase globally, not all regions have aged at the same rate. For instance, Europe’s median age has grown by 14 years, while Africa’s has only increased by 1 year.

Today’s animated map uses data from the UN Population Index to highlight the changes in median age over the last 70 years, and to visualize the differences between each region. We also explain why some regions skew older than others.

Factors that Affect a Region’s Median Age

Before diving into the numbers, it’s important to understand the key factors that influence a region’s median age:

  1. Fertility Rate
    The average number of children that women give birth to in their reproductive years. The higher the fertility rate, the younger a population skews. Since 1950, the global fertility rate has dropped by 50%.
  2. Mortality Rate
    The number of deaths in a particular region, usually associated with a certain demographic or period in time. For example, global child mortality (children who have died under five years of age) has been on the decline, which has contributed to an increase in the average life expectancy across the globe.
  3. Migration
    International migration may lower a region’s population since migrants are usually younger or working age. In 2019, there were 272 million migrants globally.

The Change in Median Age

As mentioned, not all regions are created equal. Here’s how much the median age has changed in each region since 1950:

The Highs

Regions that have seen the most growth and generally skew older are Latin America, followed by Europe and Asia.

Interestingly, Asia’s notable increase is largely influenced by Japan, which has the oldest population on the planet. The country has seen a significant increase in median age since 1950—it’s gone from 22 to 48 years in 2020. This can be explained by its considerably low fertility rate, which is 1.4 births per woman—that’s less than half the global average.

But why is Japan’s fertility rate so low? There are more women in the workforce than ever before, and they are too busy to take on the burden of running a household. Yet, while women are more prosperous than ever, the workforce in general has taken a hit.

Japan’s recession in the early 1990s led to an increase in temporary jobs, which has had lasting effects on the region’s workforce—in 2019, about 1 in 5 men were working contract jobs with little stability or job growth.

The Lows

In contrast to Asia’s growth, Africa has seen the lowest increase in median age. The region’s population skews young, with over 60% of its population under the age of 25.

Africa’s young population can be explained by its high birth rate of 4.4 births per woman. It also has a relatively low life expectancy, at 65 years for women and 61 years for men. To put things into perspective, the average life expectancy across the globe is 75 years for women and 70 years for men.

Another trend worth noting is Oceania’s relatively small growth. It’s interesting because the region’s fertility rate is almost on par with the global average, at 2.4 births per woman, and the average life expectancy doesn’t differ much from the norm either.

The most likely reason for Oceania’s stagnant growth in median age is its high proportion of migrants. In 2019, the country had 8.9 million international migrants, which is 21% of its overall population. In contrast, migrants only make up 10% of North America’s population.

Unique Challenges for Every Region

Age composition has significant impacts on a region’s labor force, health services, and economic productivity.

Regions with a relatively high median age face several challenges such as shrinking workforce, higher taxes, and increasing healthcare costs. On the other end of the spectrum, regions with a younger population face increased demand for educational services and a lack of employment opportunities.

As our population worldwide continues to grow and age, it’s important to bring attention to issues that impact our global community. World Population Day on July 11, 2020, was established by the UN to try and solve worldwide population issues.

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the world’s blueprint for a better future for all on a healthy planet. On World Population Day, we recognize that this mission is closely interrelated with demographic trends including population growth, aging, migration, and urbanization.”

– UN Secretary-General António Guterres

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Misc

The 44 Closest Stars and How They Compare to our Sun

This graphic visualizes the 44 closest stars, revealing key facts such as distance from Earth, brightness, and whether potential planets are in orbit.

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44 closest stars

44 Closest Stars and How They Compare to our Sun

Humans have been fascinated by the stars in the night sky since the dawn of time.

We’ve been decoding the mysteries of celestial bodies for many centuries, but it is only in the last 200 years or so that we’ve been able to glean more detailed information on the lights that dot the night sky. Friedrich Bessel’s method of stellar parallax was a breakthrough in accurately measuring the positions of stars, and opened new doors in the effort to map our universe. Today, high-powered telescopes offer even more granular data on our cosmic neighborhood.

The infographic above, from Alan’s Factory Outlet, categorizes the 44 closest stars to Earth, examining the size, luminosity, constellations, systems, and potential planets of each star.

Our Nearest Stellar Neighbors

Our closest neighboring stars are all part of the same solar system: Alpha Centauri. This triple star system – consisting of Proxima Centauri, Alpha Centauri A, and Alpha Centauri B – attracts a lot of interest because it hosts planets, including one that may be similar to Earth.

The planet, Proxima Centauri b, is a lot closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. However, because Proxima Centauri is a smaller and cooler red dwarf type star, the planet’s orbit is within the habitable zone. It’s thought that Proxima Centauri b receives approximately the same amount of solar energy as Earth does from our Sun.

Here’s a full list of the 44 of the closest stars to Earth:

Star NameDistance (light years)MoE
Sun0.000016±0.0011
Proxima Centauri4.37±0.0068
α Centauri A4.37±0.0068
α Centauri B4.37±0.0068
Barnard's Star5.96±0.0032
Wolf 3597.86±0.031
Lalande 211858.31±0.014
Sirius A8.66±0.010
Sirius B8.66±0.010
Luyten 726-8 A8.79±0.012
Luyten 726-8 B8.79±0.012
Ross 1549.70±0.0019
Ross 24810.29±0.0041
Epsilon Eridani10.45±0.016
Lacaille 935210.72±0.0016
Ross 12811.01±0.0026
EZ Aquarii A11.11±0.034
61 Cygni A11.40±0.0012
61 Cygni B11.40±0.0012
Procyon A11.40±0.032
Procyon B11.40±0.032
Struve 2398 A11.49±0.0012
Struve 2398 B11.49±0.0012
Groombridge 34 A11.62±0.0008
Groombridge 34 B11.62±0.0008
DX Cancri11.68±0.0056
Tau Ceti11.75±0.022
Epsilon Indi11.87±0.011
Gliese 106111.98±0.0029
YZ Ceti12.11±0.0035
Luyten's Star12.20±0.036
Teegarden's Star12.50±0.013
SCR 1845-635713.05±0.008
Kapteyn's Star12.83±0.0013
Lacaille 876012.95±0.0029
Kruger 60 A13.07±0.0052
Kruger 60 B13.07±0.0052
Wolf 106114.05±0.0038
Wolf 424 A14.05±0.26
Van Maanen's star14.07±0.0023
Gliese 114.17±0.0037
TZ Arietis14.58±0.0070
Gliese 67414.84±0.0033
Gliese 68714.84±0.0022

Even though we see many of these stars in the night sky, humans aren’t likely to see them in person any time soon. To put these vast distances into perspective, if the Voyager spacecraft were to travel to Proxima Centauri, it would take over 73,000 years to finally arrive.

The Brightest Stars in the Sky

The closest stars aren’t necessarily the ones most visible to us here on Earth. Here are the top 10 stars in terms of visual brightness from Earth:

RankProper nameConstellationVisual magnitude (mV)Distance (light years)
1SunN/A−26.740.000016
2SiriusCanis Major−1.468.6
3CanopusCarina−0.74310.0
4Rigil Kentaurus & TolimanCentaurus−0.27 (0.01 + 1.33)4.4
5ArcturusBoötes−0.0537.0
6VegaLyra0.03 (−0.02–0.07var)25.0
7CapellaAuriga0.08 (0.03–0.16var)43.0
8RigelOrion0.13 (0.05–0.18var)860.0
9ProcyonCanis Minor0.3411.0
10AchernarEridanus0.46 (0.40–0.46var)139.0

Excluding our Sun, the brightest star visible from Earth is Sirius, or the Dog Star. Sirius, which is about 25 times more luminous than the sun, visually punctuates the constellation Canis Major.

Filling in the Gaps

The next step in learning more about our surroundings in the cosmos will be seeing which of the stars listed above have planets orbiting them. So far, the 44 stars in the infographic have over 40 planets scattered among them, though new discoveries are made all the time.

With each new mission and discovery, we learn a little bit more about our pocket of the universe.

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