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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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Demographics

Median Age of the Population in Every Country

How do countries around the world compare in terms of age? This compelling visualization shows the median age for every country in the world.

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The Median Age of the Population in Every Country

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

With a few notable exceptions, the world is rapidly aging.

Today’s infographic, which was shared by Bill Gates on Reddit, shows this incredible explosion in age and how different countries contrast with one another on this demographic metric.

While aging populations in Europe, North America, and Asia stand out on this type of visualization, it’s also important to look at the negative space. In both South America and Africa, populations are still quite young, with Africa getting younger and younger.

Note: The infographic is grouped based on U.N. regional classifications, and lumps Central America, the Caribbean, and South America as one demographic region.

The Oldest Countries

Which countries are the outliers in terms of global demographics?

Let’s start by taking a look at the oldest countries in terms of median age.

RankCountryMedian AgeRegion
#1Japan47 yearsAsia
#2 (t)Germany45 yearsEurope
#2 (t)Italy45 yearsEurope
#4 (t)Greece44 yearsEurope
#4 (t)Bulgaria44 yearsEurope
#4 (t)Portugal44 yearsEurope

Japan takes the cake for the oldest population and it’s joined by a host of European nations.

The following countries tied for the #7 spot, which is just off of the above list: Austria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Spain, and Bermuda. All of these places had median ages of 43 years, with Bermuda being the only non-European state of this group.

It’s worth noting that some smaller countries appear to be excluded from Gates’ infographic. As we showed on our last chart covering the subject of median age, which uses a different data set, the small city-state of Monaco (which has a population of just 39,000 people) actually has the highest median age in the world at 53.1 years.

The Youngest Countries

Now, let’s take a peek at the world’s youngest countries in terms of median age.

RankCountryMedian AgeRegion
#1 (t)Chad14 yearsAfrica
#1 (t)Niger14 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Afghanistan16 yearsMiddle East
#3 (t)Angola16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Burkina Faso16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Mali16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Somalia16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)South Sudan16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Uganda16 yearsAfrica

The youngest countries globally are Chad and Niger with a median population age of 14 years. Both are located in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The only non-African country is war-torn Afghanistan, where the median age is 16 years.

A variety of countries tied with a median age of 17 years old, which puts them just off of the above list. Those countries include: Benin, Burundi, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Yemen, and Timor-Leste.

More Context on Aging

Want to get an even better idea of what the world looks like as it ages?

To get a sense of change over the coming decades, it’s worth taking a look at this animation that shows median age projections with a focus on Western countries all the way until the year 2060.

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Misc

Map: Visualizing 40 Years of Nautical Piracy

Ever since humans first sailed the high seas, piracy has been a dangerous risk. See instances of modern piracy on this detailed map.

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Map: Visualizing 40 Years of Nautical Piracy

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

For millennia, voyaging on the open seas has been a dangerous and risky endeavor.

Between the powerful forces of Mother Nature and self-made obstacles stemming from human error, there is no shortage of possible calamities for even the bravest of sailors.

But for most of human history, perhaps the biggest fear that sailors grappled with was that of piracy. A run in with such marauders could lead to the theft of valuable cargo or even possible death, and it’s a threat that carries on even through modern times.

Hotbeds of Modern Piracy

Today’s map comes from Adventures in Mapping and it aggregates instances of piracy over the last 40 years based on the database from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

It should be noted that all individual events can be seen on this interactive map, which is what we will use to look at current hotbeds of piracy in more depth below.

1. The Strait of Malacca

The Strait of Malacca

The Strait of Malacca is one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, and also one of the most notorious.

A key chokepoint that sits between Malaysia and Indonesia, the Strait of Malacca is as narrow as 25 miles wide while also seeing a quarter of the world’s traded goods shipped through it every year. As a result, the strait and surrounding area are a frequent target for modern piracy.

Example account: (September 2002)
“The 1,699-ton Malaysian-flag tanker (NAUTICA KLUANG) was hijacked 28 Sep at 0300 local time while underway off Indonesia in the vicinity of Pulau Iyu Kecil at the southern tip of the Strait of Malacca. The pirates, armed with guns and machetes, tied up the crew and locked them in cabins. When the crew freed themselves at 0900, 29 Sep, the thieves had transferred the ship’s cargo of 3,000 tons of diesel oil, damaged communications equipment, and renamed it (CAKLU). “

2. The Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa

When many people think of modern piracy, they think of the coast of Somalia. While those waters are often avoided, the nearby areas can be just as problematic.

In particular, the Bab el Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, is a target for modern piracy. Similarly, the waters just off of Yemen are quite treacherous as well.

Example account: (January 1991)
“Somali pirates attached MV Naviluck off Somalia, killing three Filipino crewmen and setting fire to the vessel. Three boatloads of armed Somali pirates boarded the vessel on 12 Jan 91 took the crew ashore and killed three of them. The captain said the vessel was attacked off Xaafuun while on her way from Mombasa to Jeddah. He declined to specify the cargo. The surviving crew were made to jump overboard, and were later rescued by M Stern TRLR Dubai Dolphin.”

3. The Gulf of Guinea

The Gulf of Guinea

While we hear the most about Somalian pirates, the Gulf of Guinea that sits south of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ghana in West Africa is also a well-known hotbed.

Tanker theft of petroleum products being shipped to and from Nigerian refineries is rampant, creating an ongoing concern for companies operating in the region.

Example account: (June 2013)
“On 13 June, the Singapore-flagged underway offshore supply vessel MDPL CONTINENTAL ONE was boarded and personnel kidnapped at 04-02N 008-02E, approximately 7 nm southwest of the OFON Oil Field. Two fiberglass speedboats, each with 2 outboards engines, each carrying 14 gunmen in wearing casual t-shirts and no masks, launched an attack. The pirates were armed with AK47’s. After stealing personal items and belongings, four expat crew were kidnapped (Polish Chief Engineer) and three Indians (Captain, Chief Officer, and Bosun).”

4. The Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean

The Caribbean has a longstanding history with piracy – and while things have died down considerably since the peak, there are still isolated incidents that occur, especially with yachts.

Most incidents happen off the coast of Venezuela, or in and around the islands on the eastern side of the sea, such as Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, and Grenada.

Example account: (March 2016)
“On 4 March, near position 13-16N 061-16W, several gunmen boarded a yacht anchored at Wallilabou in southwestern St. Vincent. During the course of the boarding, a German citizen aboard the yacht was killed and another person was injured. Authorities are investigating the incident.”

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