While science laboratory accidents that resulted in many products we all use today and their stories have

become legends, a few have remained below the radar of most people. We know, for example, that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, but we may not know about what happened when Fleming accidentally sneezed over the petri dishes he was working with one day. Breathing masks were rarely found anywhere in those days. He achooed over his whole experiment. Until that sneeze, the microbes in his petri dishes were multiplying nicely. After the sneeze, their growth stopped. Fleming had accidentally discovered an antibiotic enzyme in his own nasal mucus. Being a modest fellow, he did not break the story to the media with the headline "Snot Will Save The World." The last documented case of smallpox in the world was recorded in 1978 when photographer Janet Parker contracted the disease after the virus escaped from confinement in a lab at the University of Birmingham in England. For reasons that remained shrouded in history, German scientist Henning Brand kept 50 buckets of urine in his cellar for months in 1675. Well, Brand would prefer that the reason be shrouded in history. Actually he was trying to prove that once the urine evaporated it would leave a residue of gold. It was the heyday of alchemy, after all. The waxy glowing goo Brand found when he returned to his cellar those months later (after the smell had dissipated, he hoped) spontaneously burst into flames. We now know the goo as phosphorus. Until the 1750s more phosphorus was made by evaporating the urine of soldiers since collecting the pee of ordinary citizens was considered unseemly even in those days. Late in the First Millennium CE, Chinese alchemists (looking for a way to make gold again) put together and "elixir of immortality" formed from saltpetre, sulphur, realgar and dried honey. Alas, Chinese people didn't live any longer as a result of taking it. However, it became the first gunpowder. The Chinese are still well known for their spectacular fireworks which are nothing more than guns made of paper and explosive materials. Roy Plunkett, a Dupont chemist working in a lab in 1938, opened a defective canister of what he thought should have been tetrafluoroethylene gas. Instead he found an innocuous looking white powder. Playing with it he discovered that it was nearly friction-free. So began Teflon. The glory days of Teflon passed in 2005 when the U.S. Environmental Protection agency tagged one ingredient in Teflon, perfluorooctanoic acid, as a "likely

carcinogen." About 95 percent of U.S. citizens carry this stuff in their bloodstreams. A 1992 drug trial in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, didn't do much for the angina sufferers who took the real product (not the control group substance). More correctly, it didn't do much for their angina. The men reported a side effect they didn't mind so much. The drug (sildenafil citrate) is sold today as Viagra. Benjamin Franklin did not discover the electric chair. However, as an experimenter devoutly interested in electricity, he one day gave himself a good zap. Using two Leyden jars, he was trying to electrocute a turkey. He wrote "The flash was very great and the crack as loud as a Pistol." He vowed it was an "Experiment in Electricity that I desire never to repeat." We all know that we have to scrub the radio antennas on our vehicles once in a while or static builds up in the radio sound. Well, you should know if you didn't. Amo Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs knew that. In 1965 the astronomers scrubbed the radio antenna they were using to detect distant sounds in the cosmos to get rid of the static they thought was being caused by pigeon droppings. The pigeons went away and their droppings were removed, but the static remained. Penzias and Wilson discovered that the static from their receiver was the microwave echo that began with the Big Bang. Have you heard static on a radio when it's tuned between stations? Ever wondered why it exists when no one is transmitting it? After all, sound doesn't begin by itself. That static is the same background noise from the Big Bang. You have listened to something that started when time itself began. [Primary resource: Discover magazine, November 2006] Bill Allin Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book for non-experts about the only way we can make the world a better and safer place and prevent a lot of personal problems as well. It's the real thing, with a real plan. The plan is incredibly cheap and surprisingly easy to implement. Learn more at http://billallin.com