Science likes to boast about many years of research, which it often conducts to make the world a little better. During the vaccination against Covid-19, she publicly sparked an emotional discussion about it. But especially in medicine, it is important to get to the bottom of new drugs before they are made available to the general public. However, in history, some achievements have arisen simply by accident. Everything could have turned out completely different.
A melted bar is responsible for the microwave oven
Nowadays, it cannot be missing in any kitchen: a microwave. Ready meals can be prepared in a very short time. As a result, this invention revolutionized our eating habits. The per capita consumption of frozen food in Germany is almost 50 kilograms per year.
It is not necessarily healthy. While it is now debunked that nutrients are lost during long storage, microwave-heated frozen foods tend to be high in salt, fat and flavor enhancers.
But let’s go back to the invention: engineer Percy Spencer initially worked for the American company Raytheon to develop a magnetron that was actually intended for use in radar systems.
However, after Spencer melted his bar in his pants while standing next to the appliance, he finally came up with the revolutionary idea that other dishes should also be able to heat up with it in seconds. In short, he also tested the magnetron with other food items and they all became hot and the microwave was invented.
The secret of porcelain
Even today, people love to eat food from beautiful dishes. For example, if you have Mediterranean bowls in your collection, you’d rather eat a healthy salad from them than from an inferior plastic bowl.
The old saying “The eye eats with you” has meanwhile been scientifically proven. Three different colors of apple juice were served in the respective test experiment. After the juice was left in its natural color, the other two juices turned red or green. While the dyes had no effect on flavor, many testers reported drinking blackcurrant juice or kiwi juice.
Tea also tastes much better from a porcelain cup than from a simple cup. The Chinese knew about it already in the 7th century. However, they kept the secret of porcelain production to themselves for a very long time.
Only by accident the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger learned about the recipe. He actually wanted to produce gold for the Saxon elector and tried his hand at a wide variety of materials. Among them was a mixture of ground clay with quartz, feldspar and water, which Böttger simply burned in the furnace. The gold did not come out of it, but the Europeans have also known since then how porcelain production works.
Revenge can also be salty
“Revenge is sweet” is an old saying. On the other hand, chef George Crum preferred them to be salty. He was quite annoyed with his guest, the famous railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who kept sending the fried potatoes back to the kitchen because they were cut too thick for him.
Finally Crum cut the potatoes into thin wafers and fry them. In fact, he wanted to achieve that Vanderbilt could no longer eat the slices with a fork. He succeeded, but the railway magnate simply used his fingers and was amazed at the taste and texture of the potato slices.
However, Crum did not enrich himself with this invention, since industrial production did not begin until about 70 years after its invention. US sales representative Herman Lay invented a potato peeling machine with which it was possible to produce French fries. The brand still exists today, but since 1965 it has been owned by the PepsiCo food and drink company.
By the way, the first potato chips in Europe appeared in Vienna. In 1929, restaurateur Karl Kolarik offered his so-called “raw slices” at the Schweizerhaus on Vienna’s Prater and sold them like hot cakes.
The hunter’s anger gave us a Velcro
Velcro fasteners are completely normal nowadays and it is impossible to imagine our everyday life without them. They are mainly used on shoes and other items of clothing, but they also play an important role in medicine, such as attaching blood pressure cuffs to the upper arm. Even astronauts’ space suits have Velcro in some places.
For the Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral, however, burrs were above all one thing during his numerous hunts: a nuisance. Because they kept stuck on his clothes and fur of his hunting dog, and were also very hard to remove.
It took a while for him to realize that barbs were in fact nature’s ingenious system that, thanks to the small and flexible hooks, could also be wonderfully used to connect things in simple ways.
Fans of the series “Starship Enterprise”, however, know another version of the invention. Because, accordingly, the invention of the turnip goes back to the Volcanoes. Mr. Spock says hi.
Chance plays an important role in science
In the science of coincidence, we always talk about it when it is impossible to predict an event. In fact, science also exists to rule out chance as much as possible.
But now science has recognized that this is not possible because chance is just part of our nature. At least since the advent of quantum physics, it has been clear to scientists that chance rules the microcosm. The outcome of the experiments is simply not always predictable. Even if all circumstances are known, different consequences may arise in the case of identical starting situations.
The fact that man has grown into the leading living being on earth is ultimately also due to a large number of coincidences. How could a planet have evolved if a cosmic asteroid had not completely destroyed the dinosaurs? How tiny organisms on Earth would have developed some 570 million years ago, if the temperature on Earth had been two degrees higher. A question that should also be of interest today in the context of climate change.
April 19, 2022