The Scientific Accidents that Changed Medicine Forever

The definitive “scientific method” is an arduous, exacting process of observation, experimentation, and documentation. Scientists are known for their precise and calculating ways, constantly tweaking variables and conditions, all designed to reach a quantifiable result based on their hypotheses. They theorize, and then prove that their theories were either right or wrong.

However, not all scientific advances were achieved by this meticulous process. Some were complete accidents. While an accident to the common man may consist of a coffee spill or a misguided e-mail, some scientists were fortunate enough to have their accidents become medical breakthroughs.  Talk about dumb luck.

Here are some of the greatest achievements in the medical field which surprised even their creators.


This little blue pill is a savior for many men, and their significant others, who were otherwise unable to perorm their “manly duties.” Just one dose of “Vitamin V” can turn a certain organ from limp to lightning in just a few minutes. However, although erectile dysfunction has plagued men for centuries and there have been many attempts at treatment, the chemical compound in Viagra has been the most effective and sure-fire way to a satisfying, embarassment free coupling. Viagra records sales in the billions, and the stygma surrounding impotence has all but dissappeared. Although it is such a successful and popular drug, it was originally developed to cure angina, a disorder that causes chronic chest pain, primarily in women. Talk about a 180.

When the initial version of Viagra was tested on a group of men, in order to determine potential side affects, one observer noted that the men suffered from frequent and spontanous erections. It was like 7th grade all over again. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer smartly marketed and sold Viagra as an erectile dysfunction treament. Although it was not very effective in curing agina, it has still helped many women find much-needed relief.


Mothers are constantly harping at their children to clean dishes out of their room before mold grows on them. Luckily for us, Scottish scientist Alexander Flemming’s mom never visited his workspace. Flemming was cultivating bacteria cultures, but absentmindedly left one of his petri dishes open, allowing mold to grow on the bacteria. While most would have recoiled in horror at this sight and ran for the nearest pair of latex gloves, Flemming used his discerning eye to observe that the mold was slowly dissolving the bacteria underneath it.

After extensive testing by various researchers around the globe, it was determined that penicillin could also stop the growth of, and deteriorate bacteria inside the human body. What was once thought of as simply disgusting now cures a wide variety of potentially harmful bacterial infections in all areas of the body. Thank you, Mrs.Flemming for allowing your son to be a slob.


Although being able to see the skeletal structure of the human body seems like something out of science fiction, the X-ray is very real and is one of the most valuable and remarkable discoveries in the history of scientific exploration. And their creation is all due to a puzzling circumstance which came from an experiment that wasn’t even medical in nature.

German physicist Willhelm Rontgen was studying cathode rays, electron beams created in insulated discharge tubes. Rontgen had wrapped one of these tubes with black cardboard, but noticed that a faint green light emanated on a flourscent screen a meter away from the tube.

Although Rontgen initially believed that there was a tear in the cardboard, allowing the light from inside the tube to sneak through. Upon closer inspection he found that this was not the case, and began to investigate further. He concluded that the light could pass through papers and even thick bound books. With the knowledge that light could pass through solid objects, the stage for the invention of the X-ray was set.


Although insulin was not ‘invented’ per se, its discovery is one of the more remarkable accounts of scietific serendipity. Insulin is vital in the transportationg and storing of glucose into the bloodstream, which gives the body energy to complete it’s many autonomous regulating tasks. Diabetes is a condition where insulin is not produced by the pancreas, and an uneven amount of sugar intake can be detrimental, and even deadly, to its sufferers.

Two German physicists removed the pancreas from a canine in an attempt to study the animals digestive system (at least we hope they weren’t doing it just for fun), however, when the pancreas was removed the scientists noticed a swarm of flies hovering about the spilled urine. When the scientists tested the urine (again, hopefully not just for fun) they discovered that it had a high amount of sugar, which was attracting the flies. Urine with a high sugar content is a telltale symptom of diabetes. This discovery led to the knowledge that the pancreas, and by extension the production of insulin, is the key component in treating and understanding diabetes.

Honorable Mention:

Smallpox Vaccine: Although not really an accident, the invention of the smallpox vaccine was not grounded in scientific study, but rather through the observation of a simple milkmaid. A milkmaid reported to British Scientist Edward Jenner that those afflicted with cowpox, a relatively harmless disease that people caught from contact with milk cows, did not contract smallpox. Jenner used pus from cowpox sores to create his vaccine.

Antidepressants: During a clinical study that was all but set to prove the failure of a drug designed to treat schizophrenia, Robert Kuhn gave the compound to a patient suffering from depression. Not only did the drug boost the patient’s mood, but he took a deep dive back into depression once he was taken off of the drug.

Botox: Botox is not a medical breakthrough in the sense that it saves lives, but some older women may disagree. The toxic bacteria Clostridium botulinum, although lethal when ingested, was used to treat lazy or “crossed” eyes. Two Canadian surgeons noticed during one of these procedures that the patient’s wrinkles smoothed out around her eye area. Now it is injected into just about anywhere a needle can fit to rid unwanted wrinkles and make one look both younger and like a wax sculpture at the same time.


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