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English Detective # 91 What Leads to Scientific Discoveries? 9-19-17
September 19, 2017

# 91 What Leads to Scientific Discoveries? 9-19-17

Scientific discoveries have often resulted when several factors have come together: Chance or luck, an inquiring mind with the experience or creativity to recognize how that chance discovery might be useful – and often the help or resources of others—a collaboration.

In 1854 Louis Pasteur pointed out, “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.” (This has also been translated “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”) As the developer of the germ theory of disease, Pasteur was an authority on the process.

Sometimes the stories we know of brilliant or heroic discoverers leave out some people who had a crucial role in making it possible.

A well-known example is the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming. Other researchers and lab workers played essential roles in making it a history-changing advance rather than just an interesting observation. PBS reviews the whole story here.

Mental Floss has a list of 24 quick (and funny) case studies on discoveries and inventions that happened when chance or accident met a prepared mind. You can watch it as a 10-minute video or read the written transcript.

Finally, this short article points out the value of international collaboration and multicultural points of view for continuing scientific progress.


This Issue’s Vocabulary

An accident is something (often unwanted) that happens unexpectedly, such as falling, dropping something, or crashing a car into something.

An antibiotic is a substance that kills bacteria.

An approach is the way someone attempts to solve a problem. To approach something is to go toward it.

Bacteria are one-celled organisms. Some can cause dangerous diseases like tuberculosis.

A chemist is a person who studies the properties of different substances (chemicals).

To collaborate is to work together with a team of colleagues-- collaborators. Collaboration is the process of working together, especially to solve a problem.

To create is to make something new.

An infection happens when disease-causing bacteria or other microorganisms multiply in a person’s body and cause illness. Infectious is an adjective meaning ‘to cause infection.’ The verb is ‘to infect.’

A laboratory (or lab) is a place where scientists can perform their experiments.

Mold (in this case) is a type of fungus, a primitive form of plant life without green leaves. (A mold can also be a container used to shape a flexible material like jello or clay, and the verb ‘to mold’ means to give something form or shape.)

Penicillin is an antibiotic made from a mold.


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