Science Success Stories

Dare to Fail!

Looking back into history, you’ll find many examples of people who didn’t give up and kept trying again and again (and, if necessary, again) until they finally succeeded. What’s Up, Germany? compiled a list of accidental inventions and famous inventors who kept at it, proving that giving up is the only failure! So, the next time you’re feeling discouraged about your career or education, remember that failure is a step closer to success. Don’t give up!

Famous People Who Failed their Way to Success

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Albert Einstein (1879–1955)

He is synonymous with genius, but it wasn’t always evident when he was young. You see, Einstein had Asperger syndrome. He did not speak until he was four and remained quite reserved. He may have started slow, but he sure caught up, winning the Nobel Prize and changing our world forever! His equation for success:

If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.

Robert Goddard (1882–1945)

Though he changed our understanding of space flight, the inventor of the liquid-fueled rocket and holder of 214 patents, did not receive recognition for his work during his lifetime. He was ridiculed by his peers, but remained true to his vision:

It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.

Thomas Edison (1847–1931)

In spite of his phenomenal success as the inventor of the light bulb, Edison was labelled “too stupid to learn anything” by his teachers and was fired from two jobs. Though it took umpteen attempts to make the light bulb work, his resilient attitude and cool experiments kept him going:

I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.

Orville and Wilbur Wright (1871–1948; 1867–1912)

The Wright Brothers fought obstacles like depression and family illness before succeeding in building the first airplane. A toy helicopter got them interested in flying, and after years of hard work and tons of failed prototypes, they became aviation pioneers:

It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.

Accidental Inventions: Serendipitous Brilliance

potato-icon Potato Chips (1853)
Known as the best prank in the history of snacks, potato chips came into existence thanks to a complaint! A cranky guest complained that chef George Crum’s fried potatoes were thick and soggy. Not one to take criticism lightly, Crum angrily sliced potatoes into thin pieces, deep-fried and over-salted them! But his plan backfired: the customer ordered a second serving. You could say it qualifies as one of the most funny inventions of all time!
Mauve (1856)
Hoping to cure malaria by creating artificial quinine, chemistry student William Perkin came across a purple sludge that looked unique. He isolated the compound producing this colour and dubbed it “mauve”, creating the first synthetic dye in the history of textiles. Recognising its potential came across a purple sludge that looked unique during his cool experiments, he dropped out of school and made a fortune.
post-it-icon Post-it Notes (1968)
Dr Spencer Silver, a chemist at 3M, was trying to create a super glue, but he came up with a really weak adhesive instead. For five years he tried to convince the 3M management that his invention was useful, but with no luck. In 1974, his colleague Arthur Fry used the glue to keep his bookmarks in place and it worked brilliantly! He could even remove and reattach them without damaging his book. And the rest, as they say, is history!
viagra-icon Viagra (1998)
This little blue pill, considered the fastest-selling drug of all time, was supposed to be Pfizer’s new treatment for angina. However, the trials were disappointing and the pharma firm almost canned them when male volunteers reported an unusual side effect: erections. And this happy accident turned out to be a goldmine!
teflon-icon Teflon (1938)
While experimenting with tetrafluoroethylene gas, Roy Plunkett, a chemist at DuPont, discovered that it had polymerised into a white and waxy solid. And that was Teflon! It went on to become a household name and one of the most popular accidental inventions in the world!

More fascinating inventions

Odd Science!

The Ig Nobel Prizes honour achievements that make people laugh, and then think. Parodying the Nobel Prizes, they celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative and encourage accidental inventions, thereby spurring people’s interest.

TADA! The 2015 Ig Achievements by Category

Chemistry: inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg
Mathematics: using mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed to father 888 children
Physics: testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds)
Literature: discovering that the word “huh?” (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language—and not being completely sure why
Medicine: studying the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities)
Physiology & Entomology: arranging for honeybees to sting 25 different body parts in order to discover where it hurt most