An engineer stumbled on the design for the microwave when he accidentally melted the chocolate bar in his pocket while fiddling with some radar equipment. Penicillin was famously discovered when Sir Alexander Fleming forgot to cover a petri dish. Viagra, X-rays, and the world's first plastic were also all invented as flukes.
Now, this list of discoveries that owe a whole lot to chance may have just gotten one item longer. A UC, Irvine PhD student named Mya Le Thai has just stumbled on a potential way to make the rechargeable batteries found in phones and laptops last an incredible 400 years, GOOD reports (hat tip to Business Insider for the pointer):
A team of researchers at UCI had been experimenting with nanowires for potential use in batteries, but found that over time the thin, fragile wires would break down and crack after too many charging cycles. A charge cycle is when a battery goes from completely full to completely empty and back to full again. But one day, on a whim, Thai coated a set of gold nanowires in manganese dioxide and a Plexiglas-like electrolyte gel. "She started to cycle these gel capacitors, and that's when we got the surprise," said Reginald Penner, chair of the university's chemistry department. "She said, 'this thing has been cycling 10,000 cycles and it's still going.' She came back a few days later and said 'it's been cycling for 30,000 cycles.' That kept going on for a month."
Current phone batteries lasts around 300-500 cycles, so that's a pretty incredible improvement. In fact, if the technology pans out, we could soon see batteries that would last 400 years (and by then we'll all probably be communicating via implanted brain chips or Star Trek-like AI assistants anyway.)
As GOOD puts it with more than a touch of understatement, that's "not bad for just fooling around in the laboratory."