Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO, GoldieBlox
Patsy Sherman, along with her colleague Sam Smith, discovered Scotchgard more than 50 years ago during a spill while developing a new kind of rubber for jet fuel lines. Her accident revolutionized cleaning and reminded inventors everywhere not to be disappointed if something doesn’t come out the way you expect it to.
Nancy Tomes, author, Remaking the American Patient
In 1848, the chemist Louis Pasteur got a job at a university in French wine country, where he started wondering why wine goes sour. He followed a hunch—it’s because of a microbe—and leapt from there to the hypothesis that microbes make us “sour,” too. Voilà, the germ theory of disease. We get much longer lives, plus better wine (and beer and milk!) in the bargain.
Jonathan Kay, editor in chief, The Walrus
In 1536, Henry VIII fell from his horse during a joust and was badly injured. A shocked Anne Boleyn miscarried a male fetus, sealing her fate. The onetime athlete-king would grow crippled, fat, reclusive, tyrannical, and intolerant. How would the Protestant Reformation have ended if he’d remained on that horse?
Laurence Gonzales, journalist and author
In 1928, a dish of Staphylococcus bacteria in the lab of Alexander Fleming was accidentally contaminated with Penicillium notatum mold. Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Walter Florey took up the development of penicillin in the 1930s, and the three shared a Nobel Prize for their work in 1945. The number of lives that have been saved by the drug is impossible to know.