According to the Writer’s Almanac on Monday:
It was on this day in 1754 that the word “serendipity” was first coined. It’s defined by Merriam-Webster as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”
…. The invention of many wonderful things have been attributed to “serendipity,” including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Charles Goodyear’s vulcanization of rubber, inkjet printers, Silly Putty, the Slinky, and chocolate chip cookies…..Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin after he left for vacation without disinfecting some of his petri dishes filled with bacteria cultures; when he got back to his lab, he found that the penicillium mold had killed the bacteria…..The principles of radioactivity, X-rays, and infrared radiation were all found when researchers were looking for something else.
A few years ago, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Martin Perl, who, in 1971, (the same year I received my first driver’s license), received the Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery of the (elementary particle) tau lepton. Currently, Perl runs the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC), and mentors a gaggle of post-graduate students, helping them develop insight into the origins and ultimate building blocks of the universe with ever-increasing precision.
I’ll never forget what he said when I asked him about the connection of high-energy particle physics with clean energy. He said, “There is none.”
“None? Not now? Not ever?” I implored. Even after carefully rephrasing the question in three of four different ways, Perl held tight to the notion that his work had no bearing to any possible breakthroughs in useful, harnessable energy.
Of course, it is he, not I, with the Nobel Prize to his credit. But given that so many of the technologies that have proved such a boon to mankind were complete accidents, I would think that a more proper answer would be, “I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”