Safety glass is the glass that's used in cars and buildings and almost everywhere you look. The idea is that when it shatters, like when a bad guy goes through it back-first because you blasted him with a shotgun, it doesn't break into shards that can cut his skin on the way through. Frenchman, Edward Benedictus, was a jack-of-all-trades, er, Jaques-of-all-trades. Before stumbling across an incredible invention, Benedictus was already a classical quadruple threat. That is to say he was a painter, composer, writer and chemist.
One day, in a potentially Clouseau-like manner, Edward knocked a scientific flask off of a shelf and heard it crash to the ground (we like to imagine that he shouted "sacre bleu!" upon hearing the impact). When Benedictus climbed down from his ladder, he noticed that the flask was broken, but had not actually shattered.
After asking one of his aides about the incident, he found that the flask had recently contained cellulose nitrate, which acted as an adhesive and held the shattered pieces of glass together.
Artist's rendering of cellulose nitrate.
Though he knew he had something, Benedictus didn't really know what he had. Then inspiration struck in the form of a rash of horrifyingly gruesome car accidents. Benedictus noticed that the more horrific injuries from these crashes were due to flying shards of windshield.
Then he set to work until he eventually developed Triplex (not pronounced triple x). When we say eventually, we mean 24 hours later. After taking notice of the durability of his new invention in the gas masks of WWI, the automotive industry began making the Triplex windshield the standard, as angry, sledgehammer-wielding ex-girlfriends the world over can attest to.
As researchers go, Sir Alexander Fleming is one of the greats. But the man was a slob. Years before he became famous for discovering Penicillin, he accidentally conducted a study based around some snot of his that fell into a Petri dish.
Six years later, the good Mr. Phlegm-ing, as he was affectionately known, was once again working in the lab with a plastic dish filled with disease. The Doc (another nickname) left the lab for a weekend without cleaning the filthy dishes that were scattered around. If the scientific community is represented by the cast from Revenge of the Nerds (we know, huge stretch), then Fleming is "Booger"?
But in a lab coat.
Fleming returned to his abandoned experiment after his holiday to find that the dishes had sprouted mold. Fleming tossed the dish into a nearby trashcan. As per his custom, he continued to inspect his experiment after throwing it into a container filled with lab waste. Maybe he had decided to eat that sausage he had thrown away earlier.
While there he noticed that the mold had killed off the bacteria around it. This mold turned out to be the basic form of Penicillin, arguably the most important discovery in the field of medicine ever. All science needed was for a man to come along who was so filthy that he actually would discover a form of filth that could kill other filth. Millions of lives were saved.
Now check out how today's science is trying to destroy us, in The 5 Scientific Experiments Most Likely to End the World and 5 Recent Scientific Advances (And How They'll Destroy Us All).
And visit Cracked.com's Top Picks to see what accident lead to our rise to prominence (hint: it involves discovering boobs).