Establish the Entire Field of Nanotechnology
If you had to pick one profession that's rife with gamblers, the last group of people that would come to mind would probably be scientists. But actually, it turns out that the people we trust with our cancer research and Earth-splitting death lasers are also the most likely to embark on research projects on a bet: Scientists wager all the goddamn time (so much that there's an entire Wikipedia page devoted to their gambling exploits).
"10-to-1 odds this thing kills us all. Any takers?"
Which brings us to the birth of nanotechnology, the science of making microscopic machines that is already being used to improve everything from skin cream to pants.
In 1959, physicist Richard Feynman held a talk in which he described a magical future where scientists could shrink computers, medical equipment and all sorts of then-huge things to the size of those mites that live in your eyelashes. Considering that this was an era when computers were the size of a house and ran on whale oil, the predictions sounded somewhat ridiculous. So, Feynman decided to throw down the scientific gauntlet: He bet a cool grand ($8,000 in today's dollars) that nobody could build a working motor that measured no more than 1/64 of an inch on a side. Just so you don't have to break out your ruler, that's about the size of a grain of salt.
About six months passed with no one managing to construct the sweet-ass minuscule motor Feynman had described, despite the prospect of being able to finally afford an awesome new dirt bike. But then along came a guy named Bill McLellan, who -- using such sophisticated scientific equipment as goddamn tweezers and toothpicks -- totally built Feynman's motor. The thing packed 2,000 rpm, weighed 250 micrograms, was smaller than the head of a pin and consisted of 13 parts.
Just big enough to create a buzzing sound in your ear, and just small enough that you'd never find it.