Segments in this Video

Discovery of X-Rays (01:20)


In late 1895, German physicist W. C. Roentgen discovers x-rays by accident.

Chance Discoveries: X-Rays and Penicillin (01:45)

Alexander Fleming "accidentally" discovers penicillin.

Scientific Labs: "Limited Sloppiness" (01:06)

Alexander Fleming's lab was notoriously untidy. Scientific labs should be sloppy enough for chance occurrences, but clean enough to determine why an event occurred.

Fleming's Penicillin (01:04)

Several factors made it possible for Alexander Fleming to "discover" penicillin. Penicillin was not easily absorbed into the body, so Fleming turned his attention elsewhere.

Chance Discovery: Phonograph (01:41)

Serendipity occurs when a scientist looks for one thing but discovers another. One of Edison's most important "accidental" inventions is the phonograph.

What Is Serendipity? (01:20)

Accidental discoveries influenced by other factors are different from discoveries made by pure chance. The difference between pseudo-serendipity and serendipity is illustrated.

Serendipity in Action (01:06)

Sometimes serendipity strikes when no one is looking. German quarry workers find a Neanderthal skull..

Discovery of Antifreeze Proteins (01:30)

Snow fleas become objects of interest because they resist extreme cold. Antifreeze proteins from the fleas protect donor organs by keeping them icy cold without the formation of ice crystals.

Who Makes Serendipitous Discoveries? (01:01)

People with a wide variety of interests are more likely to make serendipitous discoveries.

Louis Pasteur (01:54)

Louis Pasteur's discovery of vaccinations was a serendipitous discovery.

Birth of Viagra (01:09)

In the 1990s, a group of men were given a new drug to treat angina. It didn't work. But it did give men erections. Viagra was born. The drugs use and misuse continues to grow.

Breakthrough in Orthodontics (01:44)

In 2001, an orthodontist accidentally discovers that ultrasound stimulates the growth of teeth in rabbits. In humans, ultrasound is now used to prevent roots from shortening during the prolonged wearing of braces.

Orthodontics and Nanotechnology (01:26)

An orthodontist and a nano-technician create a small device that patients can wear inside their mouths while wearing braces. The device prevents root shortening.

Serendipity and Skepticism (01:18)

Many scientists face skepticism and disbelief when they present their accidental discoveries.

Discovery of Velcro (02:18)

A chance encounter with burrs in the wilderness gave a man the idea that resulted in Velcro. This is an example of a technology that was not discovered in pursuit of a solution to an existing problem.

Breakthroughs in Science and Technology (01:54)

Chance may be more important than inherent logic or genius when it comes to breakthroughs in science and technology. Gutenberg's printing press moved the world from the Dark Ages to the Enlightenment.

Serendipitous Discoveries (01:12)

Curiosity and a willingness to break away from expected routines often results in serendipitous discoveries.

Invention of Microwave Oven (01:22)

In 1946, a self-taught inventor works with a radar device. He discovers that radar sets water, fats, and sugars in rapid motion. He invents the microwave oven.

Systematic Serendipity (01:12)

Can serendipity be harnessed and used in the search for new discoveries? Francis Galton explored a specific domain (known drugs) in a methodical way.

Chance Discovery (01:14)

Serendipity is a difficult concept to study. The experiences are personal and implicit.

Simulation of Chance Discovery (01:11)

In a simulation experiment, people are exposed to random sets of information.

Error and Serendipity (01:05)

Sometimes error leads to serendipitous findings. For example, it is believed that a number of other explorers landed in North America prior to the landings of Leif Erickson and Columbus.

Discovery of Prehistoric Fossils (01:50)

An accidental discovery changed the way people perceive life on the planet. In 1886, a surveyor finds prehistoric fossil impressions in the rock. This chance encounter went back one-half billion years.

What Makes a Fossil? (01:46)

Ninety-nine percent of all living creatures would not become fossils. It takes a unique set of circumstances for fossils to form.

Inhabitants of the Cambrian Sea (01:38)

Researchers discovery a prehistoric "giant shrimp" that ruled the Cambrian sea because of it size. For over 80 years after its discovery, scientists tried to find a head for the shrimp.

Fossils Discovery in Canadian Rockies (01:40)

At certain sites such as those in the Canadian Rockies, scientists discover a vast array of fossil life forms. Scientists conclude that life may have begun with numerous types of creatures.

Freedom to Discover (01:29)

Serendipity is stifled when people assume all scientific assumptions are correct. Research grants usually require a specified focus, thus squelching numerous opportunities for serendipity.

Discovery of the Expanding Universe (01:36)

Two Bell engineers discover radiation left over from the Big Bang that birthed the universe. For their efforts, Penzias and Wilson win the Nobel Prize.

Chance and the Pursuit of Innovation (01:10)

Chance is primarily responsible for major innovations and major new discoveries. Young scientists today must construct their research efforts to allow for serendipitous occurrences.

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Gone Sideways: Serendipity in Science

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Chance plays an enormous role in many major scientific discoveries. In this program, host David Suzuki explores three serendipitous, or chance, findings in medical, technological, and paleontological research. Segment one focuses on Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming, who stumbled upon penicillin when his poor housekeeping allowed mold to start growing on a petri dish of bacteria. Segment two spotlights amateur inventor George de Mestral, who took a walk, noticed burs adhering to his clothing, examined their structure under his microscope, and went on to create Velcro. And segment three tells the story of a railroad surveyor working in British Columbia who unintentionally found trilobite fossils in the rocks. Includes discussion of what makes serendipitous discoveries possible. (44 minutes)

Length: 44 minutes

Item#: BVL40929

ISBN: 978-1-61616-571-0

Copyright date: ©2008

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“Through clever animation and interactive reenactments, the film successfully demonstrates that serendipity is less of an anomaly and more of a driving force in many wide-ranging, life-improving scientific discoveries. An excellent choice for lab-centered science programs at the high school and college levels." –School Library Journal (starred review)


“This excellent film is.... an exciting song of praise for imagination and curiosity as primary motivators in science, useful in creating incentives for students in any field of science or engineering. Highly recommended.” —Educational Media Reviews Online


Recommended by Library Media Connection.


“There is plenty of food for thought in this video. It could stimulate lively class discussions as well as deepen students’ understanding of the nature of science.”  —NSTA Recommends

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