Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Serendipity is finding something unexpected and useful while searching for something else entirely. For instance, the discovery of the antibacterial properties of penicillin by Alexander Fleming is said to have been serendipitous, because he was merely cleaning up his laboratory when he discovered that the Penicillium mould had contaminated one of his old experiments.
The word was coined by Horace Walpole in the 1754, from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip . (Serendip is an old Persian name for Sri Lanka.) The episode in the story is actually not a very good example of serendipity as the term is now understood; it was a case of spectacular abductive reasoning similar to the later literary feats of Sherlock Holmes. This word has been voted as one of the ten English words that were hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.
Serendipity is used as a sociological method in Anselm L. Strauss' and Barney G. Glasers Grounded Theory, building on ideas by sociologist Robert K. Merton, who in Social Theory and Social Structure (1949) claimed that serendipity was an Indian concept.
Serendipitous discoveries and inventions
- Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin
- The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation
- Alfred Nobel's discovery of blasting gelatin
- The discovery of polyethylene
- The invention of Silly Putty
- The invention of Post-it notes
- The discovery of the psychedelic effects of LSD by Dr. Albert Hofmann
- Robert K. Merton, Elinor Barber: The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity : A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science. Princeton University Press, 2003. ISBN 0691117543.
- Royston M. Roberts: Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science. Wiley, 1989. ISBN 0471602035
- Polymers & Serendipity: Case Studies -- rayon, nylon, and more examples in chemistry
- Max - A software agent built to induce serendipity.
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