Many scientists devote their life’s work to winning the Nobel Prize… some get it by accident. I first saw this at physics.org and it immediately gave me hope that one day, even I might win the prestigious honour… Accidentally would be the only way as I contribute nothing to any field even remotely related to any of the areas in which the prizes are awarded.
Anyway, I’ll kick off with one of the most important accidental discoveries in recent generations: The Cosmic Background Radiation
A 13.7 billion year old signal dating back to the Universe’s creation was initially dismissed as interference caused by pigeon poo when it was first detected in 1965.
Radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were working on a supersensitive giant antenna for detecting faint microwave signals. But despite their best efforts they couldn’t get rid of a persistent background noise.
After first blaming pigeon droppings on their antenna, and much scrubbing of the equipment, they eventually worked out that the low level signal was coming from much further afield – beyond our galaxy. What they had in fact detected was Cosmic Microwave Background (or CMB) radiation, left over heat from the Big Bang.
This discovery provided some of the strongest experimental evidence for the Big Bang model of the Universe. CMB has since played a vital role in cosmology research since it carries vital snippets of information on what happened seconds after the Big Bang, allowing us to look back in time into our Universe’s infancy.
This fortunate accident earned Penzias and Wilson a share of the 1978 Nobel Prize for physics.