In This Chapter
Seeing ten important discoveries in organic chemistry
Recognizing the role that serendipity plays in the discovery process
In this chapter, I cover ten cool discoveries that relate to organic chemistry. One interesting feature of this list is that all these discoveries contain some element of the serendipitous. Although you can never discount hard work and preparation, chance and fortune have played a major role in the big discoveries in organic chemistry (although, as Pasteur would say, luck favors the prepared mind).
Alfred Nobel and his family recognized the potential of nitroglycerin as a commercial explosive — a substance with explosive properties more favorable than gunpowder. In his laboratory, however, his family discovered firsthand how dangerous the substance could be. In a massive nitroglycerin explosion, Alfred’s brother Emil and several co-workers were killed.
After the accident, Alfred worked to make nitroglycerin safer (see Figure 22-1). He noticed that when he mixed the syrupy nitroglycerin with silica powder (diatomaceous earth) he obtained a stable mash that he called dynamite. When he commercialized his discovery — along with blaster caps to safely start the explosion — he became ...