SOURCE: Science & Spirit magazine

May 04, 2006 09:27 ET

Scientific Discoveries and the Favors of Fortune

Science & Spirit Seizes Serendipity

QUINCY, MA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- May 4, 2006 -- Scientists William Bayliss and Ernest Starling discovered the first hormone by accident. It also was through a lucky accident that astronomer Henrietta Leavitt devised a method for measuring distances to the stars. Same for Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin, and Steven Weinberg's arrival at a physics theory that would unify two fundamental forces thought to be separate. Serendipity, it turns out, is behind some of science's most exciting discoveries.

In the May-June issue of Science & Spirit magazine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Alan Lightman muses on the nature of serendipity, whether we can encourage it or prepare for it, and how we can take advantage of it in the discovery process. Science writer Elizabeth Svoboda continues the discussion, showing how the power of serendipity can shift from discovery to the potential applications it embodies, using the laser as an example. When first invented, the device was believed to have no practical application, but the laser has since proved surprisingly effective for tracking air pollution, correcting eyesight, and sending large amounts of information through fiber optic cables. Nanotechnology researcher Ted Sargent relays his personal experience with serendipity through the story of how his team of scientists stumbled upon a potential way to harness the sun's energy and effectively bringing solar power to earth.

The May-June issue also features:

--  New research on the importance of insects to our economy and the
    environment, leading to a growing interest in putting a monetary value on
    these "ecosystem" services that would cost billions of dollars to replace
--  The theological debate among evangelical Christians over
    environmentalism and the nascent environmental movement among Israel's
    Reform Jews
--  The story of a rabbi whose faith sustains his search for Torahs that
    were lost or stolen during the Holocaust, and the science that helps him
    restore them
Science & Spirit is published six times a year by Heldref Publications. It is sold on newsstands and by subscription, and can be viewed online at

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