Compounds Discovered Entirely by Mistake


Whether the product of poor lab housekeeping, clumsy researchers, or an inexplicable urge to taste everything, there are some discoveries that would never have been made on purpose.

1. Artificial Sweeteners

Until the introduction of neotame in 2002, every common artificial sweetener had been discovered by mistake, usually by a chemist accidentally ingesting one of their compounds [1]. This trend started with saccharin in the 19th century, when Constantin Fahlbert was working in the lab of Ira Remsen.  After a long day of creating new toluene derivatives, Fahlberg left for dinner without washing his hands.  Breaking open a dinner roll, he found the bread to be unnaturally sweet, and eventually traced the cause back to a chemical residue left on his hands.   Together with Remsen he purified the residue and together they published a paper titled, “On the Oxidation of ortho-Toluenesulfonimide” (in German of course)…

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