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Definition of «Serendipity»

Serendipity: An accidental and fortunate discovery. Not all good medical research by any means is done by design. Some is by serendipity, pure good luck.

A celebrated instance of serendipity in biomedical research took place in 1928 at St Mary's Hospital in London. While studying staphylococci (staph bacteria), the physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming happened to noticed that on a dish containing agar on which he had been growing germs, near some mould, the germs were less common. He grew more of the mould and named it penicillin from its Latin name Penicillium. Fleming found the mould was effective against bacteria that caused diseases such as anthrax, meningitis and diphtheria.

A key point about serendipity in science, however, is that while accidents do happen, it is only the very well-prepared mind such as Fleming's that is capable of grasping the significance of the totally unexpected finding. Insights of this sort only come to the insightful.

The word serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole in the fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip (1754). Serendip was an old Persian name for Sri Lanka.

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