Serendipity in scientific research

Ross, Wendy, Copeland, Samantha and Feinstein, Stuart (2024) Serendipity in scientific research. Journal of Trial and Error. ISSN 2667-1204


Serendipity refers to the combination of “accident” and “sagacity”; an unexpected and unpredicted event which is noticed by an agent with the right skills to make the most of it. Famous examples include Jocelyn Bell’s discovery of pulsars which was made after she noticed an unusual output from a radio telescope (Arfini, 2023). Bell noticed and unpredicted output on the graphical trace and followed it up, eventually discovering the existence of pulsars. The rate of serendipitous discovery in science is unclear, although it has been estimated to be high (Thagard, 2012). This series is meant not only to add to the repertoire of serendipity stories, but to begin treating these tales as members in a growing archive, in which we attend to the role of chance and the unexpected in our rational pursuits of knowledge. Scientists here will share how accidents and reason intertwined in their practice, and researchers of serendipity will unpack how that happens.

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