Following on yesterday's story of transformative discoveries starting by accident, we'll jump from the Middle East to the Far East for the probably apocryphal story of the Empress Leizu (also sometimes referred to as Xi Lingshi) who is credited with the discovery of silk around 2600 BCE. One of the many versions of the story has it that she was drinking tea in her garden, and a silkworm coccoon fell into her tea. When she poked at it to get it out of the hot water, the thread unraveled, and she became fascinated with it.
From there, her experiments with silk threads and silkworms led her to invent the reel used to spin multiple silkworm threads into a silk thread suitable for weaving, and then a loom for the weaving of silk fabric. (These inventions are also sometimes credited to her husband, the Yellow Emperor, but since it's hard to separate history from myth at that remove, we'll give her the credit here.) Silk and the secret of its making helped build China into the vast economic and cultural powerhouse that it was for most of its (very long) recorded history
Leizu's fishing silk thread from her tea is, of course, essentially a science discovery-- in fact, one of the versions of this Google turns up is at a Tumblr blog called Women Rock Science, so this isn't an especially controversial observation. Like many of the other stories I've related already in this series, this is a testament to the core simplicity of science. It all starts with noticing something cool, saying "Huh. I wonder why that happened?" and following that thread of observations and questions as far as it can take you.
(Part of a series promoting Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist, available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s, and anywhere else books are sold.)
(This is another story that was in a footnote in the original too-long introduction, when I was establishing the antiquity of science and technology around the world. It got cut for length, but I like the story, even though I doubt very much there would've been just one person behind all the complicated stuff that needs to happen to make silk on a useful scale...)
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These are fun - looking forward to reading the book.
>> It all starts with noticing something cool, saying “Huh. I
>> wonder why that happened?” and following that thread of
>> observations and questions as far as it can take you.
"Following that thread" – I see what you did there...