“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

My greatest discovery as a scientist began with a mistake.

Months in the lab had proved futile, and I had just lost another day's work because of a careless mistake:  I used the wrong stopper to seal the flask.  Overnight, the internal pressure shot the stopper clear across the room, allowing oxygen to rush into the vessel and transform what should have been a clear liquid into a black tar. 

I wanted to toss it.  I have always been a perfectionist and have trouble facing my failures.  I wanted to rid myself of this mistake, push it out of my mind and begin again.

But for some reason I stayed my hand, and against my better judgment took a small sample for analysis.  And eureka!  Buried in that tar were tiny amounts of the material I desired, one that had never before existed until this moment!

My error had allowed the boiling mixture to concentrate, giving me the clue I needed to finally synthesize this material.  If I had not looked more carefully at this "failure," it would have taken me much longer to make this discovery, if I even made it at all.

In life, I will continue to make mistakes. 

But I will no longer see them as errors, but as experiments.

— Sandy Ottensmann