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Matching features – accidental inventions

This lesson gives you a little practice in the matching features question type. First of all, I talk you through how the questions work, then I suggest what reading skills you need to get the answer efficiently and, finally, you will find a brief reading exercise to test your skills.

 How the questions work

In this task you are given two sets of options which you need to match. One set of options is typically a group of names. In my example here it is the names of different inventions/discoveries:

A. Cellophane

B. Penicillin

C. Post-it note

D. Saccharin

E. Superglue

The second set of options include pieces of information from the text. The task is to match those pieces of information to the correct name from the first list.

1.  discovered once before

2. discovered during a meal

3. used for a variety of different purposes

4. came from some military research

5. the result of carelessness

Points to note

It may be that one option can be used twice. So, for example. Cellophane may be the answer to two different questions. It is also possible that one option is not used at all.

Reading skills you need

You need a variety of reading skills here. The general rule is where comes before what.

This means you need to first of all find the correct paragraph to read. Here this means you should look for the word “penicillin” in the text. You then need to read that part of the text closely for meaning. The words in the options may not exactly match the words in the text.

 Test your skills

Write the correct letter A-E. Which invention/discovery is referred to.



c. post-it note

d. saccharin

e. superglue

1.  discovered once before

2. discovered during a meal

3. used for a variety of different purposes

4. came from some military research

5. the result of carelessness


Ninety nine per cent perspiration and one per cent inspiration is one famous formula for the secret to success. That could be. It does seem to leave out another crucial ingredient though – luck. A surprising proportion of discoveries have a strong element of the accidental about them. Yes, both hard work and genius had a role to play, but if it wasn’t for lady luck we wouldn’t be able to dose ourselves with penicillin when we are struck down with a bacterial infection, take an aspirin for a headache or even mark our place in a book with a post-it note.

Perhaps the most famous of these accidents was when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. The story is that his laboratory was notoriously untidy and that he mistakenly left out a dish in which he had been growing staphylococcus – a bacteria he was researching. This accidentally became contaminated and so he threw it away. It was only when he came to clean the dish that he saw a blue-green mould had stopped the bacteria from growing. This was penicillin. The story becomes even stranger yet when one considers that some twenty years earlier a similar discovery about the properties of penicillin had already been made. Nothing came of that earlier discovery because no one saw that there was the connection with the spread of disease. It is almost as if Fleming simply had the luck to be in the right place at the right time.

A different type of accident led to the invention of cellophane – the clear plastic film that is used the world over. James Brandenburger set out to make a product that would prevent wine and food spillages from staining tablecloths; but he failed. That failure was no by complete though, as he saw that one of the by-products of his experimentations was usable. His spark of genius was to see that the plastic film he had created could be mass produced as food packaging. A similar story can be told of the invention of superglue which was discovered when an army scientist, Dr Harry Coover, was attempting to manufacture a plastic for gun sights, only for him to realise that he accidentally found one of the strongest adhesives known to man. This theme of failure leading to success is also found in the story of the now nearly ubiquitous post-it note. It now has many different uses ranging from students for making notes or as a simple reminder stuck to the fridge door. What makes it so versatile? It’s the very weak glue that holds those iconic little yellow notes together. The inventor though did not set out to create such a weak adhesive – in fact quite the opposite – and it was only when a colleague saw its potential use in note pads that it became a success story.

Chance also played a significant role in the invention of saccharin – one that would not be possible in this health and safety conscious age. A scientist was working in a laboratory on a chemical and then went home without washing hands properly, leaving traces of that chemical on his fingers. That night as he was eating his bread, he was puzzled to find that it tasted much sweeter than normal. He put two and two together and went back to his lab and ran some tests on the chemical he had been handling and so discovered the artificial sweetener that so many use today as a replacement for sugar. The irony is that his failure in personal hygiene has saved many lives as saccharin is a vital component in the diet of people who suffer from diabetes.

Accidental inventions

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2 Responses to Matching features – accidental inventions

  1. kaushalya March 19, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    it is a valuable lession

  2. Maria March 20, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Dear Dominic,
    Your lessons are so comprehensible. They’re all well organized and concisely presented. Honestly, I have learned from you more than any other teacher. I appreciate it, and wish you ever success,

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