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Sleeping on it: 5 Discoveries and Inventions Made in Dreams

Team StoryWeavers|July 15, 2021, 13:07 IST| 21

Have you ever been so occupied with a thought or a problem that it continues to be with you in your head, even while you are asleep? Ever woken up with a bright new idea that you conjured up while lost in the mysterious land of dreams? 

We might not exactly know why we dream but history has shown many instances where taking a problem to bed has often helped a troubled mind reach an epiphany – particularly with regards to science and innovation. 

The story of science is full of unexpected breakthrough moments. While some ideas that changed the world forever were stumbled upon by accident, a few were the result of simply ‘sleeping on it’!

Here are five discoveries and inventions that were conjured up by great thinkers in their dreams!

1. Kekule’s discovery of the benzene ring structure

In your Organic Chemistry lessons, you would have come across the cyclical molecular structure of benzene. It was the German chemist, Friedrich August Kekule, who discovered this structure on a cold winter night in 1865. Kekule had been trying to understand the arrangement of atoms in benzene. It was proving to be quite a challenge because its ratio of carbon and hydrogen atoms was unlike that of any other organic compound known at the time.

a postage stamp from Germany (1979), showing a portrait of Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz (1829–1896), in the background the formula of the benzene ring. (Image: Shutterstock)

Kekule dozed off on his armchair while preoccupied with the problem. As he drifted into sleep, he dreamt of the atoms dancing about, arranging themselves in the form of a snake swallowing its own tail. When he woke up, Kekule had a eureka moment! The molecules of benzene are made up of rings of carbon atoms. Understanding the structure of benzene opened up an entirely new field of study – what is today called aromatic chemistry.

2. The structure of the DNA molecule

Kekule was not the only scientist whose serpentine dreams led to breakthroughs! In 1953, a young American scientist, Dr James Watson had a strange dream where two serpent-like structures were entwined together.

Dr James Watson had a dream that revealed the structure of the DNA molecule. (Image: Shutterstock)

Inspired by the revelation, Watson went on to co-author a paper with fellow British scientist Francis Crick where they proposed the double helix structure of DNA that we all instantly recognise today. The duo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology for their discovery in 1962.

3. Proof of nerve cells sending chemical signals

In 1903, German biologist Otto Loewi believed that human nerve cells communicate with each other via chemical signals. But he couldn’t figure out how to prove it. Seventeen long years later,  the answer came to him in a dream! He woke up in the middle of the night with the revelation, and in his sleepy state, scribbled it down. But in the morning, he couldn’t remember the dream and neither could he decipher his illegible writing! As luck would have it, the next night, he dreamt of the same problem and figured out an experiment to prove it too. 

Artist’s representation of chemical signals sent across the synapses of nerve cells. (Image: Shutterstock)

Inspired by the dream, Loewi carried out research, and in 1921, he proved that nerve cells communicate across gaps called ‘synapses’ using chemical signals. In 1936, his dream won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology!

4. Mendeleev’s design of the periodic table

There have been quite a few variations of the periodic table. But the one that we all use today comes to us thanks to Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. Like his predecessors, Mendeleev was obsessed with the properties of elements and arranging them in logical order. He made cards for each element and noted all their properties on them. After arranging and rearranging the cards for hours in many configurations, he finally went to sleep and that’s when it occurred to him. In his dream, the elements arranged themselves by atomic weights. Mendeleev wrote about his discovery: “In a dream, I saw a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”

A postage stamp from Russia (2009) commemorating Dmitri Mendeleev and his design of the modern periodic table. (Image: Shutterstock)

Mendeleev’s periodic table was so efficient that he left gaps in it for yet-to-be-discovered elements, some of which were added several years after his death.

5. Alfred Russel Wallace’s theory of natural selection

When we think about the theory of evolution, it’s Charles Darwin who we immediately recall. But did you know that the credit to the discovery is also shared by a British naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace? He is also the one who coined the word ‘dinosaur’. Alfred Wallace travelled to distant parts of the globe trying to figure out the connection between species separated by geographic barriers. His quest was to understand how new species are formed, but the answer remained elusive for many years. In 1858, he suffered from a fever that gave him violent dreams and hallucinations. In them, he saw the unfolding of the tale that would go on to be the basis of evolution by natural selection. 

Insects once owned by Alfred Russel Wallace who co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin displayed at the Natural History Museum, London. (Image: Shutterstock)

Do you know of other such discoveries and inventions that occurred as a result of a happy accident? Tell us in the comments below.

About the Author


Suraj is a self-proclaimed audiophile and a jack-of-all-trades writer with a diverse set of interests. An amateur quizzer on the side, he claims that the first object he fell in love with was a book on flags at age 3. His favourite punctuation mark is the Oxford Comma, which coincidentally happens to be one of his favourite songs too!

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Comments



Gargi Gupta

July 24, 2021

Hello Byju’s I am thanking you for the study that you give me .
I am glad to understand the hard things in very simple language.
I am so happy .
You are the best app .
👌👌👌👍👍👍


Gargi Gupta

July 24, 2021

The “scientific breakthroughs in sleep mode” is so interesting. 👌


Dhrubesh Bhowmick

July 24, 2021

👍🏻


Akshina Sehrawat

July 24, 2021

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity-
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity came to him in a dream about cows. He dreamed he was walking through a farm when he came upon some cows by an electric fence. He then saw the cows jump at the same time as the fence gave them an electric shock. But a farmer, who had been standing at the other end of the field, saw them jump one by one, like a Mexican wave. Einstein realised their views of the same event had been different. This lead to the Theory of Relativity, the idea that events look different depending on where you’re standing because of the time it takes the light to reach your eyes.


Malhar Acharekar

July 24, 2021

Yes, I know one! Alexander Flemming was studying on a disease causing bacteria when he observed that a fungus PENICILLIUM NOTATUM was interfering in the growth of the bacteria that Flemming was studying about and thus he was the first to discover ANTIBIOTICS!!
(Sorry, but I am not able remember the name 😅😔)


Athashree

July 24, 2021

WOW! I never thought that dreams can make things up . The knowledge given by Byju’s is amazing .

Again thanks


Astha singh

July 24, 2021

Nice fact so much helpful


Shreya.N

July 24, 2021

It is the book


Anamika

July 24, 2021

That is very interesting I love to learn new thing I


Sidhi Dalal

July 24, 2021

It was amazing time when I read all the 5 discoveries which were successful in the dreams of the inventors.


jyoti priya

July 24, 2021

I like it


Shreerupa Dhara

July 25, 2021

The Structure of The Atom –
In a dream, Niels Boher saw the nucleus of the atom with electrons spinning around it – like planets going around the sun. He had a gut feeling that it was accurate, so dedicate his research to proving his theory. Low and behold, he was spot on and won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his breakthrough.


Dolly Malviya

July 25, 2021

Very Intrestings .


Joel John Sujith

July 25, 2021

Thanks For the interesting information


Lekhana Laxminarayani

July 26, 2021

Good, super, very good


V.Guna sekhar 6c

July 26, 2021

Not bad


V.Guna sekhar 6c

July 26, 2021

Ok


Farheen unnisa begum

July 29, 2021

1 answer
In your organic chemistry lessons, you would have come across the cyclical molecular structure of benzene. It was the German chemist , fried rich August kekule, who discovered this structure on a cold winter night in 1865.


Sneha. D

July 30, 2021

I don’t know about other scientists or the discover . But this strange situation 😅also happened to me. I had a simple in my mind and sleeped . In my dream my teacher camed and explained the answer to me , i asked all my doubts and she answered mee too. I am happy in the next morning😊because i understood everything… 😇🤗


Manjila khatun

July 31, 2021

Very intrestings
Wow
very good


Gayathri .n. manoj

August 7, 2021

It’s intresting to read 😄


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