We all know about serendipity as writers — those lovely, unexpected surprises that enliven our prose and boost our spirits. Since today is the 131st birthday of Lucy Wills, a scientist whose unexpected breakthrough has helped women around the world, here’s the story behind it, written by Sam Wong and published in the New Scientist:
“Some love it; some hate it; but there is something special about Marmite, as Lucy Wills discovered in the 1920s. The discovery that folic acid is important to the health of pregnant women is a classic story of serendipity in science.
“Having recently finished a medical degree, Wills was recruited to Mumbai, India, to investigate why many pregnant women were suffering from a severe and often fatal form of anaemia. Wills began by studying the women’s living conditions and their stools, looking for any bacteria that might be causing their illness, but came up with nothing.
“She also paid careful attention to their diets, taking a record of everything they ate for five days. From this, she determined that deficiencies of vitamins A and C might be the cause of their anaemia …”
Lucy went on to discover that “Marmite” — a yeast extract — could save millions of lives.
I remember first seeing the word “serendipity” when a visitor wrote in on a chalk board in my elementary school classroom one day. I instantly loved it and still do. What a gift to us writers! It reminds us that joyful surprises are always just waiting down the paper path. Write on!
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