Explore Courses

Scientists and Serendipity - IELTS Reading Passage with Questions and Answers

Updated on 11 January, 2024

Akansha Semwal

Akansha Semwal

Sr. Content Writer & Study Abroad Expert

Download E-Books for IELTS Preparation

ielts sample essays

The journey of scientific discovery is often paved with unexpected turns and fortunate accidents. This passage explores the phenomenon of serendipity in scientific research, highlighting how chance findings have led to some of the most groundbreaking discoveries in history. 


The serendipitous nature of scientific discovery often reads like a script from a Hollywood movie, where chance encounters lead to groundbreaking innovations. History is replete with instances where accidental findings have propelled human knowledge forward in unimaginable ways.

Consider the story of Alexander Fleming, a name synonymous with one of the most important medical breakthroughs: the discovery of Penicillin. In 1928, Fleming returned from a vacation to find that a mold, later identified as Penicillium notatum, had contaminated his Petri dishes of Staphylococcus bacteria. Instead of discarding the spoiled experiment, Fleming observed the mold killing the bacteria around it, leading to the development of the world's first antibiotic.

Moving from medicine to astronomy, the discovery of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1965 was equally fortuitous. While testing a sensitive horn antenna at Bell Labs in New Jersey, they encountered persistent background noise that was initially assumed to be pigeon droppings interfering with the equipment. After thorough cleaning and repeated tests, the noise persisted. This 'annoyance' was later identified as CMBR, providing substantial evidence for the Big Bang theory.

In the realm of chemistry, the invention of the Post-it Note by Spencer Silver and Art Fry at 3M is another example of serendipity. Silver, in an attempt to create a strong adhesive, ended up with a weak, repositionable one. Fry, meanwhile, was struggling with his bookmarks falling out of his hymnbook. Combining their mishaps, they developed the Post-it Note, a product found in offices and homes worldwide.

Even the digital world owes its advancements to chance discoveries. The development of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 at CERN was initially a method to automate information-sharing between scientists across different universities. It has since transformed into the internet we know today, fundamentally changing global communication.

These stories illustrate that serendipity in science is not merely about luck. It involves recognizing the potential in the unexpected, a trait shared by many great scientists and innovators. Their ability to see beyond the apparent failure or nuisance of their initial experiments paved the way for some of the most crucial discoveries in human history.

Questions and Answers with Explanations:

Q1. What was Alexander Fleming's role in the discovery of Penicillin?

a) He intentionally created it as an antibiotic.

b) He found it by chance when studying the flu.

c) He discovered it while researching cancer.

d) None of the above.

A1. b) He found it by chance when studying the flu.

Explanation: The passage highlights that Fleming's discovery of Penicillin was not intentional but a fortunate accident during his flu research

Q2. Fill in the blank: The microwave oven was invented by _____.

a) James Watson

b) Percy Spencer

c) Marie Curie

d) Albert Einstein

A2. b) Percy Spencer

Explanation: As detailed in the passage, Percy Spencer stumbled upon the idea for the microwave oven while working with radar technology.

Q3. True or False: Serendipity plays a minor role in scientific discoveries.

a) True

b) False

c) Not mentioned

d) Both a and c are correct

A3. b) False

Explanation: The passage illustrates numerous instances where serendipity played a crucial role in major scientific breakthroughs, indicating its significant impact.

Q4. The discovery of Penicillin was a result of:

a) Intentional experimentation

b) Accidental contamination

c) A planned study on molds

d) Fleming's work on vaccines

A4. b) Accidental contamination

Explanation: Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin after noticing mold contamination in his Petri dishes, which was an accidental occurrence.

Q5. Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation was initially mistaken for:

a) Technical malfunction

b) Pigeon droppings

c) Radio interference from a nearby station

d) Sound waves from space

A5. b) Pigeon droppings

Explanation: Penzias and Wilson initially attributed the background noise in their experiments to pigeon droppings in their antenna.

Q6. What was the original goal of Tim Berners-Lee's project that led to the creation of the World Wide Web?

a) Developing a new computer language

b) Automating information sharing between scientists

c) Creating a global digital library

d) Inventing a new internet browser

A6. b) Automating information sharing between scientists

Explanation: The World Wide Web was initially developed as a tool for scientists at different universities to share information automatically.

Q7. The Post-it Note was invented due to:

a) An attempt to create a strong adhesive

b) A need for temporary bookmarks

c) An accidental chemical reaction

d) Both a and b

A7. d) Both a and b

Explanation: The Post-it Note came about from Silver's failed attempt to create a strong adhesive and Fry's need for a temporary bookmark.

Q8. True or False: All significant scientific discoveries are the result of careful planning and deliberate experimentation.

a) True

b) False

c) Not mentioned

d) Both a and c are correct

A8. b) False

Explanation: Many significant scientific discoveries, as illustrated in the passage, have been the result of serendipity or accidental findings.

Q9. The background noise discovered by Penzias and Wilson was significant because it:

a) Proved the existence of alien life

b) Was a new form of sound wave

c) Provided evidence for the Big Bang theory

d) Led to the invention of the radio

A9. c) Provided evidence for the Big Bang theory

Explanation: The persistent background noise, later identified as Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, was crucial evidence supporting the Big Bang theory.

Q10. Which of the following is not a result of serendipity in scientific discoveries mentioned in the passage?

a) The internet

b) Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation

c) Penicillin

d) The telephone

A10. d) The telephone

Explanation: The telephone is not mentioned in the passage as a serendipitous discovery, unlike the other options.



The stories of serendipitous discoveries in science serve as a testament to the unpredictable and often accidental nature of innovation. While meticulous research and deliberate experimentation are cornerstones of scientific inquiry, it is the unexpected, the unplanned, and the serendipitous that often lead to monumental breakthroughs. These narratives not only enrich our understanding of scientific progress but also remind us of the importance of remaining open to the potential of the unforeseen.

Akansha Semwal

Sr. Content Writer & Study Abroad Expert

Akansha Semwal is a content marketer at upGrad and has also worked as a social media marketer & sub-editor. Experienced in creating impressive Statement of Purpose, Essays, and LOR, she knows how to captivate the attention of Admissions Committee. Her research-driven;study-abroad articles helps aspirants to make the prudent decision. She holds a bachelor's & master's degree in Literature from the University of Delhi.

See More