10 Stories of Magnificent Discoveries

History-making breakthroughs don’t just happen in the lab. From finding family in the most unexpected of places to uncovering messages hidden in 16th-century Incan knots, these 10 stories embrace the thrill—and momentum—of discovery. So dive in — who knows what you might find?

I Was Writing About Colonial America’s First Enslaved Africans. I Was Stunned to Find My Ancestors, Too.

Deborah Barfield Berry • USA TODAY

The search for one woman’s family led a reporter to find her own roots using oral history, archives and DNA tests. It also led to stunning results.

Her Incredible Sense of Smell Is Helping Scientists Find New Ways to Diagnose Disease

Alix Spiegel and Elena Renken • NPR

Joy and her super smelling abilities have opened up a whole new realm of research.

Dr. Seuss Book: Yes, They Found It in a Box

Alexandra Alter • The New York Times

The last original Dr. Seuss book was released in 1990. No one at Random House expected an unpublished book to appear 24 years after Theodor Seuss Geisel’s death.

What a Newfound Kingdom Means for the Tree of Life

Jonathan Lambert • Quanta

Neither animal, plant, fungus nor familiar protozoan, a strange microbe that sits in its own “supra-kingdom” of life foretells incredible biodiversity yet to be discovered by new sequencing technologies.

Jerry and Marge Go Large

Jason Fagone • Highline

Discovering a lottery loophole made Jerry and Marge Selbee millionaires, sparked an investigation by a Boston Globe Spotlight reporter, unleashed a statewide political scandal and exposed more than a few hypocrisies at the heart of America’s favorite form of legalized gambling.

How Scientists Discovered Helium, the First Alien Element, 150 Years Ago

Lorraine Boissoneault • Smithsonian Magazine

First found only on the sun, scientists doubted the mysterious element even existed for more than a decade.

We Are All Scutoids: A Brand-New Shape, Explained

Alan Burdick • The New Yorker

Researchers first observed the previously unnamed shape in a computer model. They then went to nature and found it in abundance.

The College Student Who Decoded the Data Hidden in Inca

Katherine Davis-Young • Atlas Obscura

Manny Medrano cut loose on spring break by analyzing a set of khipus.

Daryl Bem Proved ESP Is Real

Daniel Engber • Slate

How one carefully calibrated study—and its shocking results—upended the academic system.

Runs in the Family

Sarah Spain • ESPN

Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach Deland McCullough went searching for his biological parents. He found them where he never would have expected.

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