On April 8, 1911, Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes scribbled in pencil an almost unintelligible note into a kitchen notebook: "near enough null."

The note referred to the electrical resistance he'd measured during a landmark experiment that would later be credited as the discovery of . But first, he and his team would need many more trials to confirm the measurement.

Their discovery opened up a world of potential scientific applications. The century since has seen many advances, but superconductivity researchers today can take lessons from Onnes' original, Nobel Prize-winning work.

I have always been interested in origin stories. As a physics professor and the author of books on the history of physics, I look for the interesting backstory—the twists, turns and serendipities that lie behind great discoveries.

The true stories behind these discoveries are usually more chaotic than the rehearsed narratives crafted after the fact, and some of the lessons learned from Onnes' experiments remain relevant today as researchers search for new superconductors that might, one day, operate near room temperature.

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