The British chemist was just 18 years old when he discovered the dye in 1856. It wasn’t intentional, and was instead a very fortunate, career-defining accident. According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, Perkin was a student at London’s Royal College of Chemistry at the time. He worked as an assistant to August Wilhelm Hofmann, who was researching ways to create quinine, a drug used to treat malaria. After one of his attempts to form the compound, Perkin observed an unexpected reaction: When diluting the substance with alcohol, it turned purple.