Australia Home To Science’s Longest Experiment

Australia Home To Science’s Longest Experiment

This is Professor John Mainstone, from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. He’s the custodian of the longest running science experiment in the history of the world.

Imagine an experiment designed to show that pitch — a resin that appears to be completely solid and can even shattered into shards with a hammer — is actually a liquid. A liquid approximately 230 billion times more viscous than water.

The experiment was set up in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell, the first Professor of Physics at the University of Queensland in Brisbane:

The pitch was warmed and poured into a glass funnel, with the bottom of the steam sealed. Three years were allowed for the pitch to consolidate, and in 1930 the sealed stem was cut. From that date the pitch has been allowed to flow out of the funnel and a record kept of the dates when drops fell […] The pitch in its funnel is not kept under any special conditions, so its rate of flow varies with normal, seasonal changes in temperature.

Indeed, the “solid” pitch has been dropping from the funnel: eight drops so far. Parnell watched three of those drops fall before he died in the 60s — hopefully not of boredom. Then, Professor Mainstone took over.

But Professor Mainstone has not been very lucky. He missed the five drops that fell down since he started to watch the experiment. All of them. Now, he’s waiting for the ninth drop in the experiment, which is probably happening this year. Or in 2013. [The Pitch Drop Experiment and Wikipedia via Daily Mail]