The longest-running science lab experiment in the world has finally provided results; just about eight months after the scientist who patiently waited for it to perform went unrewarded for 50 long years passed away. The test was set up back in the 1920’s to show college students how objects which appear solid can pour like liquids. The pitch experiment, which is located at the University of Queensland in Australia, has fascinated the many folks who have eagerly waited almost 15 years for the newest blob of the tarry substance to form and then fall.
Pitch is a material that is tough enough to smash when it is struck by a hammer. However when it is put into a cone and the compression which is generated from it being squeezed through the tapered mouth makes it start to run like liquid, although very slowly. Last Thursday, only the ninth splotch of pitch that has fallen in close to 85 years dropped at the college.
To put everything in a little bit better perspective: Australia is moving to the north at six centimeters a year because of the continental drift. The pitch in this experiment is flowing over nine times slower than that. Until this one fell, not a single person on Earth had ever been witness to seeing one fall.
The late physicist, Professor John Mainstone, had ended up missing all three pitch drops which took place during the time he watched over the experiment. He had gotten it out from the back of a closet and took care of it for nearly five decades. However bad luck seemed to go hand in hand with him and the pitch.
Mainstone had once dedicated a whole weekend to waiting for a pitch drop back in 1977. He ended up going on home after her become completely exhausted and missed the event by one single day. In 1988, the professor knew a pitch was close at hand, but it just had to happen during the brief five minutes that he left the test room to get himself some tea.
By 2000 he had decided to put up a webcam and point it toward pitch. However being in England at the time, Professor Mainstone realized he could either watch it live or record the event. Yet neither would come to pass when a tropical storm ended up causing a power outage that lasted only 20 minutes but in those few minutes was when the pitch dropped once more. That would be the professor’s last chance because he passed away sadly after suffering a stroke last August, at the age of 78. It was just a few months before the ninth pitch blob dropped.
The present caretaker, Andrew White, stated that with the amount of pitch that is still to drop, the experiment could go for another 80 years. He explained that if the flow rate stays the same, the next blob might concur with the anniversary of the experiment in 2027.
The experiment has been named in pop culture by getting a reference and recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest lasting lab experiment, and in 2005 it won a Nobel Prize for research that makes people laugh and think.
Professor White, who is a quantum physicist and says he is just four pitch drops old, believes the experiment’s charm is in its hallmark qualities, It gives a person connection to a time not usually seen. Inside that beaker is something from before most people were born, from before their parents were born and for some individuals, even before their grandparents came along.
It was first set up back in 1927 by Thomas Parnell. He was a professor of physics at the University of Queensland. Between the years of 1930 and 1988 the pitch drops would fall about every eight years or so. Professor White stated that they started to take longer to fall after air-conditioning was put in the college in the very late 1980’s. They now land just under every 15 years or so.
This experiment is certainly far from being high-yield and information could have been obtained in much faster ways, Professor White admits, but the real value of such a test is that it has gotten people to think about the whole Earth in a very different way and that is what really matters.
The longest-running laboratory experiment in the world finally provided a result but it was just a little too late for the scientist who had patiently waited for it to perform for 50 long years.
By Kimberly Ruble
Australian Geographic News