About to drop a classic

Nieuws | de redactie
2 mei 2013 | The world’s oldest continuous scientific experiment is about to produce another patient climax. A tendril of a tar-like substance will drop from a glass funnel, something which has only happened eight times since the experiment started in 1927.

Watching the experiment makes the growing of grass seem exciting. The experiment was started by the University of Queensland in Australia.  It was designed to show that the tar-like substance “brittle pitch”, which was used to make boats waterproof, is not solid but liquid. Although,  it can be splintered by hitting it with a hammer.

Badly timed refreshment

The experiment was designed by Thomas Parnell who heated a sample of pitch and poured it into a glass with a sealed stem. After waiting for more than three years he cut the glass and the waiting for the first drop began. The experiment does not only sheds new light on everyday materials but also visualizes the concept of time.

The previous eight drops the experiment formed were missed by all, including its head of research, Professor John Mainstone. This time three webcams are filming the experiment in order to capture the unique moment. According to Mainstone the drop might fall in the coming months, but it could just as easily be a matter of weeks.

Mainstone checks the experiment around six times a day. In 1979, he missed the key moment after skipping his usual Sunday campus visit and, in 1988 he missed it by just five minutes as he stepped out “to get a refreshment”. Although the experiment is one of the slowest around, the decisive moment can be missed in “a blink of the eye”. Sometimes fundamental research looks remarkably like everyday life.

Follow the experiment live

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