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Watching Pitch Drip

from Atlas Obscura

The Pitch Drop Experiment

Begun 82 years ago, this science experiment keeps on going, ever so slowly. 
University of Queensland Physics Museum

Begun in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell, this experiment was meant to reveal the surprising properties of an everyday material: pitch. Pitch is the name of a number of hard tar-like substances and in this case bitumen was used. Though at room temperature pitch appears to be a solid and can be shattered by a hammer, it is in fact a very high-viscosity liquid, and Professor Parnell wanted to prove it.

Just getting ready to perform the experiment took years. First the Professor heated a sample of pitch and poured it into a sealed funnel. Then, he waited. For three years Parnell let the pitch settle in the funnel, until in 1930, when he felt the pitch was settled enough, he cut the bottom of the funnel, freeing the pitch to begin its mind-bogglingly slow downward escape.

Professor Parnell lived long enough to record only two drips—the first in 1938, eight years after the opening of the funnel – and the second, nine years later in 1947.

Curiously, because it only drips every 8 to 9 years, no one has ever actually seen a drop fall. A webcam was setup in 2000, but due to technical problems it missed the drip. The last drip was nine years ago, so the pitch is due to drop any day now. The webcam is currently set up and one can try their luck, and patience, here.

[ click to read complete article at Atlas Obscura ]

Posted on September 13, 2016 by Editor

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