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posted by janrinok on Wednesday April 23 2014, @11:35PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the wanted-one-inactive-individual-to-watch-something-eventually-fall dept.

Two contributors, Adrian Harvey and wirelessduck report, on a long-running experiment that has taken 84 years for someone to observe:

The pitch drop experiment at the University of Queensland has finally been observed producing a drop. Widely considered the world's longest running experiment, it was started 83 years ago in 1927. It was designed to show that even some solid-seeming substances like pitch will flow like a liquid given sufficient time. The flow is about an order of magnitude slower than the continental drift of the ground it's on! The experiment has produced drops before, but only when no one was watching. The last drop in 2000 even had a WebCam set up to watch it but the power went out just when the drop fell.

The pitch has dropped - again. This time, the glimpse of a falling blob of tar, also called pitch, represents the first result for the world's longest-running experiment. Sadly however, the glimpse comes too late for a former custodian, who watched over the experiment for more than half a century and died a year ago. Up-and-running since 1930, the experiment is based at the University of Queensland in Australia and seeks to capture blobs of pitch as they drip down, agonisingly slowly, from their parent bulk.

[Editor's Note: The discrepancy in the dates between the two articles is as they were reported. Obviously, at least 1 is incorrect, but the TFS does not change source material]

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Roo_Boy on Thursday April 24 2014, @12:51AM

    by Roo_Boy (1762) on Thursday April 24 2014, @12:51AM (#35277)

    http://smp.uq.edu.au/content/pitch-drop-experiment [uq.edu.au]

    From there, both dates are sort of correct. The pitch was added to a sealed stemmed funnel in 1927 and allowed to settle for three years before the stem was cut.

    --
    --- The S.I. prototype "Average Punter" is kept in a tube of inert gas in Geneva.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:05AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:05AM (#35284)

    What is pitch drop?

    • (Score: 2) by edIII on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:13AM

      by edIII (791) on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:13AM (#35288)

      I would attempt to explain it, but the TFS does that quite nicely.

      --
      Technically, lunchtime is at any moment. It's just a wave function.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @03:22PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @03:22PM (#35600)

      It's related to the Doppler shift.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by frojack on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:13AM

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:13AM (#35289) Journal

    Ok, it has been observed, photographed, counted, etc.

    How much longer does this experiment run? At any proposal to terminate it, someone is bound to say, "BUT 84 years! We can't stop now!!!".

    You want more drops, turn up the heat. But jeeze, it was silly in 1927 and hasn't improved with age.

    --
    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
    • (Score: 2) by bucc5062 on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:23AM

      by bucc5062 (699) on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:23AM (#35295)

      Really. I even RTFA and I still don't get what the experiment is for. Hey, I got an idea, let's watch grass grow and make a big deal out of it, I'll make millions. If the idea is to figure out the viscosity of pitch, no offence to science, but is there not a better way?

      A cool entertainment value sure, but science experiment? Need a little more.

      --
      The more things change, the more they look the same
      • (Score: 1) by bill_mcgonigle on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:24AM

        by bill_mcgonigle (1105) on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:24AM (#35320)

        I even RTFA and I still don't get what the experiment is for.

        Apparently it's to get kids to think, "hey, things aren't always what they seem."

    • (Score: 2) by M. Baranczak on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:29AM

      by M. Baranczak (1673) on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:29AM (#35298)

      "Doctor Venkman. The purpose of science is to serve mankind. You seem to regard science as some kind of dodge or hustle. Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable! You are a poor scientist, Dr. Venkman!"

      "But the kids love us!"

    • (Score: 2) by Sir Finkus on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:11AM

      by Sir Finkus (192) on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:11AM (#35315) Journal

      My attitude is that the more we know about our world, the better. The viscosity of pitch may not seem that important superficially, but it adds to our understanding of the world. Perhaps this could help scientists in other fields date things or something.

      It also doesn't seem like it's an especially expensive experiment to run. How much does it cost to keep a jar of pitch in a cupboard?

    • (Score: 2) by Tork on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:21AM

      by Tork (3914) on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:21AM (#35318)
      Yeah! You wouldn't want to learn more from a long-running experiment that costs virtually nothing to conduct!
      --
      Slashdolt Logic: "24 year old jokes about sharks and lasers are +5, Funny." 💩
      • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday April 24 2014, @03:54AM

        by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 24 2014, @03:54AM (#35348) Journal

        It has run for 84 years.
        We already know a ton more about pitch today than when the experiment started. It's already yielded all the info it is capable of yielding, which never was all that much.

        Hell, even concrete flows. Science has bypassed this issue and moved on.

        --
        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
        • (Score: 2) by Tork on Thursday April 24 2014, @04:21AM

          by Tork (3914) on Thursday April 24 2014, @04:21AM (#35352)
          "It's already yielded all the info it is capable of yielding..."

          How do you know?
          --
          Slashdolt Logic: "24 year old jokes about sharks and lasers are +5, Funny." 💩
          • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday April 24 2014, @05:33AM

            by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 24 2014, @05:33AM (#35365) Journal

            How would you ever know?
            Your implied suggestion is that every experiment be run forever in the hopes that doing the same thing over and over again might yield different results.

            Wasn't it Einstein that had something to say about that?

            --
            No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
            • (Score: 2) by Tork on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:34AM

              by Tork (3914) on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:34AM (#35375)
              It's a long-term experiment that had setbacks in digital data recording. We're not at the extreme point, yet, so extreme what-ifs don't apply yet. We're still learning, despite internet-borne cynicism.
              --
              Slashdolt Logic: "24 year old jokes about sharks and lasers are +5, Funny." 💩
              • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:23PM

                by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:23PM (#35709) Journal

                So it has become an experiment in digital data recording?

                Odd, because nothing of the sort was even imagined when the experiment started, since no digital devices existed.

                Goalpost shifting is just another example of an unreasonable emotional attachment.

                --
                No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
                • (Score: 2) by Tork on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:39PM

                  by Tork (3914) on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:39PM (#35719)
                  "So it has become an experiment in digital data recording?"

                  I said we're still learning. Learning how to properly capture the data is also something of value we are getting from this experiment. Since only one drop was captured as a video....

                  "Goalpost shifting is just another example of an unreasonable emotional attachment."

                  So... what, I'm a Pitch Drop fanboy? Riiight, nice rebuttal. Anywaaaaaaaaaay data collection is the key to achieving anything with science. There's value in capturing more drops, there's value in improving the reliability of the data capture. "But it's run for decades, I'm bored!" is not an actual reason to shut it down, though it has proved entertaining in light of your recent post.
                  --
                  Slashdolt Logic: "24 year old jokes about sharks and lasers are +5, Funny." 💩
    • (Score: 2) by clone141166 on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:18AM

      by clone141166 (59) on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:18AM (#35371)

      I think it has transitioned from being an experiment into more of a historical, interactive museum exhibit. Seeing as the net cost of keeping it is basically zero, why stop? I don't think anyone is claiming that it's some scientific miracle, just that it's something of potential historical interest.

      We don't go throwing dinosaur bones into the tip just because everybody has seen a dinosaur skeleton before. It's a part of scientific history, albeit perhaps a slightly trivial one. Why not preserve it?

      [Sidenote: I actually have an engineering degree from Uni of Queensland and I never even knew this experiment existed until now!]

    • (Score: 2) by Yog-Yogguth on Wednesday April 30 2014, @03:07AM

      by Yog-Yogguth (1862) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday April 30 2014, @03:07AM (#37965) Journal

      I think it will stop when all the pitch has dropped :)

      --
      Bite harder Ouroboros, bite! tails.boum.org/ linux USB CD secure desktop IRC *crypt tor (not endorsements (XKeyScore))
  • (Score: 2) by bradley13 on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:47AM

    by bradley13 (3053) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:47AM (#35380) Homepage Journal

    The experiment actually does yield a tiny amount of useful data on the properties of pitch.

    More importantly, it's a fun experiment that adds a bit to the popularity of and general interest in science. Given the low cost, this is very worthwhile.

    --
    Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.
  • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Thursday April 24 2014, @07:22AM

    by aristarchus (2645) on Thursday April 24 2014, @07:22AM (#35384) Journal

    Can we do it with glass now? Please? I want to see glass drops! It may take a bit longer than the current experiment, but that is no reason not to try! And after that, any not crystalline plastic material, like gum, or snot!

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by wonkey_monkey on Thursday April 24 2014, @07:38AM

      by wonkey_monkey (279) on Thursday April 24 2014, @07:38AM (#35392) Homepage

      Can we do it with glass now?

      No [cmog.org], we [io9.com] can't [glassnotes.com]. That is a reason not to try.

      --
      systemd is Roko's Basilisk
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @09:24AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @09:24AM (#35426)

        wut? go to church, bro.. you can watch (look at) stained glass running like jello in the sun all day long. i think i missed the point(s) *goes back to start and does not collect 200 dollahs.*

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @09:54AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @09:54AM (#35434)

          OK, i went back and read all the articles. the counter-evidence posted is BOLLOCKS. totally one-sided and based on the views of a small group of "scientists". we're not talking about fossilized amber, that's a whole 'nother jar of worms, and on a timeframe of "well beyond the age of the universe" glass is likely to transmute into entirely different elements or at very least decompose. now from personal experience i've seen stainded glass windows in churches that have ran like candle wax and sagged onto the ledging well outside of the lead framing. I dunno why, maybe stained glass is softer, or maybe there was a fire at some point that superheated the windows, or maybe the nazis had a top secret anti-window faction that went around the globe with flame throwers and unsuccessfully tried to melt all the story-glass after they were done burning books, or may be it was due to blast jets from recent visitations by ancient aliens.. i dunno, but i'd buy any of those stories over my T-89 pocket calculator says NO. /endrant

        • (Score: 1) by evk on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:20PM

          by evk (597) on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:20PM (#35707)

          Yes, church would be right place for old myths.

  • (Score: 2) by JeanCroix on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:28PM

    by JeanCroix (573) on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:28PM (#35514)
    New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was unavailable for comment. [Context here. [bleacherreport.com]]
  • (Score: 1) by ObsessiveMathsFreak on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:48PM

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (3728) on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:48PM (#35564)

    The first recorded observation of a pitch drop was actually done in Trinity College Dublin [www.tcd.ie]. The experiment there was not as old, and long neglected. I also note that the drop occurred in the midst of a summer heat wave, but never mind.

  • (Score: 1) by Daiv on Thursday April 24 2014, @03:06PM

    by Daiv (3940) on Thursday April 24 2014, @03:06PM (#35580)

    Radiolab did a great story on this pitch drop experiment. http://www.radiolab.org/story/267124-speed/ [radiolab.org] Highly recommended everyone give it a listen, and then listen to all the episodes. http://www.radiolab.org/archive/ [radiolab.org] One of the best radio programs on right now, possibly ever in existence.