Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Most Exciting Video of Nothing Happening: Pitch Drop Experiment in 2013

The world's longest-running scientific experiment is about to drop into the headlines. For over 80 years, two physicists at the University of Queensland have been standing guard over the Pitch Drop Experiment. Now, the decade-awaited moment of truth is bearing down: a drop is about to fall.

Stare the drip down on the live web cam

The Pitch Drop Experiment at the University of Queensland and its current custodian, John Mainstone. This picture was taken in 1990, two years into the life of the eighth drop. / Image Source: John Mainstone 

In 1927, the first physics professor at the University of Queensland, Thomas Parnell, sought to demonstrate that some materials exhibit seemingly contradictory properties. Once used to seal the bottom of boats, tar pitch feels solid at room temperature and shatters like glass under a hammer blow. But, as Parnell has undeniably demonstrated, pitch is actually a very, very viscous fluid.

So one day, Parnell placed a block of tar pitch in a sealed funnel. Three years later, the pitch had settled into the bottom of the funnel and in 1930 the bottom of the funnel stem was cut.

The first drop fell in December, 1938.

It is something of an overstatement to say that the pitch has been dripping ever since. In 86 years, a total of eight drops have dripped, with about a decade between drop falls. Now, the ninth is about to drop...

Here is the link to the live video feed.

If you're lucky, you may see what no one has seen before—no one has ever seen the drop fall.

John Mainstone, a physics professor at the University of Queensland and the experiment's current custodian, missed the last two drops by pure bad luck. Awaiting the eighth drip from a business trip, Mainstone secured a video surveillance system to trail the elusive drop. Alas, the video feed failed precisely during the fall of the eighth pitch-drop. Listen to John Mainstone tell the story of the missed adventure on last week's Radio Lab.

17 comments:

  1. Sometimes man you jsut have to roll with it man.

    www.AnonWeb.da.bz

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  2. the results of this experiment could alter the way we live.

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  3. Damn you Reddit for making the feed inaccessible!

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  4. I've got a pizza on, should i wait...?

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  5. Nice to find on Reddit, I am in the next building to this and haven't walked past it for months now. I wouldn't mind seeing it drop, maybe I should walk past more often

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    1. I would walk in frot of the camer stomp you feet a little to help out.

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  6. You guys, your grammar is hurting the language centre of my brain...

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  7. Heat, it needs heat.

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  8. Where can you find out exactly when the drops happened? How close together are the drops?

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  9. If you zoom in on this pic, you can see the dates of the first 6: http://www.physics.uq.edu.au/physics_museum/pitch2.gif

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  10. This is fabulous - I just don't have time to sit and watch.

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  11. Wow, did you see it plop there?! Worth the wait!

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  12. isn't that exciting....

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  13. They say that it will drop at 13:15 but the don't know which day

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  14. WHO FINANCES THIS PROFOUND CONTRIBUTION TO THE UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS
    IS IT A GOV GRANT CAN I VOLUNTEER TO BE A MONITOR [WORK FOR THE DOLE EH!]

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  15. I note that the drip times are not uniform. There is interesting chaos science here, perhaps though the statistics are rather limited! Rob Shaw got this started at UCSC observing chaos in the timing of faucet drips thirty years ago. See Robert Shaw. "The Dripping Faucet as a Model Chaotic System, Aerial Press, 1984."

    BTW, I doubt that any agency is funding this... except for spare time by the keepers and a small amount of space by the University of Queensland. (And they have gotten back some PR for same too). It is in fact sad that, in the US particularly, practically nobody will fund long term studies of any sort... in the USA we focus on quarterly profits!

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