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January 27, 2012

It's a record (4)

FYI: How Long-Running Is the Longest-Running Lab Experiment?

Eighty-five years so far. The pitch-drop experiment—really more of a demonstration—began in 1927 when Thomas Parnell, a physics professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, set out to show his students that tar pitch, a derivative of coal so brittle that it can be smashed to pieces with a hammer, is in fact a highly viscous fluid. It flows at room temperature, albeit extremely slowly. Parnell melted the pitch, poured it into a glass funnel, let it cool (for three years), hung the funnel over a beaker, and waited.

Eight years later, a dollop of the pitch fell from the funnel’s stem. Nine years after that, another long black glob broke into the beaker. Parnell recorded the second drop but did not live to see the third, in 1954. By then, his experiment had been squirreled away in a dusty corner of the physics department.

Posted by joke du jour at January 27, 2012 06:01 PM

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