Feeds

One of the world's oldest experiments crawls towards a fall

Fever pitch excitement at planet's most boring webcam

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Grab a coffee, fire up the browser, open the webcam, and wait: sometime soon – perhaps within days – a drop of pitch will fall, and for the first time, the event might actually have spectators.

One of the world's longest continuous scientific experiments, at the University of Queensland , lives under a bell jar in a university foyer. Back in 1927, the university's first professor of physics, Thomas Parnell, poured molten pitch into a glass funnel, sealed it up for three years to settle, and cut the bottom of the funnel to allow the pitch to form droplets.

The point of the experiment (if something so deeply geekish actually needs a point) was merely as a demonstration that pitch, which looks and shatters like a solid, is actually a very, very viscous liquid.

As a demonstration, the pitch hasn't been kept in a controlled environment, but over the years, enough drops have fallen to allow an estimate of the viscosity of pitch – around 100 billion times that of water.

Since the funnel was opened in 1930, eight drops have formed and fallen – and in spite of the researchers' best hopes, the event has never happened when anyone was looking. The current custodian of the experiment since the 1960s, honorary professor John Mainstone, set up a Webcam to capture the last drop to fall in 2000, but it broke down.

Pitch drop experiment

Marathon science ... The University of Queensland's pitch drop

Which means the now-keenly-anticipated drop-fall is the first chance in 13 years for the event to be observed – and this time, professor Mainstone has more than one camera helping keep watch, because at 78, he's not confident that he'll get many more chances to see it happen.

smashed pitch

Pitch: it's the way it shatters that matters - but it's also a slow-moving liquid

Source: The University of Queensland

The live camera is on this page, which also has a time-lapse showing how much the pitch moves in a year (not very much). ®

Bootnote

Rothamsted Research claims its biology experiments, which have been conducted "continuously for over 150 years" in England's Hertfordshire, are the longest running in the world.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
White LED lies: It's great, but Nobel physics prize-winning great?
How artificial lighting could offer an artificial promise
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.