Big little news from Queensland, as reported by Celeste Biever and Lisa Grossman for New Scientist magazine:
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…. 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.
The Queensland experiment already features in the Guinness World Records and won an IgNobel prize in 2005. It was set up by physicist Thomas Parnell to illustrate that although pitch appears solid, shattering when hit with a hammer at room temperature, it is actually a very viscous liquid.
The eventual result follows several near misses, according to the University of Queensland. John Mainstone, who oversaw the experiment for more than 50 years until his death last August, missed observing the drops fall three times – by a day in 1977, by just five minutes in 1988 and, perhaps most annoying, in 2000, when the webcam that was recording it was hit by a 20-minute power outage….
The university issued an official announcement of the drop’s dropping. The experiment was begun by “the University of Queensland’s first physics professor, Thomas Parnell, in 1927.”
Three decades later, more or less, Professor John Mainstone took over from Professor Parnell. Professor Mainstone oversaw the experiment at the time the Ig Nobel Prize was awarded, and attended the ceremony at Harvard. Alas, he did not live to see the ninth drop drop.
Professor Andrew White, youthful, now oversees the experiment.
BONUS: The live webcam view of the experiment, which now is hurtling at extremely low speed towards the day or night when the tenth drop will drop.