Australian Professor Thomas Parnell’s Pitch Drop Experiment has been occurring since 1927—just ever-so-slowly, and unseen by anyone. Cabinet reports that the professor wanted to illustrate to his class that even though some substances seem to be solid, they may actually be fluid, so he rigged up a glass container with a heated sample of pitch, a petroleum substance, and let the magic begin. Unfortunately, none of his students have been able to observe the lesson. It took eight years for the first drop to fall through the funnel-shaped container, and subsequent drips have taken between seven and 12 years to fall. Eight drops have fallen so far, and in 2000, “the viscosity of the pitch was finally calculated to be roughly one hundred billion times that of water.”
“The closest anyone has ever come was in April 1979 when Professor John Mainstone, who now maintains the experiment, came to work on a Sunday afternoon. He noted that the pitch drop was just about to touch down, but he did not have time to say and watch. On returning the following morning, Mainstone saw, much to his chagrin, that the drop had fallen. Even modern technology has been foiled in its attempt to capture direct evidence of the pitch’s clandestine maneuvers; a video camera placed to monitor the experiment happened to fail at the very moment the eighth drop fell.”
Image by AMagill, licensed under Creative Commons.