Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The pitch drop experiment - world's longest experiment of any kind, and which could continue for another hundred years

Begun in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell, this experiment was meant to reveal the surprising properties of an everyday material: pitch. Pitch is the name of a number of hard tar-like substances and in this case bitumen was used. Though at room temperature pitch appears to be a solid and can be shattered by a hammer, it is in fact a very high-viscosity liquid, and Professor Parnell wanted to prove it.

He even looks like a professor!

Just getting ready to perform the experiment took years. First the Professor heated a sample of pitch and poured it into a sealed funnel. Then, he waited. For three years Parnell let the pitch settle in the funnel, until in 1930, when he felt the pitch was settled enough, he cut the bottom of the funnel, freeing the pitch to begin its mind-bogglingly slow downward escape.

Parnell died in 1948, but the pitch experiment kept on going without him. As of 2009, the pitch has dripped only eight times. 79 years after the experiment was begun, the ninth drop is only now forming. Pitch has now been calculated to be roughly 230 billion times more viscous than water.
Listed as the longest running lab experiment by Guinness World Records, the pitch experiment not only outlived its creator, but will likely outlive us all. It has been estimated that there is enough pitch to keep it dripping, ever so slowly, for another hundred years.


  1. There is a live feed webcam. Unfortunately you've missed the ninth drop which happened a couple years ago. Not to worry, if you'll go to the webcam you can watch the formation of the tenth drop which is anticipated to occur in about 14 years. Here's the link:

  2. Finally - something slower than the government.

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