Oldest pitch-drop experiment | Science News

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Oldest pitch-drop experiment

Scientists watch the glacial flow of the substance

By
8:00am, October 22, 2013

Physicist John Mainstone (left), who died in August after overseeing the Queensland pitch experiment for 52 years, never saw a fall.

Grass grows quicker. Paint dries faster. Yet there’s something irresistible about watching the glacial flow of pitch.

And now a long-forgotten experiment with pitch has come to light, probably the oldest known of its kind. In a small display case at Aberystwyth University in Wales sits a glass funnel filled with a heap of ultra-viscous pitch, dated April 23, 1914. That’s 13 years older than a similar setup at the University of Queensland in Australia, which Guinness World Records lists as the longest continually running laboratory experiment.

The allure of pitch — a black tarlike hydro-carbon by-product of distilling petroleum, wood or coal — comes from its split personality: It shatters from a quick hit with a hammer, but flows if set aside for long periods. For more than a century physicists have showcased that contradictory behavior with the pitch-drop and other experiments, in which a seemingly solid mass of pitch

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