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Oldest pitch-drop experiment

Scientists watch the glacial flow of the substance

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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.

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