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Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - 11:00 PM

Professor John Mainstone, the late custodian of the Pitch Drop Experiment -- the world’s longest running laboratory experiment (University of Queensland)

In our Speed show, we met Professor John Mainstone, custodian of the Pitch Drop Experiment at the University of Queensland. Sadly, he died before ever getting to see his experiment's results -- he never caught a drop dripping. But earlier this year, the University of Queensland finally captured the big moment on camera.

Here's a timelapse of the previous drop (the ninth drop -- the one Professor Mainstone was hoping to catch) colliding with the other drops in the bottom of the beaker. It's not exactly the most spectacular finale... it's more of a gentle lean than a grand drop... but, there it is:

While this counts as the drop (and anyone logged into the live feed at that time had their name recorded as a witness to the big event), the University of Queensland admits: "the stealthy collision is the latest trick by this evasive lump of tar."

You can keep tabs on the evasive lump yourself -- the tenth drop is estimated to fall in the next 14 years or so -- here on the live feed:

If you're still here, take a few more seconds to watch this -- a much more satisfying plunge, and the first pitch drop caught on camera, recorded at Trinity College Dublin in July, 2013*:

Though Professor Mainstone missed seeing the pitch drop in his own experiment, he WAS able to watch video from the Dublin drop, which he found "tantalizing." No argument here.


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Comments [6]

Matt from Baltimore, Maryland

Interesting experiment, but I fail to see the practical purpose. Was this to test the viscosity of the pitch? Or is this just a physical novelty that I am overthinking?

Nov. 23 2016 02:45 PM

Pitch-drop is like a ploom in the magma.

Nov. 18 2015 09:36 AM
Upton C. Gatsby from Florida

Im so confused by all of this. Why is a drop of tar so spectacular? What scientific meaning does it present? I guess it is interesting in some degree because its so slow, and it really does suck that the one guy who cared the most about it died before even seeing it, but seriously what the heck? There must be some insane physics that this shows and its so amazing but im too stupid to understand it. Or its just tar. Guess ill never know.

Apr. 06 2015 08:57 PM
David Ford from Queensland Australia

Should have thought about size of beaker, is it time to raise the tripod?

Nov. 30 2014 11:20 PM
Jim K. Fetter from United States

Is this Pitch 'coal tar' or 'wood tar' you are speaking of, because 'wood tar' is what it sounds like, which is not the stuff they patch roads and roofs with to waterproof them.

Can you say 'wood pitch' three times fast?

Wood pitch,
Wood fitch,
Wood bitch.

Nov. 16 2014 01:24 PM
LLM from Chicago, IL

Cool Beans!

Nov. 15 2014 04:16 PM

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