Pitch Drop Experiment – It takes time…

My friend had told me, jokingly, not to hold my breath and I didn’t. Looking at the Pitch Drop experiment in Trinity College recently all I could do was laugh, for if I was to see the drop drip I would have to wait about ten years. Holding my breath was out of the question, but the experiment, quirky as it is, did certainly hold my attention.

Trinity College

Trinity College

The Pitch Drop experiment was setup in October 1944 by a colleague of Nobel laureate Sir Ernest Walton, and remained unmonitored for decades on a shelf in a lecture hall where it gathered dust. The experiment was to measure the viscosity (thickness) of pitch, and when in 2013 scientists noticed that a drop had formed the glass jar in which the experiment was housed was moved and a webcam setup to record the ‘drop’. And it came to pass that on 11th July 2013 at 5pm the first ever ‘drop’ was recorded. Based on analysis of the experiment the scientists in Trinity College estimated the viscosity of the pitch to be about two million times that of honey, and about twenty billion times the viscosity of water.

THE experiment

THE experiment

A similar experiment was setup in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell in the University of Queensland (Brisbane) and this is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest, continuously running laboratory experiment. And in 2006 Parnell and current Professor, John Mainstone, were awarded the Ig Noble Prize in Physics for the experiment!

After waiting for a black drop that never came my friend and I went to a well-known, local hostelry where the black drops, thankfully, dropped much more quickly. Slainte.

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