After 13 years, progress in pitch-drop experiment (w/ video)

Apr 17, 2014 by Andrew White
After 13 years, progress in pitch-drop experiment
Three webcams were trained on the experiment 24/7.

(Phys.org) —As Cyclone Ita hit northern Australia last weekend, a much slower collision occurred in the world's longest-running lab project, The University of Queensland's Pitch Drop Experiment.

After a wait of more than 13 years, the ninth drop of pitch collided ever so slowly with the eighth drop in the bottom of the beaker.

The experiment was set up in 1927 to demonstrate that solid materials—pitch shatters if hit with a hammer—can flow like liquids.

Pitch Drop custodian Professor Andrew White said seven drops had fallen between 1930, when the experiment began, and 1988, at an average of one drop every eight years.

"Two things changed after that – the 2000 (eighth) and 2014 (ninth) drop each took about 13 years to fall, and each collided into the decades-old pile of drops in the beaker before it could break away from the funnel," he said.

The eighth drop ran into the seventh drop in 2000, but took almost 14 years to tip over.

"It was still connected to the ninth drop but almost broke free this year.

"The connection had become thin, stressed and light grey – but now that the ninth drop has run into it the whole cycle starts again," Professor White said.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Two-year time lapse of the pitch drop experiment.

The stealthy collision is the latest trick by this evasive lump of tar. Until now, no-one has ever seen a drop fall.

The former custodian of the experiment, the late Professor John Mainstone, missed observing the drops fall on three occasions – by a day in 1977, by only five minutes in 1988 when it was on display at the World Expo in Brisbane, and in 2000 when a webcam that was recording it missed the crucial moment when the drop fell during a 20-minute power outage.

The experiment was subsequently put under constant surveillance, with three webcams trained on it to capture the ninth drop's fall.

Nearly 25,000 viewers from 158 countries have registered to keep an eye on the ninth drop through the live web stream at www.theninthwatch.com .

Those who were watching when it collided will have their names recorded for posterity.

"To determine the actual moment, we're going to analyse the video to see if and when the pitch motion slowed down, and hopefully we can let people know soon," Professor White said.

"We look forward to observing what will happen next with the ninth drop.

"It may tip over quickly or it might slow right down and take years to break away from the imminent tenth ," he said.

Explore further: Measuring speed in flying inkjet drops

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Measuring speed in flying inkjet drops

Mar 13, 2014

Physicists from the FOM workgroup Physics of Fluids (MESA+) at the University of Twente and from Océ-Technologies have developed a method to measure detailed speed data in flying inkjet drops. Their research ...

Exotic shapes for liquid drops have many applications

Dec 03, 2013

(Phys.org) —Oil and water don't mix, as any chemist or cook knows. Tom Russell, a polymer scientist from the University of Massachusetts who now holds a Visiting Faculty appointment with Berkeley Lab's ...

Poll finds drop in uninsured rate

Jan 23, 2014

A closely watched survey says the nation's uninsured rate dropped modestly this month as the major coverage expansion under President Barack Obama's health care law got underway.

Recommended for you

Cooling with molecules

16 hours ago

An international team of scientists have become the first ever researchers to successfully reach temperatures below minus 272.15 degrees Celsius – only just above absolute zero – using magnetic molecules. ...

A 'Star Wars' laser bullet

17 hours ago

Action-packed science-fiction movies often feature colourful laser bolts. But what would a real laser missile look like during flight, if we could only make it out? How would it illuminate its surroundings? ...

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Apr 17, 2014
Nearly 25,000 viewers from 158 countries have registered to keep an eye on the ninth drop

Damn...must be rejects from the "watching paint dry appreciaters" association" for being too boring.

While a neat historical experiment I think it can be qualified as a success and discontinued.
drel
5 / 5 (2) Apr 17, 2014
That boy, I say that boy is as slow as a pitch drop!
Doug_Huffman
3 / 5 (2) Apr 17, 2014
Foghorn J. Leghorn:
That boy, I say that boy is as slow as a pitch drop!
"That's a joke, ah say, that's a joke, son."

Continuation of the pitch-drop experiment is a good exercise in the search for The Black Swan that confounds inductive inference from too limited finite data point premises.
Noumenon
3 / 5 (4) Apr 17, 2014
The former custodian of the experiment, the late Professor John Mainstone, missed observing the drops fall on three occasions


Fired for failing at the most cushy job in the world.
julianpenrod
3 / 5 (4) Apr 17, 2014
The experiment has become contaminated. The purpose is to see how the cohesive forces of the pitch shape it and control its tendency to break away from the parent. When a drop forms freely, it is control by its weight, surface tension and so on. But, then it is allowed to "collide with" another mass, which, in this case, means to settle on that mass while still attached to the parent mass, it is essentially supported slightly by the mass beneath it. It no longer experiences so much force to cause it to separate and fall. And it is the unsupported separation that constitutes a "fall". This may be why the last two drops took almost twice as long to become detached as the previous ones. To restore the validity of this project, it seems they should remove the matter from underneath the apparatus so each drop falls freely.
mzso
not rated yet Apr 18, 2014
There was another old pitch drop experiment that was successfully recorded last year I think.
Lex Talonis
not rated yet Apr 19, 2014
I am kind of surprised that the idiots running this shit hole of an experiment, are not using a TALLER stand.....

One would expect that the "drop" would actually break from the funnel, and fly vertically downwards for some distance, before landing in the pot below.

To be honest - most of these numb skulls are not THAT smart.

And to speed it up a little, just warm it up a little..........

kelman66
not rated yet Apr 19, 2014
@julianpenrod
True, but there is still science in that outcome.
Super cool experiment.
kelman66
not rated yet Apr 19, 2014
There was another old pitch drop experiment that was successfully recorded last year I think.

This experiment is the original one. The other experiment you reference is younger and set up a bit differently and wasn't spawned of the same pure educational inspiration like this original experiment was in 1930 (in fact that experiment was inspired by this one.) Many people have come and gone from this world while this little (smaller than it looks) block of pitch slowly drips away unconcerned about the time it takes to get there. They planned to switch out the beaker after this one broke away (its been there for 80+ years!)
Lex Talonis
not rated yet Apr 20, 2014
Oh fuck no - how gnoble...

"It's been there for 80 years......."

Better tippy toe past lest the wroth of Zeus be upon you.

Wayyyyyyyyy tallerfy the jar by putting a glass cylinder under it, about 2 or 3 meters high, and then stick all the pitch back in to the funnel and warm it all up to 1 drop per day temperature, recreating the whole 80 years of bullshit in one week and then drop the temperature back down again.

Next.

Eikka
not rated yet Apr 20, 2014
While a neat historical experiment I think it can be qualified as a success and discontinued.


Would you also like to take a couple photographs of the 100 year lightbulb before we shut it down and toss it?
Mr_Ed
5 / 5 (1) Apr 20, 2014
But the hundred year lightbulb is a happenstance that they're having fun promoting. While this drop experiment is way past due and is no longer operating as to it's original intent. Unless the new experiment is to see how long an experiment can continue to be called an experiment.
Looks to me to be a semifunctional museum piece.
Like, really, maybe this experiment should just be pitched!
Eikka
not rated yet Apr 21, 2014
But the hundred year lightbulb is a happenstance that they're having fun promoting.


Exactly.

So is this. It's a curiosity and attraction piece for the university. It has the same value as the world's biggest ball of yarn.

And it's always usable as a teaching tool to prove a point. It's one thing to say that solids flow, and another thing to show an actual flowing solid that's been doing it for 80 years.