Science

69-year scientific experiment ends with 'something no one's ever seen before'

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Ever watched paint dry? Sorry, you’re nothing but an amateur.

Last week one of the longest-running experiments in the history of the world ended when a drop fell. Originally set up in 1944, during the second World War, the experiment at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland was designed to test how long it would take for a drop of pitch to fall.

Turns out, it took 69 years to capture a drop in the process of falling — so long ago that no one remembers who actually set the experiment up in the first place.

“No one has ever seen a drop fall anywhere in the world,” Trinity’s Shane Bergin told New Scientist. “It’s one of the oldest experiments – an oddity, a curiosity.”

The experiment was designed to show that seemingly-solid room-temperature pitch, which shatters if hit with a hammer, is actually a very viscous liquid and will flow given enough time. There are multiple similar experiments around the world, but no one has ever managed to capture the moment before. Apparently a drop falls every decade or so but it always went unnoticed before Bergin set up a webcam to record and broadcast the droplet falling.

Trinity College scientists tracking the drop calculated the viscosity of the pitch as 2×107 Pa s, which is approximately two million times the viscosity of honey.

While old, this is by no means the oldest continuously-running scientific experiment in the world. A similar experiment at the University of Queensland has been running since 1927 and ranks as the longest-running experiment ever. According to Trinity College, eight drops have fallen in this experiment, but none have ever been witnessed.

Which makes one ask:

If a drop falls in a test tube and nobody sees it, does it really fall?