back to article One of the world's oldest experiments crawls towards a fall

Grab a coffee, fire up the browser, open the webcam, and wait: sometime soon – perhaps within days – a drop of pitch will fall, and for the first time, the event might actually have spectators. One of the world's longest continuous scientific experiments, at the University of Queensland , lives under a bell jar in a university …

COMMENTS

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  1. nanchatte
    Thumb Up

    As boring as watching...

    Paint dry...

    grass grow...

    Jelly set...

    ... Have truly nothing on this!

    1. Rukario
      WTF?

      Re: As boring as watching...

      Those are all exciting and fast compared to watching pitch drip.

    2. An0n C0w4rd

      Re: As boring as watching...

      but it makes molasses look positively speedy in comparison. The Boston Molasses Disaster proved molasses isn't that slow at ~35 MPH.

      So much for "as slow as molasses"

      Maybe we need to start saying "as slow as pitch" instead?

      1. Crazy Operations Guy

        Re: As boring as watching...

        The Boston Molasses disaster happened with molten Molasses not your standard off-the-shelf variety. Glass or pitch (or anything for that matter) heated sufficiently could also travel at 35 mph...

  2. zemerick

    Glass is NOT a liquid like pitch is. This has been proven false a number of times.

    The old theory was that glass was thicker at the bottom because it was a semi-liquid, and gravity slowly pulled it down.

    However: More often than not, the thick part of old glass is not at the bottom. In many cases, it is even at the top. The glass is not thicker in some places due to it flowing, but rather because it was not formed on a perfectly flat table.

    1. MajorTom

      Citations please!

      1. wim

        quotations

        you know this thing called 'search engines' ?

        I think there is this small company froogle or something similar who has one lazing around.

        http://dwb.unl.edu/Teacher/NSF/C01/C01Links/www.ualberta.ca/~bderksen/florin.html

      2. Danny 4

        QI?

        Wasn't this myth debunked on that fount of all knowledge, QI?

      3. dshan
        Holmes

        For the Google impaired (actually I used DuckDuckGo, but anyway...):

        http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/Glass/glass.html

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Onus

        "The Earth is flat."

        "Proof! References!!"

        "Not my job, go google."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Pretty much this. Instances of ancient glass windows having glass panes thicker at the bottom is just because medieval boffins clever enough to build cathedrals in the 11th century were also clever enough to understand that putting heavy end up is just plain silly. No flow of glass has ever been observed.

      1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

        Not QUITE accurate. It flows under UV bombardment, just as water does. Just at a rate obscenely slow.

        As in flowing down to break the pane and begin to pool would be around the heat death of the universe.

        Upon which, nobody would give a damn about flowing glass.

    3. Black Betty
      Boffin

      Thick edge put at the bottom because it's more stable.

      Simple as that. If the thick edge was consistently placed towards the top, in a leaded pane, mechanical forces would encorage to the pane to peel out of the opening if the fixings were compromised.

      Less robust (even if only marginally) restraint is needed if the thick edges rests on thin, than with thin on thick.

    4. TeeCee Gold badge
      Happy

      Yup, the "glass is actually a liquid" one is up on the wobblypedia list of "common misconceptions".

      Probably the most useful wiki page to read and inwardly digest for future smugness points.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Gaps at the top

        If it really did flow then not only would the thickness tend toward the bottom, but there would be gaps at the top as well.

  3. mtp
    Holmes

    Glass is a solid - simple experiment

    A simple observation - if glass behaved as a viscous liquid then lenses that need to be shaped to 1/10th the wavelength of light would not last very long. I have some binoculars that are decades old and still work as well as when they were new so the glass cannot have flowed by any meaningful degree.

    1. zemerick

      Re: Glass is a solid - simple experiment

      @mtp: To add onto this, we can just look at the OP.

      In the pitch drop experiment, the pitch sits inside of a glass funnel, surrounded by a glass bell, and drops into a glass beaker. None of the glass has deformed, while the pitch has flowed enough to drop nearly 9 times now.

      Next, we can also add egyptian glass beads that have been found. These beads still have the center hole, and maintain their round shape. So, we can now say that even on a scale of over 3,000 years, glass does not appear to move at all.

      1. GBE

        Re: Glass is a solid - simple experiment

        There are obsidian (a naturally formed glass) arrow-heads 5K-10K years old that are still sharp enough to slice off a finger-tip if you're not careful handling them.

        Razor-sharp bits of 10,000 year old "liquid"...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Devil

      Re: Glass is a solid - simple experiment

      Decades old is not centuries old.

      And you have not had them tested have you, and almost no body, no where, has the testing gear to test them, have they.

      If Jesus can blast off into low earth orbit without rockets, then glass can be thicker at the bottom too.

  4. Denarius Silver badge
    Coat

    many cameras ?

    One hopes that a motion detector might be used to trigger a photo. However, if many eyes make bugs shallow, wont they slide under the bell jar and stand a 1 in 100,000,000,000 chance of being squashed ?

    I'll get my coat, it's the one with the feathers.

  5. FozzyBear
    Devil

    Hope he has more than one camera pointing at it. I can see Murphy's law rubbing his dirty little hands in anticipation of fucking up the camera or connection in some way just before it drops

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
      Flame

      Hope he has more than one camera pointing at it. I can see Murphy's law rubbing his dirty little hands in anticipation of fucking up the camera or connection in some way just before it drops

      RTFA !!!

      From the El Reg article:

      "...professor John Mainstone, set up a Webcam to capture the last drop to fall in 2000, but it broke down....this time, professor Mainstone has more than one camera helping keep watch..."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hope he has more than one camera pointing at it. I can see Murphy's law rubbing his dirty little hands in anticipation of fucking up the camera or connection in some way just before it drops

      "Updates have been installed. Please reboot to continue"

  6. grchauvet
    Stop

    Glass is not a liquid

    That glass is a very slowly flowing liquid is a popular misconception, probably fueled by observations of centuries old windows. In those days, glass makers were not good at making panes of glass that were consistently thick. When installing the glass, it made sense to place the thicker part at the bottom - hence the impression that the glass must have flowed towards the bottom of the pane over the space of the centuries.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Devil

      Re: Glass is not a liquid

      Many of them were very good at making glass.

      It was the time, and the technology, and the methods used.

      At the time, people were happy with it too...

      But thanks to massive industrialisation, high speed glass plants, and production lines, more or less flawless float glass is coming off the liquid tin filled tanks - which incidentally, "on the float" the liquid glass has the same curvature, as the earth.

      But glass does flow under gravity - based upon it's temperature.

      1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

        Re: Glass is not a liquid

        No, not temperature, but based upon EM field strength.

        Which is somewhat cumulative, once one knows the curve of energy input.

        Still, it's far longer than glacial in nature. Heat death of the universe kind of long.

      2. TeeCee Gold badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Glass is not a liquid

        But glass does flow under gravity - based upon it's temperature.

        So does steel, but nobody considers that a liquid which is the point under discussion.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Glass is not a liquid

          Or indeed the Earth's Mantle which is a solid so far as an earthquake is concerned, but loses heat through fluid convection.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Glass is not a liquid

      In those days, glass makers were not good at making panes of glass that were consistently thick.

      The standard way of making sheet glass (prior to the invention of modern float-glass plants) was to melt the stuff and pour it onto a flat surface. This gives a big, flattish puddle that is thicker in the middle. Glass taken from the edge was significantly more expensive that the thicker stuff in the middle, but all of it was tapered to some extent. The bit right in the centre with the "bullseye" in it from the pour was considered scrap and flogged off cheap to those who couldn't afford proper glass for their windows.

      All the more amusing that a bullseye pane is now seen as quaint and olde worlde.......and costs more than a flat bit...

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Glass is not a liquid

        'bullseye' glass is actuall produced when glass panes are manufactured in a different manner, through glass blowing. A 'bulb' is blown and enlarged before the end is cut and the bubble spun to form a large disc on the end of a rod. It is the centre of this disc, where the rod is attached that makes the 'bullseye', which generally has the form of a bulge with concentric ripples and a cenral raised 'bullseye' where the glass rod has been snapped off.

        Heating the glass enough to reduce the viscosity allow you to pour it onto a surface so that it would flatten before it cools would be prohibitively expensive, whereas spinning the cooler (albeit stil very hot) glass is a lot cheaper and easier.

        wikimuddle on the subject

  7. The Sod Particle

    ok, so glass isn't a fluid

    But if pitch is, why all the strange looks when I sing off key?

  8. Ketlan
    WTF?

    Too exciting

    I watched the pitch for a minute but decided the excitement was too much for me. This kind of thing is all very well for you youngsters who enjoy today's frenetic pace but us wrinklies need to watch our heart rates.

    Went and made a cup of tea instead.

    1. C 18
      Happy

      Re: Too exciting

      >Went and made a cup of tea instead.

      I bet you didn't watch the kettle while you did that...

      1. Kevin Johnston

        Re: Too exciting

        If you watch it, it doesn't boil

  9. Andrew Jones 2

    ...not even sure what I am supposed to be waiting for - a picture showing what it is I am waiting to see would be handy - I'm assuming that I'm waiting for the bulge at the bottom of the funnel to fall - but with what is already beneath the bulge it makes it difficult to tell :/

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    Shit. Shit. Shit... I remember missing it the last time......

    Damn it, damn it, fuck, fuck, fuck.....

    Shit, shit, shit.....

    13 years I have to wait for the NEXT drop to drop.....

    Don't fuck this up, this time, Orrite...

  11. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Ah, the memories....

    Thanks for making me feel old, commenters!

    The "glass: liquid or solid" brought back memories of my very first witnessed full-bore flame war. On Usenet's sci.physics. Late 80s, IIRC.

    That was when even trolls could use multi-syllabic words, with proper sentence structure. Before the Darkness came, before AOL...

    1. MrXavia
      Devil

      Re: Ah, the memories....

      Ahhhggg the evils of AOL,

      I still have nightmares about the time I had AOL.....

      1. SoaG

        Re: Ah, the memories....

        My cousin still uses AOL. Haven't talked to him in years.

  12. Neoc

    Ex UQer

    I was at UQ back when there was a "drop" in 1988. Unfortunately, this was due to the fact that Brisbane was hosting a World Expo at the time and the Power-That-Be(tm) decided it would be good to move the whole experiment from its resting place to display it at the Expo.

    Needless to say, being moved like that cause it to drop "prematurely". And no, no-one was around at the time either.

    <sigh>

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I knew things were slow in Queensland

    But this is ridiculous.

  14. Turtle

    Patience.

    "Since the funnel was opened in 1930, eight drops have formed and fallen – and in spite of the researchers' best hopes, the event has never happened when anyone was looking. The current custodian of the experiment since the 1960s, honorary professor John Mainstone, set up a Webcam to capture the last drop to fall in 2000, but it broke down."

    Honorary professor John Mainstone professes patience most of all!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Glacially moving pitch explains why the world hasn't been destroyed yet.

    Anybody know what the flow rate of brimstone is?

    1. C 18
      Joke

      Re: Glacially moving pitch explains why the world hasn't been destroyed yet.

      Is that laden or unladen?

  16. big_Jim
    Flame

    Some of my experiments as part of my doctorate where less exiting than this. After weeks of careful research and preparation, literary nothing would happen after I lit the blue touch paper and stood back. Writing the damn thing up was a whole lot of fun.

    I'm not in research anymore.

    1. Return To Sender
      Joke

      One can only hope that your doctorate was subject to better proof reading than your post! It may have been a literary nothing, but presumably you worked out where the exit was eventually?

      Muphry is real...

      1. big_Jim
        Facepalm

        Poor proof reading is probably why it took me 3 months of rewrites to pass....

  17. Ed_UK
    Boffin

    Save Time - Turn up the Heating!

    The viscosity of pitch varies with temperature, by a factor of e^(k/T)

    [where k is a constant and e is e].

    So, if applying a blowtorch is a bit too obvious, just turn up the heating thermostat.

    1. Matthew 3

      Re: Save Time - Turn up the Heating!

      Or just wait. Global warming will do the job eventually. I would add 'if you're patient' but in this instance that would be pretty much mandatory.

  18. hammarbtyp

    A long time but...

    It could be argued that the park grass experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_Grass_Experiment) running since 1856 is a longer running experiment.

    No webcam however to watch that grass grow

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A long time but...

      There are some field experiments at Rothamsted which go back to the 1840s.

      And of course Britain's ongoing experiment of the American colonies seems to be going nicely after more than 250 years. There is even some evidence you will soon be able to get a decent cup of tea on the other side of the Atlantic.

      1. hammarbtyp

        Re: A long time but...

        There is even some evidence you will soon be able to get a decent cup of tea on the other side of the Atlantic.

        If that ever happens America will be instantly replaced by something equally inexplicable.

        1. Isendel Steel
          Coat

          Re: A long time but...

          and some would say that it already has been....

      2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Re: A long time but...

        I've added a bootnote about the Rothamsted experiments.

        C.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Stop

          Re: A long time but...

          An electric bell has been ringing since 1840, and hasn't stopped.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Electric_Bell

          No-one knows what the battery is made of....

  19. BeerTokens

    Worlds Oldest Experiment?

    OK probably going to get flamed here, but I don't think this is the worlds oldest experiment. I remember watching something on the History channel years ago where a scientist set up two large glass tubes filled with a liquid mixture in a church lobby and left them to see how long it would take for them to separate. I have had a quick google but can't find anything on it. Also the church thing may be a red herring but it was an old building and in the UK.

    As far as I can remember it's still going.

    Anyone know anything about this?

    Let the debunking begin!

    1. Graham Marsden
      Unhappy

      Re: Worlds Oldest Experiment?

      Damnit, I know i've seen a programme featuring the experiment you mention, but I *cannot* find a reference for it!

      IIRC it's an experiment in the diffusion of liquids using two 10' long (or some such size) vertical tubes, I think the top one had copper sulphate in and the bottom one was water. The experiment is to see how long it will take before both tubes are an identlcal colour and it had been running since the 19th century.

      My recollection was that it was in a chemistry lab at Oxford or Cambridge but my google-fu has let me down :-(

      Anyone else remember this?

      1. BeerTokens
        Thumb Up

        Re: Worlds Oldest Experiment?

        Glad to know I'm not going insane, yet...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TSDW

    Too Slow, Didn't Watch

  21. Caesarius
    Thumb Up

    Flows at Cambridge

    1. There was an experiment set up on the mezzanine floor of Cambridge University Engineering Department which had pitch flowing down an inclined channel (gradient of about 1 in 3?). I saw it in the early eighties, and it had flowed a few inches. Does anyone know when it started?

    2. I heard reports that the Metallurgy Department at Cambridge had its entrance foyer redecorated, but the architect specified a lead mural, which began to flow. The dept. was quite annoyed to have this disaster attributed them. Or is this all just a myth?

  22. Tom 11

    AH-HA!

    So that's the secret ingredient in KFC gravy!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: AH-HA!

      Flour, water, beef stock, chicken stock, pepper?

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  25. DanceMan

    Asphalt

    I've thought of it as a very slow liquid since noticing that on a downhill slope before an intersection it forms ripples from heavy vehicles stopping. Wiki mentions it as a liquid or semi-liquid. It's made me consider time as a component of liquid vs. solid.

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