SYDNEY: The science professor who oversaw the world’s longest running laboratory test — the Pitch Drop Experiment — has died after more than half a century on its watch, his university said Monday.
John Mainstone, the former head of the Department of Physics at the
University of Queensland, was in charge of the experiment which demonstrated
the fluidity and viscosity of pitch, a tar derivative once used to waterproof boats.
The experiment, established in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell, was
designed to show that pitch, although it feels solid and can be shattered by a hammer blow at room temperature, acts like a fluid and flows through a glass funnel over time.
It took three years for the pitch to settle and then the glass funnel holding the substance was cut to allow it to flow out.
In the 83 years since then, only eight drops of pitch have fallen and no one has seen one actually fall, the university said.
Earlier this year Mainstone, who died last week aged 78 after suffering a stroke, said it looked like the next drop would fall before the end of 2013.