World’s longest lab experiment a lesson in persistence

No less than twice a week, Professor John Mainstone fields an inquiry from someone around the world about his pet project.

Provocatively, you could say that he has gained worldwide interest over an experiment that in some respects resembles watching grass grow.

But that would be selling the University of Queensland’s Pitch Drop Experiment very short.

The experiment, which features tar pitch slowly dripping through a funnel, began in 1930 as a way for the late Professor Thomas Parnell to prove the liquid nature of the material at room temperature.

Having dripped just nine drops in 81 years, it is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running experiment in the world.

Having won Professors Mainstone and Parnell a Ig Nobel Prize in 2005, it currently sits proudly in the lobby of the Physics Department, needing no special attention apart from being kept at room temperature — via

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