The slow pitch of excitement

Robin McKie, in The Observer, chronicles the slowly, slowly, slowly mounting excitement about the Ig Nobel Prize-winning [physics prize, 2005] Australian pitch-drop experiment:

mainstoneIn terms of output, Queensland University’s pitch drop study – the world’s oldest laboratory experiment – has been stunningly low. Only eight drops have emerged from the lump of pitch installed in the university’s physics building foyer in 1927. Watching paint dry looks exhilarating by comparison.

But excitement is now rising over the experiment, which was set up to calculate the viscosity of the world’s stickiest substance, pitch, which has been found to be at least 230 billion times more viscous than water. According to Professor John Mainstone [pictured here], who has run the experiment since the 1960s, a ninth drop looks set to emerge from the pitch block in the very near future.

“No one has actually seen a drop emerge, so it is getting quite nervy round here,” said Mainstone. “The other eight drops happened while people had their backs turned….

(Thanks to investigator DK for bringing this report to our attention.)

You can and perhaps should watch the live webcam video of the experiment.

BONUS: A minor philosophy question to ponder: If one can hear a pin drop, can one hear a pitch drop?