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A new, more rapid, yet unhasty look at pitch slowly dropping

Inspired, eventually, by the long, slow, continuing Australian pitch-drop experiment, a team in London has speeded things up considerably but — deliberately — not at all completely. They published a study about it:

Measurement of bitumen viscosity in a room-temperature drop experiment: student education, public outreach and modern science in one,” A.T. Widdicombe, P. Ravindrarajah, A Sapelkin, A.E. Phillips, D. Dunstan, M.T. Dove, V.V. Brazhkin and K. Trachenko [pictured here], Physics Education, vol. 49, 2014, 406. The authors, at  Queen Mary University of London, UK and the Institute for High Pressure Physics, RAS, Moscow, Russia, report:

“The slow flow of a viscous liquid is a thought-provoking experiment that challenges students, academics and the public to think about some fundamental questions in modern science. In the Queensland demonstration—the world’s longest-running experiment, which has earned the Ig Nobel prize—one drop of pitch takes about ten years to fall, leading to problems for actually observing the drops. Here, we describe our recent demonstration of slowly-flowing bitumen where appreciable flow is observed on the timescale of months. The experiment is free from dissipative heating effects and has the potential to improve the accuracy of measurement…. This demonstration… stimulates the discussion of fundamental concepts and hotly debated ideas in modern physics research: the difference between solids and liquids, the nature of the liquid–glass transition, the emergence of long timescales in a physical process and the conflict between human intuition and physical reality.

Here’s a look back, by New Scientist magazine, at recent doings in the original, still-ongoing Australian pitch-drop experiment:

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