First Success Witnessed In World’s Longest-Running Experiment

None of these pitch drops have ever been seen dropping. Until now.

Here comes the pitch

In baseball, that phrase would quickly be followed by an outcome, like strike three! But in the world’s longest-running scientific experiment, waiting is the game. And so far, humans have struck out.

In 1927, scientists at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, heated up a bunch of pitch, a derivative of tar once used for waterproofing boats. After letting it settle for three years they opened the seal at the bottom of the funnel, and the great pitch drop experiment began, a demonstration that some things that appear solid, like pitch, are really just highly viscous fluids. And flow. Very slowly. Since 1930, eight drops of pitch have fallen, and not a single one has been witnessed by a human or a camera.

Until this week. Sort of. When it comes to the pitch drop experiment, there’s a lot of waiting, and continual letdowns. Kind of like being a baseball fan. But every now and then, something happens! Yesterday, the ninth drop of pitch touched another drop of pitch in the beaker beneath the funnel. It wasn’t exactly a drop, but close enough, right? Eh…

The scientists have been waiting for 13 years for this latest drop to touch the bottom, so it is a milestone in its own right. On average, drops fell once every eight years to 1988, but the eighth and ninth drops have each taken about 13 years (going into extra-innings?). Unfortunately for John Mainstone, the late professor who was the custodian of the experiment, the man never saw one drop in his lifetime, as explained by the University of Queensland:

Sounds like they’re really covering their bases. For the curious, you can watch the pitch drop experiment unfold yourself here. But I’ll warn you–the action is a little hit or miss.