WILD “PITCH” In 1927, a physics professor at the University of Queensland set out to “illustrate that everyday materials can exhibit quite surprising properties.” He chose a batch of tar, or “pitch,” to demonstrate this, pouring several dollops worth into a beaker with a sealed stem, turning it upside down and allowing it to solidify. Years later, the stem was cut and ever since, observers have tried to catch a glimpse of the hardened pitch slooooooooowly forming into drops and falling into a container below. Since 1927, the experiment has only produced
nine eight “pitch drops,” and no one but no one has ever seen the drops fall.
Enter professor John Mainstone, who took over as “custodian” of the Pitch Drop experiment in 1961 and had been observing it since. As it turned out, Mainstone tragically missed the pitch drop not once, not twice but three times during his tenure: in 1979, 1988 (when he needed to get “a cup of tea or something like that”) and in 2000, when a system of cameras meant to record the event malfunctioned.
Professor Mainstone died last week, having never seen the pitch drop.
It continues to be the longest-running lab test on record.
(Photo: AFP/Getty via the New York Post; story elements via the University of Queensland and the Post)