1927 was an interesting year. All sorts of things were happening. For example, work started on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo transatlantic non-stop flight from New York City to Paris, and Leon Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party allowing Josef Stalin to take control (that was not a good day, generally speaking).
Oh yes … one other thing … the world’s longest-continuously-running scientific experiment was kicked off, which means this little rascal has now been running for 85 years.
Thomas Parnell (1881 – 1948) was the first Professor of Physics at the University of Queensland. Professor Parnell wanted to demonstrate to students that some substances that appear to be solid are in fact very-high-viscosity fluids. In order to do this, he took some tar pitch – a type of tar that is so brittle you can shatter it with a hammer – heated it up, poured it into a funnel, and let it cool and solidify … for three years!
After that time he broke the seal at the bottom of the funnel and waited for the tar pitch to start dripping out. And drip it did, although (thus far) no one has actually observed a drop fall. The first drip occurred in 1938 – eight years after the bottom of the funnel was opened. This was followed by drips in 1947, 1954, 1962, 1970, 1979, 1988, and 2000.
Based on these results, experimenters now calculate that the pitch has a viscosity approximately 230 billion (2.3×1011
) times that of water. Furthermore, based on the current drip rate, it is anticipated that the experiment will continue for another 100 years or so before all of the pitch has exited the funnel. You can watch this ongoing experiment on webcam by Clicking Here
(the next drip could happen anytime).
And speaking of long-running “happenings”, have you heard about the renowned kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson who creates mechanical art demonstrations and Rube Goldberg machines with existential themes?
Some of Ganson’s extremely elaborate creations have only one very simple function, such as oiling themselves or causing a chair to bounce around a toy cat, while others do nothing at all, but in a visually fascinating manner. The one that really grabbed me when I saw it is the Machine with Concrete
as illustrated below.
This little beauty runs uninterrupted even though the final gear is embedded in concrete, and the gear reductions mean the final gear will make one revolution in roughly 2.3 trillion years.
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