70 Year Old Experiment Proves Pitch Is Viscous

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70 Year Old Experiment Proves Pitch Is Viscous

Pitch drop experiment

After seven decades of waiting, scientists at Trinity College have photographic evidence proving that pitch is not a solid.

In 1944, Nobel Prize winner Ernest Walton and colleagues at Trinity College set up a seemingly simple scientific test. The researchers wanted to determine, once and for all, what sort of material pitch actually is. While increasingly uncommon in modern life, back in the '40s pitch was a facet of everyday existence, but the thick black substance had always straddled a confusing line between solid and liquid. It looks solid, and will remain in place if you attempt to move it, but at the same time it's deformable and won't support weight.

Noticing these myriad properties, Walton's team placed lumps of pitch into a funnel, then placed the funnel in a jar, before sealing the whole thing off. The idea here is that over time the pitch would have to conform to one set of physical rules or another. If it remained in the funnel it could be described as a particularly squishy solid, but if it flowed out the bottom of the apparatus scientists would know that pitch is viscous.

Over the years a few small drops of pitch fell from the funnel, but since no one was monitoring the experiment around the clock, these tiny drops of black goo weren't enough proof. Thus, when researchers recently noticed a new drop forming at the bottom of the funnel, they set up a 24-hour webcam to document the process, and finally prove once and for all that pitch can flow (but that it does so extremely slowly).

One week ago, the Trinity College team revealed that it had captured imagery of the pitch drop falling from the funnel. Normally this is where we'd direct you to said imagery, but unfortunately Ireland's RTÉ news network offers poor embedding options. You can watch a news report which includes the last moments of the experiment if you visit the network's official site.

What practical applications does this discovery yield? Not many. This was one of those tests science periodically runs simply to determine why and how things work. Pitch isn't even that common these days, whereas it served as the go-to waterproofing element in the first-half of the 20th century. Propers to science for documenting proof of the goo's viscous qualities though. Now DARPA can get to work on weaponizing the stuff.

Source: RTÉ

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Pitch was used for water-proofing? Isn't that also the stuff that you set on fire and drop on people in Stronghold games?

kajinking:
Pitch was used for water-proofing? Isn't that also the stuff that you set on fire and drop on people in Stronghold games?

Yes, centuries ago that was a thing people used pitch for. When ignited it acts somewhat like napalm, only napalm tends to be a bit more viscous.

What is pitch? What is it made of? I've never heard of it.

AC10:
What is pitch? What is it made of? I've never heard of it.

It's like tar, but not.

kajinking:
Pitch was used for water-proofing? Isn't that also the stuff that you set on fire and drop on people in Stronghold games?

Yep, it was used in ship building to waterproof wooden sailing vessels.

Including warships.

There's a reason pre-metal hulled war vessels tended to burn to the water.

AC10:
What is pitch? What is it made of? I've never heard of it.

Wikipedia says: "Pitch is a name for any of a number of viscoelastic, solid polymers. Pitch can be made from petroleum products or plants. Petroleum-derived pitch is also called bitumen or asphalt. Pitch produced from plants is also known as resin. Some products made from plant resin are also known as rosin."

Think: tar, but more solid.

Only for science! can you close the barn door after the horse has bolted and still call it success.

image

I watched the video on the RTE and have to express extreme approval of the SCIENtist they interviewed and the lecture hall shown. I miss studying SCIENCE.

Cool.

Now, they should try it on glass, just to prove that one once and for all too.

lacktheknack:
Cool.

Now, they should try it on glass, just to prove that one once and for all too.

It's a solid: http://www.cmog.org/article/does-glass-flow
http://www.phys.ncku.edu.tw/mirrors/physicsfaq/General/Glass/glass.html

I mean... it does... things. But it's more solid then the lead that holds it in a stained glass window.

but unfortunately Ireland's RTÉ news network offers poor embedding options. You can watch a news report which includes the last moments of the experiment if you visit the network's official site.

Godammit RTE, can't you do anything right?!

Such a horrible state broadcaster.......

Okay, but what about Yaw and roll?

Earnest Cavalli:

Wikipedia says: "Pitch is a name for any of a number of viscoelastic, solid polymers. Pitch can be made from petroleum products or plants. Petroleum-derived pitch is also called bitumen or asphalt. Pitch produced from plants is also known as resin. Some products made from plant resin are also known as rosin."

*viscoelastic, liquid polymers.

Someone should get the Wikipedia updated. ;)

Good on them. And considering it just sat there for decades, I think we can safely assume they didn't have to invest a lot to answer this question. Besides time, of course.

Skeleon:
Good on them. And considering it just sat there for decades, I think we can safely assume they didn't have to invest a lot to answer this question. Besides time, of course.

Well, taking 1944 prices for a funnel, a beaker, supporting apparatus and a lump of pitch and adjusting for 70 years of inflation, the entire experiment cost an estimated equivalent of $16.7 billion USD.

Seriously though, I do wonder if there was some sort of long-term grant or research trust set up for this project given its exceptionally long duration. It'd be a good model for any future long-term projects because, generally, humans aren't very good with anything that lasts more than 5 years.

MinionJoe:

Skeleon:
Good on them. And considering it just sat there for decades, I think we can safely assume they didn't have to invest a lot to answer this question. Besides time, of course.

Well, taking 1944 prices for a funnel, a beaker, supporting apparatus and a lump of pitch and adjusting for 70 years of inflation, the entire experiment cost an estimated equivalent of $16.7 billion USD.

Seriously though, I do wonder if there was some sort of long-term grant or research trust set up for this project given its exceptionally long duration. It'd be a good model for any future long-term projects because, generally, humans aren't very good with anything that lasts more than 5 years.

It probably cost like 10$ in total, mostly because you could just get interns watching the thing.

1337mokro:

It probably cost like 10$ in total, mostly because you could just get interns watching the thing.

Undergrads, but yes. :)

Having worked for a research professor and his group, I can tell you that that $10 still has to come from somewhere and someone has to fund the experiment in order for it to be paid. Because that money certainly isn't coming out of the PI's pocket! And that's not including the wages and benefits of the support staff and campus accounting department needed to keep the project running.

I can only shudder to think of how many account numbers and fund codes a seventy year experiment would go through in due course.

(Captcha: black gold

Very amusing, Captcha. Good show!)

I thought we already weaponized pitch? With fire, and catapults, and possibly drunken sailors? And I'm really glad someone noticed the apparatus that has been sitting in the lab for 70 years. What, was it in the back of a closet? Behind the safety equipment? In that weird box marked "misc" in every lab, under the counter in the cabinet you never open?

Oh, who am I kidding, this was probably just sitting on a counter somewhere, and nobody bothered to move it elsewhere.

Wait, 70 years ago the set up an experiment and then left it? I'm just trying to wrap my head round this.

Did people say "hey, whats in there?" at any point or was it answered with "probably nothing, nobody goes in there"? Then when budget cuts forced them to try and make the most of what they got, so they read the notes and then carried out the experiment when they saw another drop?

Or maybe a guy (probably the only original team member) poked his head in every day to check up on it, although after 5 years you would give up on that one ... wouldn't you?

For a long time I honestly thought this was a news story about music :/

I think that was a better world.

Do these results mean they're no longer just viscous rumours?

DVS BSTrD:
Okay, but what about Yaw and role?

This almost made me chuckle, but the misspelling of roll stopped the laugh.

Personally, this is why I love science. I'm curious to see what cool thing they'll start doing now only to figure out what it means in 2083.

FoolKiller:

DVS BSTrD:
Okay, but what about Yaw and role?

This almost made me chuckle, but the misspelling of roll stopped the laugh.

Personally, this is why I love science. I'm curious to see what cool thing they'll start doing now only to figure out what it means in 2083.

Is it better now?

That's pretty fascinating, actually. One thing I'm a little confused on is how it didn't dry out in all that time.

I thought something being liquid or solid depended on the temperature. (with a few exceptions)

Stormtyrant:
For a long time I honestly thought this was a news story about music :/

Same here, I've never even heard of pitch before until now. You learn something new every day I suppose.

Did you know a gram of DNA contains as much information as roughly 1 trillion CDs?

An Ceannaire:

but unfortunately Ireland's RTÉ news network offers poor embedding options. You can watch a news report which includes the last moments of the experiment if you visit the network's official site.

Godammit RTE, can't you do anything right?!

Such a horrible state broadcaster.......

Yeah, not letting people copy and paste work that you spent money producing is wrong :D, but it's nice that they let you use rte player tho.

Wait, what? Seriously? A pitch drop experiment (which, if you'll read the link up in the original post you can verify) has been running in Queensland since the 1920s, they'd proven long before this drop that pitch is a liquid. What this report is saying is only that someone caught the drop on camera, and even then in a hideously misleading way.

The article is poorly headlined in the extreme. Either link to the initial pitch drop experiment ( Link here.) which proved in 1984 that pitch was viscous (which, by now, would be 86 years in the making), or change the headline to state that this is the first time that pitch has been observed dripping. What's up there now is just straight up wrong.

EDIT: Science away!

Anoni Mus:
I thought something being liquid or solid depended on the temperature. (with a few exceptions)

It does. And it turns out pitch, at room temperature, is a liquid. Just a really viscous liquid. So viscous that it can be shattered. So people got confused because it flows reeeeeaaaaaalllllll sssssssllllllloooooowwwwww.
Each and every liquid has a viscosity, which is a fancy way of saying how well it pours. there are several factors that go into viscosity - molecule size, polarity of molecules, cohesion between molecules in the substance, that sort of thing. It's why glycerin (a liquid) pours faster than water (another liquid) pours faster than honey (yet another liquid) pours faster than pitch (so thick and goopy it's often mistaken for solid).

Hope it was worth the wait, science.

Why did we need to know this, science?

UltraPic:
tho"

GRAMMAR NAZI BOT PROGRAMMING AWAKENED

SCANNING FORUM POST FOR ERRORS

ERRORS FOUND

PRESS <y> OR <n> TO CONTINUE

Could not find results for "tho".
Did you mean one of the following?
1. Though
2. Thought
3. Although

For more suggestions, look inside a dictionary and/or thesaurus.

Woah! Was I being controlled by the (SGN) Space Grammar Nazis? I hope that does not happen again.

AC10:
What is pitch? What is it made of? I've never heard of it.

I direct you to Wikipedia, Good Gamer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitch_%28resin%29

MinionJoe:

1337mokro:

It probably cost like 10$ in total, mostly because you could just get interns watching the thing.

Undergrads, but yes. :)

Having worked for a research professor and his group, I can tell you that that $10 still has to come from somewhere and someone has to fund the experiment in order for it to be paid. Because that money certainly isn't coming out of the PI's pocket! And that's not including the wages and benefits of the support staff and campus accounting department needed to keep the project running.

I can only shudder to think of how many account numbers and fund codes a seventy year experiment would go through in due course.

(Captcha: black gold

Very amusing, Captcha. Good show!)

Intern is the universal term for the people that get to do the crappy jobs so their superior will like them enough to promote them.

Also that 10$ came from between the couch cushions. Of course the collection period was stretched out over those 70 years as well.

why this had to be proven? didnt we already knew? then again maybe 70 years ago we didnt.

Kaiser6012:

The article is poorly headlined in the extreme. Either link to the initial pitch drop experiment ( Link here.) which proved in 1984 that pitch was viscous (which, by now, would be 86 years in the making), or change the headline to state that this is the first time that pitch has been observed dripping. What's up there now is just straight up wrong.

actually that link you gave has a picture of a drop falling in 1979.

OlasDAlmighty:

Stormtyrant:
For a long time I honestly thought this was a news story about music :/

Same here, I've never even heard of pitch before until now. You learn something new every day I suppose.

Did you know a gram of DNA contains as much information as roughly 1 trillion CDs?

DNA is crazy stuff.

I've heard of pitch, but only very rarely and usually in some sort of fantasy setting. I'll chalk it up to being an American thing.

I recall hearing about something similar in Australia years back.

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