A lecture about an experiment

Listen to the lecture about a science experiment to practise and improve your listening skills.

Instructions

Do the preparation task first. Then listen to the audio and do the exercises.

Transcript

In today's lecture we're going to be talking about experiments, and I thought it might be interesting for you all to learn about the world's oldest continuously running laboratory experiment that is still going today. In fact, it holds the Guinness World Record for being the longest-running experiment. This experiment began in 1927 and has been going ever since.

It's called the 'pitch drop' experiment and it was created by Professor Thomas Parnell at the University of Queensland, Australia. Parnell was the university's first physics professor, and he wanted to show in this experiment that everyday materials, such as pitch, can have quite surprising properties.

You see, when pitch is at room temperature, it feels solid. You can easily break it with a hammer. However, it isn't in fact solid. At room temperature, pitch is many billions of times more viscous than water, but it's actually fluid.

In 1927, Professor Parnell took a sample of pitch. He heated it and poured it into a glass funnel. He allowed the pitch to cool and settle – for three years. He then turned the funnel upside down and cut the top off it.

Since then, the pitch has slowly dropped out of the funnel. How slowly? Well, the first drop took eight years to fall. It took another forty years for another five drops to fall. Today it's been almost 90 years since the experiment started. Only nine drops have fallen from the funnel. The last drop fell in April 2014 and the next one is expected to fall in the 2020s.

The experiment has a tragic story associated with it. Professor Parnell died without seeing a pitch drop. His replacement, Professor John Mainstone, became responsible for the pitch drop experiment from 1961. He held the job for 52 years, and missed seeing the drop fall three times – by a day in 1977, by just five minutes in 1988 and finally in 2000, when the webcam that was recording the experiment suffered a power outage for 20 minutes, during which time the pitch dropped.

The pitch drop experiment is something we can all participate in now. There's a live web stream that allows anyone to watch the glass funnel and wait for the fateful moment. A similar experiment to the Queensland pitch drop was set up in Dublin, and the video of the moment the pitch actually dropped went viral on the internet. It's interesting to see how a very slow event can spread news so quickly.

Discussion

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Submitted by lean on Sun, 09/05/2021 - 18:24

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Thank you for the detailed answer :-)))

Submitted by lean on Sun, 09/05/2021 - 10:25

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I'm sorry, but for some unknown reason my comments are being erased. Am I asking off topic ? I am just interested, why in the first sentence of the preparation task isn't used "was" before "given" ? ("Pitch is the name given to a black substance ..." vs "Pitch is the name was given to a black substance..." Will it be incorrect If I use "was" ?

Submitted by lean on Sat, 08/05/2021 - 19:07

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Hello, Could explain to me, why in the preparation task, in the first sentence, you didn't use "was" ? (Pitch is the name given to a black substance..... Pitch is the name was given to a black substance .....) Thanks a lot for your feedback
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Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 09/05/2021 - 14:01

In reply to by lean

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Hello lean,

This is an example of a reduced relative clause. The full wording of this is 'Pitch is the name that is given to a black substance ...' We often remove the relative pronoun ('that') and auxiliary verb 'is') in speaking and writing. 

It is possible to say 'was given' instead of 'is given', but since people still use the word 'pitch' this way, the present simple makes more sense.

Don't worry, we haven't been deleting your comments. It's just that we check all comments before they are published, which means that it can take some hours for them to appear on the site, especially on the weekends when we don't check them quite as often.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Suraj paliwal on Wed, 21/04/2021 - 04:41

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I had study about Newton's experiment. He saw a apple falling from a tree then he asked himself why is a apple falling from tree. He invented gravity law.

Submitted by German on Tue, 20/04/2021 - 03:46

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I know the experiments done by Marie Curie and I think are wonderful. She and her hasband did many developments about radiactivity and found out two elements and they helped to development of the medicine advance en the fields like cancer treatment and radiology.

Submitted by Finn Pete on Fri, 12/03/2021 - 13:22

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I know one. Actually it is not as scientific as the pitch drop thing, but it has a deeper meaning to mass production and the quality of goods produced. Have you heard of the light bulb invented by Thomas Edison? Yes, the forefather of all obsolete lightbulbs that only last 1000 hrs. There is a centennial light still burning at Livermore Fire Station No 6 in California. And it was lit in 1901. This bulb however is not quite exactly, what Edison came up with, but the manufacturing was patented by a French engineer.

Submitted by cittàutopica on Thu, 25/02/2021 - 19:26

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Among the most famous scientific experiments I remember the one of Guglielmo Marconi. He wasn't a scientist with an academic curriculum vitae. but an inventor and an entrepreneur. Eighteen ninety-five Marconi fulfilled his famous experiment: the transmission of a signal at a distance via radio waves.

Submitted by Gabriel Rojas Esté on Tue, 16/02/2021 - 17:53

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I know about an experiment testing the broken windows theory. The testing was running by Philippe Zimbardo in 1969. He parked a car with no license plates and the hood up in the Bronx New York (a worker class neighborhood) and another one in Palo Alto California (a high class place). The Bronx’s car was completely vandalized in 24 hours. At the same time, the Palo Alto’s vehicle remained untouched after a week until Zimbardo himself broke a window with a hammer. Afterwards, the car was vandalized too. The conclusion: social apathy leads to a decrease in the sense of mutual regard and obligations of civility.

Submitted by marlio96 on Wed, 03/02/2021 - 23:58

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When I was coursing Physics at the university, I knew about the Focault Experiment, I was very surprised by this impressive experiment, this helped to demonstrate the rotation of earth many years ago.