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A lecture about an experiment

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Transcripts

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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Language level

Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

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.

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.

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.

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.

Yes I listened there was something like an psychological experiment called “Rhythm”. In summary, it was about a woman in a room who put different things on a table, from bread to a gun, then she invited some people to came in and closed the door. For many hours she just stand without make a noise and the more hours passed the more aggressive people became. Its a little creepy but its interesting.

It is a hard topic, if we had on the experiment, we couldn't image what happen. Fortunately, I had it when I was in elementary school. But I can't remember clearly because the school hadn't enough condition for us to practise full time. With a few hours were impressed my memories. Moreover, practise experiment are made everybody to understand long time and be aware of the theme.

My first experiment was the dissection of the frog. Catching a frog is a very difficult task somehow I managed to catch it. I took the frog in the laboratory, dissected from the middle. I observed that the internal organs and system of the frog is very similar to humans.

I never heard about that experiment when I was studing at different Uni in queensland state. On my opinion, first few years it looked like really intresting experiment but time goes by it is more be like a guinness world record than scientific experiment. Because Dr Parnell already got his result (pitch is liquid)and there is nothing to wait new result or changes anymore. Only interesting thing is it has going long time thats it.

I love experiment stories but unfortunately can't remember any of them.

I recalled an experiment about the human moral or psychology.
There was a crazy train losing control when you were in the driving room and you could decide which direction to turn the steering wheel.
Ouside the train, there were 5 people in the right track and 1 person in the left.
Which side will you choose to turn the steering wheel?

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