Scientist Dies After 52 Years Spent Waiting for Drop

John Mainstone was 'custodian of world's longest-running science experiment'

By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 27, 2013 12:04 PM CDT | Updated Aug 31, 2013 6:28 PM CDT

(Newser) – Last month we wrote about the pitch-drop experiment, which is meant to demonstrate the concept that pitch (a tar derivative) is actually a high-viscosity substance, meaning it appears solid but is actually slowly flowing. An experiment to prove just that has been running in Brisbane since 1927—and now comes the news that the scientist who has headed the experiment since 1961 died last week without ever seeing it drop. He was 78. John Mainstone was actually responsible for resurrecting the experiment, which had "been relegated to some dusty cupboard" at the University of Queensland, reports Popular Science.

As the "custodian of the world's longest-running science experiment," drops did fall on his watch—eight have done so since its start—but Mainstone was never present for one. Two sad misses: Mainstone failed to capture a 2000 drop because the camera trained on it faltered; PhysOrg reports that he expected the ninth drop to fall this year. (You can monitor it here.) Though Mainstone retired in 1996, the Australian notes that he kept an office at the school and continued in his "custodian" role. He was awarded an Ig Nobel in 2005. (A similar experiment running in Dublin since 1944 finally captured a drop; see it here.)

Professor John Mainstone explains the Pitch Drop Experiment.   (tommyonholidays)
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