A slow, sticky drop in time proves there are no happy endings


A slow, sticky drop in time proves there are no happy endings

The world's longest-running continuous science experiment reminds us that speed isn't everything in life

We think a lot about speed these days, as though becoming more fully and perfectly human means processing and operating in ever-shorter periods of time. But the limits of the human immersion in time aren’t only measured in units of speed, but also in the almost ungraspable experience of slowness.

In 1927, Thomas Parnell, a professor at the University of Queensland, devised an experiment to demonstrate to his students the fun and wonder of viscosity. He filled a sealed glass funnel with heated bitumen and waited three years for it to cool. Students back then must have had more patience than students today.

The bitumen cooled to become a solid – basically, a funnel-shaped piece of road. Prof Parnell then mounted the funnel on a metal tripod, trimmed off the glass sealing from the bottom spout and called the freshman class of 1930 to gather around and watch...

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