Top 10 Longest Running Experiments

Scientists have been performing long term experiments for many years now. These are experiments that take a very long time to complete, sometimes longer than the lives of the scientists who start the experiment. Some of these experiments might seem silly at first look but they are very important for understanding how the universe works on time scales that we are not used to as humans. These longest running experiments highlight how fascinating science really is.

10. Long Term Evolution Experiment:

The long term evolution experiment is an attempt by Richard Lenski, an American Biologist to observe evolution which usually can’t be observed in one generation of human life. He achieved this by studying cultures of E. coli bacteria as their life span is very short. He started the experiment in 1988 and since then he has observed more than 50,000 generations of those original cultures. He has observed many mutations including a batch of E. coli bacteria that evolved to grow in citric acid.

Long Term Evolution Experiment

9. Monitoring Vesuvius:

The scientists of Vesuvius Observatory have been monitoring the activity of Mt. Vesuvius since 1841. By continuously observing and recording seismic activity and other data of the volcano the scientists hope to predict in advance when the sleeping volcano will erupt next. The observatory has been moved to Naples and now observes many volcanoes.

Monitoring Vesuvius

8. Old Rotation of Cotton:

Some of the longest running experiments are agricultural in nature. In Alabama, scientists of Auburn University have been conducting the “old rotation” experiment on a patch of soil since 1896. This experiment was the first to show that the rotation of legume crops and cotton helped in maintaining the soil fertility. Today the one acre patch of land is a historic place in itself.

Old Rotation of Cotton

7. As Slow As Possible:

A musical piece by John Cage, called As Slow As Possible, was written in 1987 for organ. John didn’t include the detail of how slow to play the piece. Since 2001 the St. Burchardi church in  Germany has been playing the musical piece as part of a performance that will last for 639 years, ending in 2640. A special organ was built for the performance. The performance started on September 5 2001 with a pause lasting until February 5 2003. The first chord was then played and lasted till July 5 2005. The next chord change is scheduled for October 5 2013.

As Slow As Possible

6. The William James Beal Germination Experiment:

William James Beal was an American Botanist who started a very long experiment in 1879. He filled 20 bottles with sand and seeds. Each bottle contains 50 seeds of 21 different species. The bottles were then buried upside down in the ground so that no water enters the bottles. The original plan was to dig up one bottle every 5 years and see how many of the seeds germinate after that. Slowly the time period was increased to a decade and then to two decades. The most recent bottle was dug up in 2000 and 2 of the 21 species germinated. The next bottle will be dug up in 2020 and the experiment will end in 2100.

The William James Beal Germination Experiment

5. Framingham Heart Study:

The Framingham Heart Study is an ongoing study on residents of the town of Framingham that started in 1948 with 5,209 adults. The study is now into the third generation of participants. The participants undergo a full medical exam every two years. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which conducts the study has come up with many insightful findings about heart disease with the help of this study.

Framingham Heart Study

4. Up Series:

The Up Series is an interesting experiment in which 14 children in England were taken to be part of a documentary series. The experiment started in 1964 with 14 seven year old children from different socio economic backgrounds. Every 7 years the participants who willingly want to participate are documented. Till now 8 episodes of the documentary have been recorded and released. It is listed as the greatest documentary ever which is still on going.

Up Series

3. Beverly Clock:

Arthur Beverly invented the Beverly clock that uses atmospheric pressure to run. The clock housed in the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand has been running since 1864 without ever being wound. It is a great piece of sustainable and efficient timekeeping device ever made. A commercial version is also available with the name of ‘Atmos Clock’.

Beverly Clock

2. Oxford Electric Bell:

An alarm clock has been continuously ringing since 1840 in Oxford University. The electric bell device is also known as Clarendon Dry Pile and constitutes of two dry pile voltaic cells of unknown composition. The two dry piles have a bell each and a clapper in between them that rings the bells. The bells are covered under a glass jar to reduce sound. The bells will eventually stop ringing when either the clapper wears out or the electrochemical energy gets exhausted.

Oxford Electric Bell

1. Pitch Drop Experiment:

The most famous of the longest running experiments is the Pitch Drop Experiment. It is known that tar pitch is not a solid but a very slow flowing liquid. An experiment has been designed to see the tar drop dropping from a funnel into a beaker. The experiment has been conducted by many scientists since 1927 but since the drops fall only once in 8 or 9 years no one had seen or recorded the drop actually falling. Finally Shane Bergin of Trinity College Dublin was able to get the dropping on video to conclusively prove that pitch is a liquid.

Pitch Drop Experiment

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