My post yesterday about the mysteries of IVF reminded me of another great Radiolab episode that helps put the torturous wait for our pregnancy test results in perspective.
It could be a lot worse.
It could be like the Pitch Drop Experiment.
Nine days of waiting feels like a really long time, especially when a healthy chunk of retirement savings rides on the outcome. The wait is painful and and requires great patience. However it doesn’t begin to compare to the patience practiced by the late professor John Mainstone.
Sadly, the revered researcher went to his grave without ever seeing the results of his test. Those results are due at any time now, and were estimated to arrive last July.
But still, we wait.
The experiment began under the supervision of another scientist in 1927. Eighty-seven years later researchers are still longing to see the results, making my 9 days pale in comparison. However just like my pregnancy test, the wait will end in a fraction of a second creating a mesmerizing moment where time that has lagged dramatically slingshots into high gear, moving at the speed of light toward what comes next.
The contrast is fascinating.
What is this intriguing and insanely lackadaisical experiment?
Pitch is a substance that is technically viscous, however if you hit it with a hammer it will shatter. The experiment is all about attempting to observe the substance’s liquid like properties and take note of what happens in the moment in which pitch drips out of a glass like a viscous substance should.
To accomplish this, a sample of pitch was heated and poured into a funnel shaped glass. Once the pitch settled, a process that took three years, the bottom was cut from the funnel.
Then the wait for the pitch to release a drop commenced.
Slowly but surely, the pitch began to stretch and prepare to drip. Over the last 87 years it has lazily dripped 8 times, an average of once every 10.87 years. However, the drops have never been observed. The experiment began before it was feasible to use cameras to monitor the pitch and the researchers consistently missed the fraction of a second they patiently anticipated.
Capturing that moment is exceedingly difficult. How do you observe something that happens anywhere from every 8 to 13 years but in a blink of an eye?
At one point, professor Mainstone was monitoring the pitch at a time when it was crazily close to dropping. He went to get coffee and when he returned, the pitch had dropped. Imagine his frustration! I am sure it was far worse than a two week wait, especially considering the experiment had to have grown to feel like “his baby.”
The last time the pitch dropped, there were was a camera on it but it malfunctioned.
Seriously, this poor dude was doomed.
Today the pitch has three cameras trained on it and there is a live video feed on a special website set up by the School of Mathematics and Physics at The University of Queensland where the experiment began.
There are people hopelessly addicted to watching the live feed, wanting desperately to see with the naked eye what no other human has ever seen live. I too was sucked into the obsession when I first learned of the Pitch Drop Experiment, but soon realized that you could waste your life away by devoting it to following the imminent drop.
This is another way the experiment is like a two week wait. You can obsess about it non-stop, but it won’t make the moment arrive sooner. Wasting your time and energy thinking about it is pointless, but its amazingly difficult to avoid.
Thankfully there is no chance I will wait for nearly a century for my results.
So Dr. Mainstone, I tip my hat to you for your patience, fortitude, and resolve. I am so sorry you will miss it, again.
Personal Update: Feeling more pregnant than ever. With Spork I didn’t have much morning sickness but I was so exhausted every day I came home from work and would fall asleep on the couch before dinner. Its way too early for real pregnancy symptoms, but I did feel that tired yesterday. I am hopeful Blob has stuck and is already putting his Mama to the test!