When we think of scientific experimentation, often we think of discrete experiments or projects that take place over a relatively short time span. When it comes to long-running experiments, many people would assume that they would take few decades to run from start-to finish, at most. As it turns out, that time frame is short in duration when compared to five of science’s longest running projects, some of which have run over centuries, changing hands along the way. Nature documents the five longest running experiments:
400 years: Counting Spots - Astronomers have been counting sunspots since Galileo’s time, and the analysis of sunspot patterns has been an ongoing experiment over the past 4 centuries, yielding some interesting insights regarding sunspots cyclical nature. Ultimately, science has accumulated some value data used for the prediction of sunspot activity.
170 years: Monitoring an irritable giant - Mount Vesuvius erupts with regularity in every thousand years. Analysis of past patterns allows scientists to predict volcanic activity and protect the public, as they did in 1944 when landslides around the crater raised clouds of ash-dust
170 years: Harvesting data - In 2008 scientist Andy McDonald inherited agricultural experiment data that documented the effects of fertilizers on crop production since 1843. The unbroken chain of data is invaluable and aids in the study of environmental and biological trends that only become apparent over long periods of time.
90 years: Watching genius blossom - In 1921, Lewis Sterman started tracking 1500 gifted children, with the goal of proving that gifted children were well rounded, and not the socially inept individuals that gifted children were publicly perceived as. The in-depth record of their development was maintained over ninety years, and the children were just as well adjusted as the general population. Valuable data regarding psychology and childhood development was gained over the 90 years of the experiment.
85 years: Waiting for the drop - This experiment was originally set up as a demonstration for university students at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, in 1961. The goal was to monitor the rate of flow of liquid pitch - a viscous tar-based - through a funnel. The experiment determined that one drop falls into the container below at a rate of 1 drop every 6-12 years. The 9th drop is expected to fall toward the end of 2013.
More details regarding the experiments may be found @nature.