Some experiments go on long past the original scientist’s lifetime, like the Pitch Drop experiment that began in 1927. Experiments that have to do with living things and their longevity are harder to design, and often only come about by serendipity, like the Judean date palm grown from 2,000-year-old seeds. But now German microbiologist Ralf Möller has set up an experiment to study the longevity of bacteria that won’t yield results for 500 years!
In the year 2514, some future scientist will arrive at the University of Edinburgh (assuming the university still exists), open a wooden box (assuming the box has not been lost), and break apart a set of glass vials in order to grow the 500-year-old dried bacteria inside. This all assumes the entire experiment has not been forgotten, the instructions have not been garbled, and science—or some version of it—still exists in 2514.
Putting such an experiment in place raises all kinds of questions. How should the scientists leave a record of the experiment and how to complete it? Paper crumbles, digital media become obsolete, and even the language may be gone by 2514. Read what we’ve learned from other long-running experiments and how this experiment will face those challenges at the Atlantic.
(Image credit: R. Möller and C. S. Cockell)