|What is the longest time it takes you to do an experiment and what is the frequency with which you perform experiments?|
|Question Date: 2020-03-30|
Avery, the longest time to do one experiment was around 30 days. Polishing my samples, running them in lab equipment, collecting the data and finally analyzing my results. All of this took 30 days of work! I perform experiments every couple months. In between we're planning new experiments to learn about nuclear reactors. We're working hard on publishing our data to share with other scientists.
It really depends! For my research, it takes about a week for my animals (worms) to grow, then a couple of days to run the experiment and record my observations. However, the results from one experiment usually make me think of more questions I want to ask, and so I usually end up running the same experiment multiple times in different ways.
I once worked on an experiment that lasted ten months. We were studying how treated wastewater interacts with the environment when it soaks into the ground, and we had to monitor it over a long period of time to see what would happen. I have been working with the data from that experiment for the past two years, and I might start on another big experiment later this year.
This will be different for every scientist, and it depends a lot on the field! Some experiments might only take a few minutes, while in some fields (like animal biology, or astrophysics), experiments can take years! My research involves assembling interesting materials and looking at them under a microscope. Most of my experiments take a day or two (maybe three at the longest). Usually, I'll do experiments frequently (almost every day) for a couple weeks, but after that, there will be a couple weeks where I don't do any new experiments, and instead focus on analyzing my data, writing up results, making plots, and designing future research.
The length of experiments can be highly variable. Sometimes an experiment can be as short as a few seconds- for example measuring the resistance of a material. On the other hand, the longest running experiment ever is “The Pitch Drop Experiment” which has been running since 1930! Details for the experiment can be found here:
Pitch Drop Experiment
Regardless of how long an individual experiment takes, science is a continuous, progressive process- so I perform experiments everyday (except right now due to work restrictions related to COVID 19). As new ideas come to me, I am especially eager to get into lab!
I'm an observational scientist, which means that I let nature do the experiments for me and then look at the results. As a paleontologist, I study experiments that take place over evolutionary time seen through the fossil record. The largest topic that I have studied is the rise of the flowering plants relative to those plants that produce seeds but not flowers. This spans a time of about 140 million years, and the ultimate results aren't finished yet.
Hi Avery, what an excellent question! How long an experiment takes and how often we do them depends on the research question. In my lab, we use insects to control invasive plants (weeds) and we ask a lot of different questions!
For example, one question we have asked is "How quickly do these insects grow and reproduce?" In order to answer this question, we collect these insects andmeasure how old they are and whether or not they have laid eggs. We observe them once a week. However, in order to see how long it takes for them to grow up, we have been collecting them every week for almost two years!
We have found that the time it takes this insect to grow up depends on the weather, so they grow more quickly during different parts of the year.
Two years may seem like a long time, but there are other experiments that have been going on for decades (or longer)! This is because the researchers are interested in looking at how things change over long time scales. It may also be because the organism they are studying takes a very long time to grow (like a tree).
Because we are interested in when the insects will lay eggs, we only need to check them once every week. But other experiments may require different frequencies of observation.If we were curious about how much these insects can grow in a week, we would measure them much more often.
Do you have any questions that you could answer with an experiment? How long do you think you would need to do your experiment? How often do you think you should do it? I'd love to hear what you're curious about!
All the best,
1. I used to spend the morning doing an experiment and then analyze the data in the afternoon. I used to do this maybe 2-3 days a week, but I only worked 4 days a week.
2. Experiments can be very long or very short. I used to tell elementary school science students that they can do an experiment to see if it's cold enough to need a jacket outside - they can go outside and feel the air, to get an answer about whether to wear a jacket. That's a short experiment.
3. SETI - the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence - spent 20 years looking for signals from space that might be from intelligent beings. They didn't find any. They stopped the experiment on March 31, 2020.
4. Another slow experiment -
World's slowest-moving drop caught on camera at last. "Once-forgotten 'tar pitch' experiment yields results after seven decades."
5. And a 500-yr experiment, to see if dried bacteria will still grow, in the year 2514 -
500 year long science experiment.
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