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Eagles on nest, photograph by Sue Greeley

Dr. William James Beal (1833-1924), father of the longest-running experiment in history. (Image: Internet Archive/Flickr)

The World’s Longest-Running Experiment is Buried in a Secret Spot in Michigan

feature by Cara Giaimo, Atlas Obscura

In the fall of 1879, Dr. William James Beal (1833-1924) walked to a secret spot on Michigan State University’s campus and planted a strange crop: 20 narrow-necked glass bottles, each filled with a mixture of moist sand and seeds. Each vessel was “left uncorked and placed with the mouth slanting downward so that water could not accumulate about the seeds,” Beal wrote. “These bottles were buried on a sandy knoll in a row running east and west.”

In the spring of 2000, under cover of night, current W.J. Beal Botanical Garden curator Dr. Frank Telewski and his colleague Dr. Jan Zeevaart crept out to the same secret knoll and dug up the sixth-to-last seed bottle—completing the latest act in what has become the world’s longest continually monitored scientific study.

Arnold Arboretum director Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927) corresponded with Dr. Beal from 1906 to 1909.

Read more about this germination experiment at Atlas Obscura.

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