Feeds

Scientists want to bring the kilogram into 21st century

Lumps of metal are so last season

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the United States, is calling for the kilo to be redefined in terms of a natural phenomenon, such as the number of atoms in a silicon crystal, or the amount of magnetic force required to levitate an object in a watt balance.

For 115 years, the kilogram has been defined by a lump of platinum-iridium alloy, kept just outside Paris. But scientists argue that relying on an actual physical artifact leaves the kilogram vulnerable to misinterpretation, and means other nations have to travel to France to verify their own standard masses, LiveScience reports.

The kilo is the only international standard measurement still defined by an actual thing. The metre, for example, was originally defined as a ten-millionth of the distance from the north pole to the equator. It is now agreed to be the distance light travels in one 299,792,458th of a second.

Peter Mohr from NIST in the US argues that a physical artifact can change over time - even if it is a very stable substance, like platinum-iridium alloy. Mohr told LiveScience that changes of as much as 50 parts per billion have been seen over a hundred years. This is probably not a serious problem for banana salesmen, but could impact subatomic physicists, for example.

He also pointed out that since 1889, when the Parisian lump was accepted as the international standard, US scientists have had to travel to France three times to verify their own standard masses.

The advantage of the watt balance, or counting atoms, is that any country can recreate them, Mohr argues. The new standards could also be as much as 50 times more precise, and Mohr argues that these factors "tip the scales in favour of the redefinition". Such wit.

But these are not the only arguments in favour of a change. "A meteor could strike Paris - destroying the prototype," Mohr says. "The watt balance can always be recreated."

In the aftermath of a meteor strike, it would indeed be good to know exactly how many kilos of rubble have fallen on your house, for example, or exactly how heavy was the thing that has wiped Paris from the face of the Earth.

Further, the news that the kilo is in such imminent danger of extinction will no doubt be seen as a vindication by Brits reluctant to sell their fruit and veg in metric units. ®

Related stories

Get ready to buy chips by the kilo
Bruce Willis still on Armageddon alert
Opportunity sniffs out meteorite on Mars

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
What's that STINK? Rosetta probe shoves nose under comet's tail
Rotten eggs, horse dung and almonds – yuck
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Kip Thorne explains how he created the black hole for Interstellar
Movie special effects project spawns academic papers on gravitational lensing
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.