Feeds

Scientists want to bring the kilogram into 21st century

Lumps of metal are so last season

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

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

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
Volcanic eruption in Iceland triggers CODE RED aviation warning
Lava-spitting Bárðarbunga prompts action from Met Office
LOHAN Kickstarter breaks NINETEEN THOUSAND of your EARTH POUNDS
That's right, OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.