Feeds

Scientists want to bring the kilogram into 21st century

Lumps of metal are so last season

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
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.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?