The kilogram was the last unit of measure connected to a real measurable unit. But as of the 16th of November, we lost the kilogram to the uncertainties of our never-resting, always moving universe. The kilogram just isn’t what it used to be.
The New Kilogram Isn’t What It Used To Be
The last measurement linked to a solid state is gone. The new kilogram was redefined at the 26th General Conference of Weights and Measures (26e Conférence générale des poids et mesures) that took place near Paris, at the Congrès de Versailles. But, concretely, what does it mean?
This meeting of scientists gathered experts who agreed to recalibrate the kilogram on global scales. The reason is to meet a higher and more precise universal value of the international unit. As of May 2019, the new system is on a quantum mathematic equation. Dudes, it’s going to be gnarly!
But why mess with something so solid? Because our solids are not that solid after all. While it might be second nature to most quantum theorists and philosophers to consider this, most of us never contemplate that solid-like gases are always changing, albeit slowly. In our never-resting, ever-changing universe, this is the first the kilogram has changed its value since it was established in 1875.
How Did The Kilogram Come About?
In the beginning, there was water and someone observing it. During the French revolution, scientists sought to find the most natural unit as universal as possible, according to Pierre Cladé, a physician at the French CNRS (in French), via France 24 (in French). The solution they found was simple: A kilogram would be the same as a liter of water. But this simple approach wasn’t very practical nor precise. Temperatures alter the mass of a liquid and can influence its weight.
In order to be as precise as possible, scientists devised a platinum cylinder of 4 cm (~1.574803″) in diameter by 4 cm in height. This cylinder became the new kilogram in 1875. The funny thing is that it became the international measurement for a liter of water soon after. Although this unit, called the “grand K,” is held under tight security in Sèvres, France, and under no less than three glass bells, all of this hasn’t been enough to keep the weight of the cylinder steady.
Now things are taking on a quantum turn of events. The unforeseen problem is that even a pretty stable metal as platinum changes over time. Molecular interactions and temperatures differences even under three glass bells will affect solids over time (even if not that much over 100 years). Every 40 years, metrologs meet to carefully weigh the platinum cylinder. But no matter how careful they are, the weight is affected. The kilogram fluctuated every time it was touched, despite scientists’ best intentions. Although this might seem funny on the surface, consider the price of saffron or other highly prized chemicals or solids — millions of dollars are at stake!
Why not recalculate the weight every time it is cleaned and checked? Scientists decided it would be better to change the value of its weight into a precise equation, if possible. The “universal” measurement would have to be a quantum equation weighed against the Planck constant. Planck is the Alpha and Omega of quantum science.
What’s Next For The New Kilogram?
Next, all global scales will have to be readjusted for the new kilogram measurement. I’m sure all can appreciate the mental gymnastics this means for our mobility world. How heavy is a car really? But joking apart, I could go on and on about this fascinating topic — nothing is the way it really seems. (You can turn on your TV and watch the news for the same effect.)
In the meantime, it’s about time to remember that: “Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”—The Kybalion. Now go and neutralize that one.
In any case, the kilogram is dead. Long live the new Kilogram!