Business Insider Edition

Scientists just ditched the single lump of metal that defined the kilogramme for 129 years for a better measure

Bill Bostock , Business Insider US
 Nov 19, 2018, 01:44 PM
  • Over 50 scientists have voted in a change which will see the 129-year-old method of defining a kilogramme scrapped.
  • The new method, decided at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Paris on Friday, will be a formula called the "Planck constant."
  • A lump of platinum-iridium called "Le Grand K," which only left its protective case four times in the last century, was used as the previous definition.
  • They made the change as the "Grand K" was losing mass: equivalent to the weight of a eyelash.

Scientists in Paris on Friday approved a change which will alter how a kilogramme is defined, the first change to the system of measuring mass which has been in use since 1889.Scientists from over 50 countries voted to change the definition to a scientific formula called the "Planck constant (h)," which works out a kilogramme based on the amount of electricity needed to counteract its force. 

They met at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles, Paris.

The previous way scientists defined a kilogramme was by the weight of a "platinum-iridium lump," called "Le Grand K," which is kept securely at a site just outside Paris, but will now be retired.

This lump was established as the singular measure for all kilogrammes in 1889 and has only left its protective case four times in the last 100 years, Sky reported.

But the lump, and the identical copies of it, experienced a minute amount deterioration according to Pallab Ghosh, the BBC's science correspondent.

In fact the changes were so small they were about 50 parts out of a billion, or the weight of an eyelash. By definition, whatever the lump weighed was a kilogramme, so if a chunk fell off, then the mass of all the matter in the universe, if measured by kilogrammes, would change.

The new method ditches a physical standard in an attempt to provide a "stable foundation from which to advance our scientific understanding, develop new technologies and address some of society's greatest challenges," Martin Milton, Director of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) told the National Physical Laboratory.

Perdi Williams from the National Physical Laboratory said: "The new system is going to work a lot better. It is also a really exciting time, and I can't wait for it to happen," the BBC reported.

At the event, organised by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM,) several other units of measurement have had their definitions changed: the ampere, the kelvin, and the mole.

The ampere will be defined by the elementary electrical charge (e,) the kelvin will be defined by the Boltzmann constant (k,) and the mole will be defined by the Avogadro constant.

Receive a single WhatsApp every morning with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

  • Indicators
  • JSE Indexes

Get the best of our site delivered to your inbox every day.

Sign Up