TWSB: Weighty Matters


Happy Birthday, Stephen Hawking!

Woah, I had no idea he was in his 70’s. He’s like 40 years old in my mind for some reason.

I’m not going to BS my way through this and attempt to describe in any significant detail some of Hawking’s major discoveries and theories, so instead I’ll just post something that’s sciency but pretty much totally unrelated to Hawking. ‘Cause I’m dumb.

Anyway. The KILOGRAM!

The kilogram intrigues me. It’s my favorite SI unit. Of the seven basic SI units, it’s the only one still based on a physical object. The blog post actually started my This Week’s Science Blog series was, in fact, about the kilogram. At that time I’d read an article detailing how several of the actual “copies” of the kilogram—that is, the various chunks of metal that all once weighed exactly the same—have been damaged/broken over the decades, resulting in different countries’ kilograms all being defined as slightly different weights.

But now, scientists have discovered that several copies of the kilo have gotten heavier due to surface contamination in the form of carbon and mercury. The actual gain is no more than tens of micrograms, but that’s a big deal considering that things like radioactive materials are often restricted by weight. A few more micrograms of radioactive substance could mean a lot in some situations.

Scientists hope to “clean” the kilo using ozone and ultraviolet light, which would, according to research, not harm the actual metal. But a better solution according to many would be to actually redefine the kilogram based on some law of nature rather than a physical object—something that has been accomplished for the other six major SI units.

Hang in there, kilogram…your day of reckoning is coming!

One response

  1. I didn’t know the kilogram was a physical object.

    Like

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