I’ve done a couple of posts about the kilogram, and if you’ve read any of them (or have done any reading about the SI units at all (‘cause that’s a common interest, right? (I mean, I can’t be the only one (…right?)))), you know that the kilogram is the only one of the basic seven measures that is still defined by a physical object rather than a calculation or constant.
Specifically, the mass of the kilogram is defined by an egg-sized alloy of platinum and iridium. This little dude sits beneath not one but three glass bell jars ion a climate-controlled, hermetically sealed room in Paris. Why? Because it’s the object that defines the kilogram, meaning that it is the benchmark against which all other kilograms are compared. So if it changes weight—due to dust or residue or moisture—the kilogram itself changes weight. In fact, it’s so important that the kilogram remains unchanged that it is only removed from its prison every 40 years in order to compare it to other similar replicas that are stored around the world.
These issues with the physical copy are the main reasons why scientists wish to define the kilogram with something that is an inherent standard in nature—like the speed of light or the wavelength of photons. For quite some time, physicists have been considering using the Planck constant as part of the definition of the kilogram. Specifically, the Planck constant could be used in conjunction with Einstein’s E = mc2 equation in a way that could determine mass solely through physical constants. However, no one has yet been able to actually measure the Planck constant to a level of precision that would surpass that of using the physical kilogram as the standard.
However, based on the current pace of progress, physicists suspect that they might be able to redefine the kilogram in terms of the Planck constant by as early as 2018, rendering Le Grand K, as the physical kilogram is known, obsolete.
Crazy, huh? Check out the article here!