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Old Dusty Kilogram Swapped for Something More Stable: Scientists

It has taken years of work to fine-tune the new definition to ensure the switchover will be smooth.

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Kilogram
The International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK) is pictured in Paris, France, in this undated photo obtained from social media. VOA
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After years of nursing a sometimes dusty cylinder of metal in a vault outside Paris as the global reference for modern mass, scientists are updating the definition of the kilogram.

Just as the redefinition of the second in 1967 helped to ease communication across the world via technologies like GPS and the internet, experts say the change in the kilogram will be better for technology, retail and health — though it probably won’t change the price of fish much.

The kilogram has been defined since 1889 by a shiny piece of platinum-iridium held in Paris. All modern mass measurements are traceable back to it — from micrograms of pharmaceutical medicines to kilos of apples and pears and tons of steel or cement.

kilogram, weight
Border Security Force officials showing 17 kilogram heroine.

The problem is, the “international prototype kilogram” doesn’t always weigh the same. Even inside its three glass bell jars, it gets dusty and dirty, and is affected by the atmosphere. Sometimes, it really needs a wash.

“We live in a modern world. There are pollutants in the atmosphere that can stick to the mass,” said Ian Robinson, a specialist in the engineering, materials and electrical science department at Britain’s National Physical Laboratory.

“So when you just get it out of the vault, it’s slightly dirty. But the whole process of cleaning or handling or using the mass can change its mass. So it’s not the best way, perhaps, of defining mass.”

What’s needed is something more constant.

kilogram, weight
The Kilogram. Flickr

So, at the end of a week-long meeting in the Palace of Versailles, Paris, the world’s leading measurement aficionados at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures will vote Friday to make an “electronic kilogram” the new baseline measure of mass.

Just as the meter — once the length of a bar of platinum-iridium, also kept in Paris — is now defined by the constant speed of light in a vacuum, so a kilogram will be defined by a tiny but immutable fundamental value called the “Planck constant.”

The new definition involves an apparatus called the Kibble balance, which makes use of the constant to measure the mass of an object using a precisely measured electromagnetic force.

Paris,diesel,kilogram, weight
The kilogram has been defined since 1889 by a shiny piece of platinum-iridium held in Paris.VOA

“In the present system, you have to relate small masses to large masses by subdivision. That’s very difficult — and the uncertainties build up very, very quickly,” Robinson said.

“One of the things this [new] technique allows us to do is to actually measure mass directly at whatever scale we like, and that’s a big step forward.”

Also Read: NASA to Send Organ-on-Chips to Test Human Tissue Health in Space

He said it had taken years of work to fine-tune the new definition to ensure the switchover will be smooth.

But while the extra accuracy will be a boon to scientists, Robinson said that, for the average consumer buying flour or bananas, “there will be absolutely no change whatsoever.” (VOA)

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France Hopes To Revive Efforts To Regulate Internet Cyberspace With ‘Paris Call’

Large U.S. tech companies including Facebook and Alphabet's Google would sign up too.

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Internet
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the Paris Peace Forum at the Villette Conference Hall in Paris, France, VOA

France and U.S. technology giants including Microsoft on Monday urged world governments and companies to sign up to a new initiative to regulate the internet and fight threats such as cyberattacks, online censorship and hate speech.

With the launch of a declaration entitled the ‘Paris call for trust and security in cyberspace’, French President Emmanuel Macron is hoping to revive efforts to regulate cyberspace after the last round of United Nations negotiations failed in 2017.

In the document, which is supported by many European countries but, crucially, not China or Russia, the signatories urge governments to beef up protections against cyber meddling in elections and prevent the theft of trade secrets.

Cloudhopper, cyberattacks, internet
Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of the cybersecurity firm FireEye, gestures during a presentation about the APT33 hacking group, which his firm suspects are Iranian government-aligned hackers, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. VOA

The Paris call was initially pushed for by tech companies but was redrafted by French officials to include work done by U.N. experts in recent years.

“The internet is a space currently managed by a technical community of private players. But it’s not governed. So now that half of humanity is online, we need to find new ways to organize the internet,” an official from Macron’s office said.

“Otherwise, the internet as we know it today – free, open and secure– will be damaged by the new threats.”

By launching the initiative a day after a weekend of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of World War I, Macron hopes to promote his push for stronger global cooperation in the face of rising nationalism.

Cloudhopper, cyberattacks, internet
The picture shows a warning sign for “cyber threats ahead”.

In another sign of the Trump administration’s reluctance to join international initiatives it sees as a bid to encroach on U.S. sovereignty, French officials said Washington might not become a signatory, though talks are continuing.

However, they said large U.S. tech companies including Facebook and Alphabet’s Google would sign up.

Also Read: Social Media Laws Should Be Tightened: Germany

“The American ecosystem is very involved. It doesn’t mean that in the end the U.S. federal government won’t join us, talks are continuing, but the U.S. will be involved under other forms,” another French official said. (VOA)