Your Weight Is About to Be Redefined – Facts So Romantic

A physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology once said, “If somebody sneezed on [the] kilogram standard, all the weights in the world would be instantly wrong.”

He was referring to a cylinder, sometimes called Le Grand K, which is housed in a vault in Paris and handled like a priceless gem. The mass of anything measured in the world—you, your groceries, exoplanets, galaxies—traces to the mass of this 126-year-old platinum-iridium cylinder*, the so-called international prototype. Researchers in every field of science and engineering need to trust that they’re using the same reference point as every other scientist and engineer. No cylinder, no reference.

Le Gran K is the kilogram against which all kilograms are measured, and scientists do anything to avoid exposing it to dirty hands and dirty air—and especially to sneezes.

The Russion Doll Treatment: A replica of the prototype of the kilogram at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Paris, France.Japs 88/Wikicommons

Every few decades, since the prototype’s been around, scientists have removed the cylinder, cleaned it with a solvent, washed it with steam, and scrutinized its mass. They verify that its six official copies, housed in the same vault, still match up…

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