VIDEO: The definition of a kilogram has officially changed

50-plus countries voted to a ground-breaking overhaul to the international system of measurements

A replica of the International Meter Prototype is pictured at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, in Sevres, near Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

In a historic vote, nations on Friday unanimously approved a ground-breaking overhaul to the international system of measurements that underpins global trade and other vital human endeavours, uniting together behind new scientific definitions for the kilogram and other units in a way that they have failed to do on so many other issues.

Scientists, for whom the update represents decades of work, clapped, cheered and even wept as the 50-plus nations gathered in Versailles, west of Paris, one by one said “yes” or “oui” to the change, hailed as a revolution for how humanity measures and quantifies its world.

The redefinition of the kilogram, the globally approved unit of mass, was the mostly hotly anticipated change. For more than a century, the kilogram has been defined as the mass of a cylinder of platinum-iridium alloy kept in a high-security vault in France. That artefact, nicknamed “Le Grand K,” has been the world’s sole true kilogram since 1889.

But now, with the vote, the kilogram and all of the other main measurement units will be defined using numerical values that fit handily onto a wallet card. Those numbers were read to the national delegates before they voted.

Scientists at the meeting were giddy with excitement: some even sported tattoos on their forearms that celebrated the science.

Nobel prize winner William Phillips called the update “the greatest revolution in measurement since the French revolution,” which ushered in the metric system of meters and kilograms.

Jon Pratt of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology said the vote left him “a basket case” and “extremely emotional.”

“Those units, those constants chosen now, include everything we know, everything we have always known and provide that springboard for us to go pursue those things that we don’t know,” he said. “That was just leaving me in a puddle of tears.”

The Grand K and its six official copies, kept together in the same safe on the edge of Paris and collectively known as the “heir and the spares,” will be retired but not forgotten. Scientists want to keep studying them to see whether their masses decay over time.

The change will have no discernable impact for most people. Bathroom scales won’t suddenly get kinder and kilos and grams won’t change in supermarkets.

But the new formula-based definition of the kilogram will have multiple advantages over the precision-crafted metal lump that set the standard from the 19th century to the 21st, through periods of stunning human achievement and stunning follies, including two world wars.

Unlike a physical object, the new formula for the kilo, now also known as “the electric kilo,” cannot pick up particles of dust, decay with time or be dropped and damaged.

It is expected to be more accurate when measuring very, very small or very, very large masses and help usher in new innovations in science, industry, climate study and other fields.

With time, as the science behind the new definition becomes more accessible and affordable, it should also mean that countries won’t have to send their own kilograms back to France to be checked occasionally against Le Grand K, as they have done until now, to see whether their mass was still accurate.

John Leicester, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

B.C. Tree Fruits searching for new CEO and CFO

Top job postings at growers’ cooperative listed quietly at the end of November

Deadline looming for participation in Okanagan Travel Survey

Those who were sent survey questionnaires have until Dec. 18 to complete and return them

Submissions sought for UBC Okanagan’s annual fiction competition

University’s annual short-story contest enters its 21st year

Your guide to winter light ups around the Okanagan

From Vernon to Summerland, with a stop in Kelowna, we’ve found some activities for you to enjoy

Man caught on camera allegedly trying to defraud ICBC

Auto-insurer warns B.C. drivers to record info after crashes

Warning issued as forecast calls for 20-foot waves in Tofino

Dangerous waves, strong currents and upper-shoreline flooding expected for Tofino-Ucluelet area

An 800-pound pig named Theodore needs a forever home, B.C. society says

‘Theodore is not destined to be somebody’s bacon’

Single-bridge option chosen to replace Highway 1 bridge in Sicamous

Five-lane span selected over plan with second bridge at Sicamous’ Main Street

UPDATE: Highway 1 closed east of Revelstoke, expected to open at 7:30 p.m.

Highway 1 is closed east of Revelstoke near the west entrance to… Continue reading

Teenager Alphonso Davies wins Canadian Men’s Soccer Player for the Year Award

Derek Cornelius and Chilliwack native, Jordyn Huitema were named Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

B.C. teen MMA fighter shows heart

Young Unity MMA competitors bring home Ws

2,000 Canadians died of an overdose in first 6 months of the year

New data from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows the crisis is not subsiding

Another B.C. city votes to ban single-use plastic bags

First six months of proposed ban would focus on education, not enforcement

Most Read