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

Castor area police complaints were up in 2018

Overall trend is showing declining crime numbers.

Let the Games begin!

Team Alberta takes home gold and silver in speed skating on day one

WATCH: Historic night in Red Deer as 2019 Canada Winter Games kicks off

Star-studded Opening Ceremony features athletes from across Canada

Athletes’ medals unveiled at the official kick-off of 2019 Canada Winter Games

Medals depict Central Alberta landscape and pay tribute to First Nations

‘Riya was a dreamer’: Mother of slain 11-year-old Ontario girl heartbroken

Her father, Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, was arrested some 130 kilometres away

Ontario man accused of killing 11-year-old daughter dies in hospital, police say

Roopesh Rajkumar had been hospitalized with what police described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound

Manitoba ‘pauses’ link with ex-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell after allegations

Campbell had been hired to review two major hydro projects

Heritage minute features Japanese-Canadian baseball team, internment

The Vancouver Asahi baseball team won various championships across the Pacific Northwest

Hee-Won Son takes home gold in 500m Female Short Track Speed Skating

Team Alberta sits in second place overall at the Canada Winter Games

Shots fired in Maskwacis home invasion

Maskwacis RCMP are searching for three suspects in a home invasion (with photos)

CRTC report finds ‘misleading, aggressive’ sales tactics used by telecom industry

Report recommends measures to make a fairer situation for consumers

Crude-by-rail shipments set new record in December despite lower price discounts

Canada exported nearly 354,000 barrels per day of oil, up seven per cent from November

Do you live with your partner? More and more Canadians don’t

Statistics Canada shows fewer couples live together than did a decade ago

Most Read