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New definition of kilogram

Topic covered:

  1. Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

 

New definition of kilogram

 

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Need for redefining, about the new system, significance and the process of redefining.

 

Why in News? The CSIR-NPL, which is India’s official reference keeper of units of measurements has released a set of recommendations requiring that school textbooks, engineering-education books, and course curriculum update the definition of the kilogram.

The institute is also in the process of making its own ‘Kibble Balance’, a device that was used to measure the Planck Constant and thereby reboot the kilogram.

 

Background:

Scientists, last year, have changed the way the kilogram is defined. The decision was made at the General Conference on Weights and Measures. The new definitions came into force on 20 May 2019.

 

Why kill off the kilogram?

  • Currently, it is defined by the weight of a platinum-based ingot called “Le Grand K” which is locked away in a safe in Paris.
  • Le Grand K has been at the forefront of the international system of measuring weights since 1889. Several close replicas were made and distributed around the globe. But the master kilogram and its copies were seen to change – ever so slightly – as they deteriorated.
  • In a world where accurate measurement is now critical in many areas, such as in drug development, nanotechnology and precision engineering – those responsible for maintaining the international system had no option but to move beyond Le Grand K to a more robust definition.

 

How wrong is Le Grand K?

The fluctuation is about 50 parts in a billion, less than the weight of a single eyelash. But although it is tiny, the change can have important consequences.

 

How does the new system work?

Electromagnets generate a force. Scrap-yards use them on cranes to lift and move large metal objects, such as old cars. The pull of the electromagnet, the force it exerts, is directly related to the amount of electrical current going through its coils. There is, therefore, a direct relationship between electricity and weight.

So, in principle, scientists can define a kilogram, or any other weight, in terms of the amount of electricity needed to counteract the weight (gravitational force acting on a mass).

 

Planck’s constant:

  • There is a quantity that relates weight to electrical current, called Planck’s constant – named after the German physicist Max Planck and denoted by the symbol h.
  • But h is an incredibly small number and to measure it, the research scientist Dr Bryan Kibble built a super-accurate set of scales. The Kibble balance, as it has become known, has an electromagnet that pulls down on one side of the scales and a weight – say, a kilogram – on the other. The electrical current going through the electromagnet is increased until the two sides are perfectly balanced.
  • By measuring the current running through the electromagnet to incredible precision, the researchers are able to calculate h to an accuracy of 0.000001%. This breakthrough has paved the way for Le Grand K to be deposed by “die kleine h”.

 

Facts for Prelims:

General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) is the highest international body of the world for accurate and precise measurements and comprises of 60 countries including India and 42 Associate Members.

 

Sources: The Hindu.