Secret wishes to have a size 8 waist line or an athletic body sets involuntary standards in our minds and we work upon getting those numbers off the kilogram scale as fast as we can. But did you ever wonder what stands as the standard for the same kilogram that we entrust with for showing us our correct weight?
Whether it is a kilo of potatoes on a vendor’s scale or 100 kilos of a couch potato on the weighing scale, the humble kilo has a big job to do: to show you the accuracy you trust with your life! All the world’s weighing scales, weights and measuring instruments are calibrated copies of a single piece of cylinder-shaped platinum-iridium alloy that defines the fundamental unit of mass: The Le Grand K (the Big K in French). For a good 138 years like a fairytale princess, Le Grand K sits untouched by human hands, in 3 bell jar-secured contraption in Saint Cloud, France, safe and proud as the most definitive and accurate measure of a kilogram that the world can get. But come November, it is going to be deported from its castle into oblivion, eventually being rendered a lump of useless metal. This sounds beyond consolation but at the same time incredible too!
Precision is the word. Measurements like weight, volume, speed, units of light and electricity and its kins are always in the zero tolerance zone. They define the most crucial components of this universe and any deviation from precision affects the continuity of the same. Le Grand K lost a point when it lost some weight in 1991 and gained a few micrograms in 2013!
For eons, human scale was used for determining measurement units. Ever wondered why foot is called a foot? The most gallant and heroic of Greeks and Romans, considered as epitome of strength and masculine perfection, were believed to have feet measuring upto 12 inches. And that is how the unit foot got its etymology. Similarly, a thumb being an inch and a cubit being the length of a pharaoh’s forearm amongst many other were embraced as the penultimate scales. But centuries later, James Clerk Maxwell, a physicist challenged the wisdom of using physical objects as standards for measurements, be it our own mother earth whose length of a full quadrant, pole to equator, divided by ten millions gave us the metre! His theory did make sense though. Because, as an entity with volcanoes and earthquakes changing its dynamics and shape every other decade, earth can deceive the metric system soon.
And that, only molecular bodies can provide absolute, stable and unalterable invariables as against all other physical variables, in his words “standards of length, of time and of mass should be hence measured in the wavelength, the period of vibration and the absolute mass of these imperishable and unalterable and perfectly similar molecules.”
Hence coming November, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) will abide by what Maxwell professes as determining the kilogram “by taking the fixed numerical value of the Planck constant h to be 6.62607015×10−34 when expressed in the unit J/s, which is equal to kg/m2/s−1, where the metre and the second are defined in terms of c and ΔνCs”. If physicists are successful in determining a considerable value of Planck’s constant, it will be like butter-in-knife to get a new standard of weight occupying the Hall of Fame in BIPM. Nevertheless, whether it is Planck’s constant or any other profound theory, the only thing constant is change. So by the laws of nature, our old fellow Le Grand will have to step down its throne and give space to the next good.
Now whatever this titanic wind of change means, all we can see is our little man right now sitting oblivious of upcoming onslaught on its singularity and the name it has earned for more than a century. While we are mourning over the kilos we have gained, the kilo mourns its identity crisis before it turns into a piece of priceless metal gathering dust in a tiny chamber of some museum as a tribute to its good deeds.
Let’s all observe 2 minutes of silence for it, before the standard for time changes its course too!
Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.