Breaking Up With the Kilogram

The strange way a unit of mass is changing and a catchy song to explain

There’s a pretty major change happening to the very foundation of how we measure mass, and luckily a Portland nerd-sister band has a video this morning to help us explain why the kilogram is about to have a nasty break-up.

Thanks for your help on this one, The Doubleclicks.

Turns out the original kilogram, from 1889, has been kept under lock and key in a French vault but that hasn’t stopped it from changing weight. Nor has it stopped the 40 duplicates that have been spread out into different laboratories across the world. Obviously, bacteria and other things tend to accumulate over time, but the cleaning of the foundation of an entire unit of measure is such a delicate process that no one has devised a safe process for it, so maybe starting from scratch is the simplest solution.

This entire thing just blows my mind. I had no idea that there was a “God Kilo” at the center of this side of science, much less that it had become dangerously unstable. This is akin to finding out the Greenwich Meridian has started to curve in the wrong direction— just madness.

Apparently, science has been aware of the problem with the God Kilo since the 1980’s and only in 2015 have they cracked an appropriate solution: a mix of ultraviolet light burst and a water bath — yes, some sunshine and a shower is the solution to saving science. Things get a little more complicated than that, especially on the subatomic level, which is why the inevitable full solution involves the creation of perfect silicon spheres that can be reproduced and won’t incur this level of organic micro-build-up, and those are just getting produced now.

In a sad turn, the original kilogram will be kept but it “Won’t be defining anything anymore,” according to one of the head scientists. I hope The Doubleclicks write a follow-up song about life as a retired mascot of measure.

A couple other songs you should check out from The Doubleclicks include “Now I Am The Fastest” which is written from the perspective of the only survivor of nuclear apocalypse: a single turtle.

Here’s “Lasers And Feelings” about how an ex-boyfriend has become a supervillain but maybe things could be patched up — for the sake of the world.

And finally, how to survive uncomfortable situations by hanging out with “Cats at Parties”