What do I have to push, sub-basement?
>>Woman: Sub-basement. [Buzzing safety alarm] I’m at the National Institute of Standards & Technology
in Washington D.C. and I’m going to the sub-basement. It’s getting dark down here. We’re going to find out how they’re going to
redefine a kilogram. The kilogram is in trouble. Since 1799, it’s been defined as
the mass of a metal cylinder, in a locked vault
in a basement in Paris. But over the last century, careful measurements
of this international prototype kilogram and in-theory-identical national standards
from around the world, have shown that their masses are diverging. The spread has grown to around
50 micrograms, or 50 parts per billion. And having a standard of mass that changes
is unacceptable. Plus, the kilogram is the last of the base SI units
to still be defined by a physical object. The metre, for example, used to be defined
as the length of a platinum bar in Paris, but in 1983 it was redefined
as the distance light travels in 1/299,792,458 of a second. This definition means that the speed of light
is set to exactly 299,792,458 point 00000… et cetera, metres per second. Note how this works:
first, you take the existing definition, say, the length of that metre bar, and you measure as carefully as you can
how it relates to a physical constant of the universe: the speed of light. Then you set the exact value of that constant and use *it* to redefine how long a metre is. I know this might seem circular,
but, importantly, it moves the point of truth off of the physical object,
and onto the unchanging constant of the universe. So, naturally, the thought is
to do the same thing with the kilogram. But… using which constant, and how? [Heavy mechanical noises] Well, there are a number of
different strategies that were attempted but the two that achieved
the greatest success were: 1) using a silicon sphere to determine and set
Avogadro’s number and 2) to use a Watt balance
to determine and set Planck’s constant.>>DEREK: Hi, how ya’ doin’? I’m Derek.
>>JON: Pretty good.
>>DEREK: Nice to meet you.>>DEREK: Where is the Watt balance?>>STEPHAN: The Watt balance is
behind these closed doors, and…>>DEREK: It’s in there?>>STEPHAN: It’s correct,
and right now the problem is that… We are in a crunch to get a number
by the end of May.>>DEREK: What’s the number?>>STEPHAN: The Planck’s constant.
This is what we measure with the Watt balance. In 2011,
the General Conference on Weights and Measures decided that the kilogram should be redefined
based on Planck’s constant, but that doesn’t mean that
the Avogadro approach was futile. I mean, you can use Avogadro’s number
to calculate Planck’s constant and vice-versa. So, ultimately, both approaches
are going to be used to redefine Planck’s constant and
Avogadro’s number simultaneously.>>STEPHAN: One good thing about
having silicon spheres, is that you only want to redefine if you have
agreement between different numbers, right? And the silicon sphere method is a method
in my mind that comes out of chemistry. You measure Avogadro’s constant, which is
a constant that comes out of chemistry. This method comes out of physics,
we measure Planck’s constant. So if they both agree, it’s a pretty strong sign, right?
Because you know chemistry and physics agree. Now, since I’ve already discussed the
Avogadro approach in a previous video, here I want to focus on the Watt balance. It’s actually now called a Kibble balance
in honor of its inventor, Bryan Kibble, who actually passed away in 2016. You know, traditional balances work by equating
the gravitational forces on objects in two pans. The Kibble balance looks kind of similar,
but all of the balancing happens on the left-hand side, where a mass pan is attached
to a coil of wire in a magnetic field. On the right-hand side is a motor. The whole apparatus is sealed
and operated in vacuum. The balance operates in two modes: Weighing mode and velocity mode, and both are required
to determine Planck’s constant. In weighing mode, a kilogram mass standard
is placed on the mass pan and then current is passed
through the coil in the magnetic field and adjusted until the weight of
the kilogram is equal and opposite to the electromagnetic
force on the coil. The equation for this is
Mass times the local gravitational acceleration is equal to the Magnetic field, times the length of wire in the coil, times the current flowing through it In this equation the variables that are difficult to measure exactly are the magnetic field strength, and the length of wire in the coil But luckily the Kibble balance allows us to get around this problem using velocity mode In velocity mode the kilogram mass is lifted off the mass pan and now the motor on the other side of the balance is used to Move the coil back and forth at constant velocity through the magnetic field. This motion induces a voltage in the coil which is equal to the magnetic field, times the length of wire in the coil, times its velocity. Now we have two equations which we can solve for B times L and so we can set them equal to each other and eliminate these variables without having to know precisely what their values are and if we rearrange a little bit you get voltage times current equals mass times gravity times velocity. on the left hand side, there is electrical power and on the right hand side, mechanical power, and that’s why this was called the Watt, the unit of power, balance But how do you go from this to Planck’s constant the number that relates a photon’s frequency to its energy? Well it turns out there’s actually a way of measuring voltage accurately using a macroscopic quantum effect that involves Josephson junctions so a Josephson junction consists of two superconductors separated by a thin piece of insulator Now if you apply a microwave radiation to that junction, you create a voltage across the device and its value is precisely known to be hf over 2 e. Where h is Planck’s constant, f is the frequency of the radiation, and e is the charge on an electron Now by tuning that frequency and stacking as many of these Josephson junctions as you want in series you can create virtually any voltage you like very very precisely. The way this is used in the Kibble balance is a stack of hundreds of thousands of Josephson junctions are put into the circuit with the coil as it is moved through the field and so you exactly balance the voltage which is induced in the coil using those Josephson junctions So you can measure that voltage very very accurately. But how do we measure current? Well it turns out this voltage measuring method is so good that instead of trying to measure current directly we instead measure V on R which is the same thing So this current is passed through a resistor, and we measure that voltage again using Josephson junctions And then to measure resistance we use another macroscopic quantum effect called the quantum hall effect. Which is Beyond the scope of this video but, suffice is to say that the resistance measurement will be an integer fraction, one over p times Planck’s constant divided by the charge on the Electron squared So if we sub all of this into our equation and solve for h, we have that Planck’s constant is equal to four over p n squared, those are all constant numbers that we know, times the local acceleration due to gravity times velocity divided by frequency squared times the mass which is one kilogram. So here we have a very precise equation for Planck’s constant in terms of the mass of one kilogram Now to get an answer that’s good to say, ten parts per billion You need to know all of these values very accurately So to measure V for example the velocity of the coil as it moves through the Magnetic field, we use a laser interferometer as the distance to the coil changes the interference Fringes pass over a detector And essentially by counting how many fringes go past in a certain period of time you can determine the speed of the coil very accurately To measure g, a device called a gravimeter was used to map out the local acceleration due to gravity in the balance room before it was built in there The gravimeter actually drops a corner reflector down a vacuum tube and measures its acceleration again through interferometry, counting the fringes as they pass This is a 3D printed map of the acceleration due to gravity in the Kibble balance room The bump is due to the mass of the powerful and very heavy permanent magnet that’s in the balance The acceleration due to gravity must continually be measured because it can be affected at this level of precision By the positions of the sun and moon and even the water table underneath the building In 2018 the kilogram will no longer be defined by an object in Paris Instead it will be defined based on the fixed value of Planck’s constant which is being finalized right now as a result of all these measurements from the Kibble balances and silicon spheres So right now what we do is, we put the mass in, and we get h out and in 2018, after redefinition, h will be fixed and you use that to realize the unit of mass>>STEPHAN: Easy
>>DEREK: Yeah, just that– just that easy.
>>STEPHAN: Yeah ->>DEREK: Just that simple.
>>STEPHAN: Simple Hey, this episode of Veritasium was supported in part by viewers like you on Patreon and by Audible, who, as you probably know because they’re longtime supporters of the channel are leading providers of spoken audio information including audiobooks original programming news comedy and more And for viewers of this channel they offer a free 30-day trial. Just go to audible.com/veritasium You know, recently I’ve been traveling around the world to Israel, London, Mexico City And tomorrow I’m off to New Orleans because I’m shooting stuff for Netflix and What I’ll be listening to on the plane is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature This is an awesome book that takes a scientific and statistical approach to the question of when is the best time to be alive as a human and his answer, is now. Whether it seems like it or not, violence and all the terrible things that humans have had to deal with has been on the decline for centuries and if you want the statistical proof for that you should check out this book it is fantastic And if you want you can download it for free by going to audible.com/veritasium Or you can pick any other book of your choosing for a one-month free trial So I want to thank audible for supporting me, and I want to thank you for watching.