The State of the Unit: a documentary film about the redefinition of the kilogram

Blog, Updates, and Pre-Takes

I have collected a lot of footage and background materials in making this film. Not all will make it into the final edit, but I still find it interesting and wanted to share it with you, and prototype (pun intended) ideas. Some of the material is below. Enjoy!

August 1, 2017 How much is Georgia currency worth in New Jersey?

With Brexit, the Scottish Independence Referendum and other moves toward new countries and new governments, I have been thinking about nation states. Weights and measures, like currency, help form a nation state.

"Money and nations go hand in hand," says Mervyn King in The End of Alchemy, his recent book about economics and banking. French Revolutionaries might say that nations hold hands with weights and measures...

Continue reading "How much is Georgia currency worth in New Jersey?"
Nicolas Pike's textbook published in 1788

October 23, 2016 Metrication in 1790s France: When people got what they asked for, but not what they wanted

Facing a national crisis exacerbated by debt from helping the American Colonies fight a war of independence, political gridlock, and a failed harvest, King Louis XVI did something his ancestors had not done since 1614---called together the national governing body, Estates-General...Continue reading "Metrication in 1790s France"

Photo of 1795 metric instruction book from the collection of Michael Trott

July 31, 2016 Colonial measures and education in Early America

I was happy and lucky to find two experts in Colonial and Early American mathematics education: Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements, both math professors at Illinois State University. In addition to their regular teaching and advising, Nerida and Ken have studied and compared 500+ cyphering books.

Photo of cyphering book from the collection of Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements
"Practical Questions" is an apt heading. The first question is "Bought 25 lb of coffee for 5 dollars what is that a pound? Answer 20 cents" This cyphering book is one written by a girl student—about 20% of the cyphering books studied these professors were written by girls. The cover is blue fabric, reinforced with newspaper.

Cyphering books are self-written reference books; students would solve problems on slates, and after reaching the correct answer, students would record the full problem in their own, more permanent cyphering book...Continue reading Colonial and Early American math education

November 20, 2014 Relics of Decimal Time from 1793-1795

Decimal_Clock_Face
Decimal clocks from the French Revolution at the Musée des Arts et Métiers -- count 'em: 10 hours!

The collection of scientific instruments at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, France includes a few decimal clocks and pocketwatches. When filming the kilogram and meter standards, I learned about decimal time from Dr. Lalande, who is a curator of scientific instruments at the Musée. His section includes some decimal clocks made in the 1790s. Some of the timepieces show 10 hours and their subdivisions only; others also include duodecimal time markings... Continue reading Relics of Decimal Time from 1793-1795

May 20, 2016 BYOWB: Build Your Own Watt Balance, Part 1

Leon Chao at NIST
Leon Chao at NIST gives a tour of NIST 5L, their Lego watt balance.

To celebrate World Metrology Day 2015, I made this video “Build Your Own Watt Balance” to introduce a do-it-yourself “tabletop” watt balance, built by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who also built the NIST 4 watt balance. Watch it on Vimeo

March 18, 2016 Stop Motion

Homemade miniature replicas of the temoins and IPK

I am working on some stop-motion animation footage, to show what I call the "Migration of the Kilograms" — when in 1889 kilograms were assigned to the 17 countries who signed the Metre Convention of 1875. I made some replicas of that batch of kilograms. Here you see a miniature of Kilogram 8/41...Continue reading about Kilogram 8/41

May 28, 2013 Losing weight: Science and tourism in the City of Light

A Vélib' station near the Petit Palais. Did you know that right-turners have priority over straight traffic in Paris? I didn't, either, so please review road protocol and bring your helmet.

After staying in Paris for several months, I found myself doing what I normally do in Champaign-Urbana: riding a bike and working on a science documentary. The two activities are related, but not in a way I'd imagined.

I traveled to Paris to visit the kilogram, the subject of my film. A "kilogram" is more than an idea; there are kilogram standards in government labs and commercial plants around the world. But the French created the original kilogram and meter in response to the Revolutionaries' insistence on equality in all things. Continue reading why I think Vélibs are like kilograms

June 4, 2015 SI Stamp Stories: Candela

Candela
Homemade miniature replicas of the temoins and IPK

Fireflies are efficient sources of light, meaning that 70-90% of the energy (from the chemical reaction in their lanterns is emitted) as light, rather than heat. How much light does one firefly make? That's not an easy question to answer, and firefly researchers seem to focus more on the blink patterns and spectral distribution. The blink patterns can help identify an insect among the 2,000 species of fireflies.... Continue reading about flashy fireflights