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

April 4, 2020 Behind the Scenes, But No Surprises

Professor of Physics Gabe Spalding teaching Physics 306 online. At a first glance I didn't really notice that his Zoom lab was a cartoon.

Behind the scenes, but no surprises. The "Kilofilm" is coming together. I am glad.

The State of the Unit is in a showable state, and Professor Gabe Spalding and his students at Illinois Wesleyan University have helped me a lot the past month.

I held a small preview screening at the Champaign Public Library for the first part of the film, and Professor Spalding brought three of his students. Some of my other friends in town came, and brought family and more new friends. I got lots of helpful feedback, and Gabe and I planned to screen the rest on IWU campus in March or April. But with Illinois on lockdown, we decided that instead of my going to campus, Gabe would screen some sections for his Materials Physics lab class and we would have a discussion afterwards. While over the years I've interviewed several research scientists and educators about what students know (or are taught), this was a great opportunity for me to hear undergraduates talk about how they were first introduced to Planck constant, and how their opinions of it have evolved with their studies. Some have started their student teaching, and could give opinions on what high school students typically learn or would want covered. I was very pleased to hear that the students found the experiments shown in the film to be interesting, and found the onscreen scientists to be credible and likable. Thanks for all the time and thoughts given to me by Gabe and his students: Amelia, Caleb, Christian, Keegan, Moses, Philip, Zach, and Zachary.

At the preview screening, I asked what people were curious to see in the second half. The two physicists present, Gabe Spalding and José Martin-Garcia, both said they were quite curious to learn how the thread of Henri Poincaré would be developed. Uh-oh.  I hadn't been expecting that (although Michael Trott had predicted it) and so I need more details about Poincaré's perspectives on measurement. To make sure Poincaré's views are accurately interpreted in the film, Michael is reading even more about the polymath and mathematician.

Michael Trott is the film's Science Advisor, and reading up even more on one of his science heroes, Henri Poincaré.

The edit progresses and sometimes when things get rearranged, I need more footage. (Believe it or not.) One segment deals with bread and I needed about 65 seconds more for cut ins. This is a convection oven, but the focus is not on convection effects in mass measurement. :-)

Executive Producer getting the talent ready for its closeup

"It's a dirty job and the Executive Producer's got to do it." How many times do you hear that on a film set?

"It's a dirty job and the Executive Producer's got to do it." How many times do you hear that on a film set? But Kilofilm is unlike any other film. Here Michael Trott prepares the set. I have already prepared the talent for its closeup. But the talent—a double-batch of 70%-hydration, 10% olive oil ciabatta dough—is resting in a bowl in the fridge, not a fancy trailer. Earlier I did give it a massage, of sorts. (I worked a while at a local artisan bakery, so I can develop the gluten, not only talk the talk.)

For baking you need flour, and so last week I ordered the only big bag of flour I could find online. After filming, I get to eat the props/talent. Just like after my camera tests with marshmallows painted with silver food spray—"kilograms." 

There is still plenty of work to be done on Kilofilm, but all of what I need now, I can do quite literally at home in the next months. 

Stay tuned!

 

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