Citation: Phys. Today 67, 7, 35 (2014); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.2448
The universally accepted method of expressing physical measurements for world commerce, industry, and science is about to get a facelift, thanks to our improved knowledge of fundamental constants.
Although the present International System of Units (SI, from the French Système International d’Unités) was officially established in 1960, its origin goes back to the creation of the metric system during the French Revolution. Following an idea proposed a century earlier by John Wilkins, 1 the new system of weights and measures took as its starting point a single universal measure—the meter—and used it to define length, volume, and mass. The meter came from a perceived constant of nature: one ten-millionth of the distance along Earth’s meridian through Paris from the North Pole to the equator. 2 Definitions for the units of volume and mass followed, with the liter being 0.001 m 3 and the kilogram the mass of 1 liter of distilled water at 4 °C. Subsequently, in 1799, two platinum artifact standards for length and mass based on those definitions were deposited in the Archives de la République in Paris. In the words of the Marquis de Condorcet, a new system of measurement “for all time, for all people” was born.
The SI is a living, evolving system, changing as new knowledge and measurement needs arise, albeit sometimes slowly when measured against the rapid pace of scientific progress.
The new SI will also have seven base quantities: frequency, velocity, action, electric charge, heat capacity, amount of substance, and luminous intensity. The specific reference quantities will be the exact values of a set of defining constants: the ground-state hyperfine splitting of the cesium-133 atom Δ ν( 133Cs) hfs, c, h, e, k, the Avogadro constant N A, and the luminous efficacy K cd. However, to provide continuity and ease of transition, their values will be expressed in terms of the present SI units instead of in potentially confusing new base units.
Physics Today: A more fundamental International System of Units
David B. Newell