Bent Hamer and the Kilogram

Tonight I find myself a thousand miles from home in a hotel in Espoo, on the outskirts of Helsinki. Outside it is raining and the temperature is just 10 °C.

I am here to discuss with colleagues from around Europe some of the minutiae associated with a new definition of the units of temperature: the kelvin and the degree Celsius.

You really don’t want to know the details: we worry about them so that you don’t have to. 🙂

And the day is auspicious. Thursday 25th September marks the 125th anniversary of the adoption of the kilogram as the international standard of mass. You can read NPL’s commentary on the anniversary here, And there is a new film release ‘about metrology’

The movie at the top of the page is a trailer for a film by Bent Hamer which appears to use the kilogram as a metaphor for… well I haven’t seen the movie yet.

But the mere existence of the movie does indicate that the ‘kilogram problem’ has entered popular culture – at least to some limited extent – and that is >fantastic<.

My wife and I have admired Bent Hamer’s previous films and sought them out at out-of-the-way cinemas. And we shall probably have to do the same with this one.

Bent Hamer’s films about IKEA researchers and retired railwaymen were not really about IKEA researchers or retired railwaymen. And I am sure this film is not really about the kilogram.

It is probably about the same thing that every other Bent Hamer film is about: the weirdness of other people’s ‘normal’ lives, and by implication, the weirdness of our own lives. And how important it is to nonetheless grab whatever happiness we can from the passing moments.

But I am filled with excitement at the prospect of this film. Parts of it are definitely shot at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) which is a thrill for us ‘insiders’ to see.

And he has certainly caught something of the obsessive personality disorder that  – if not actually required – tends to accompany an interest in metrology.

I suspect that Hamer’s fondness for humanity would probably lead him to sympathise with a statement such as

Man is measure of all things 

And if I met him I would probably have to disagree.

The fact that I can type this article on a computer in Finland and have it appear on a server hosted in the United States, and be viewed wherever you are viewing this, rests on agreed measurement standards that are not amenable to different people’s opinions.

And the whole purpose of almost everything I do in my work – including this meeting – is to move beyond situations where correct answers are ‘a matter of opinion’.

But nonetheless, to see metrology dramatised in this way brings a smile to my face, and yields a frisson of simple pleasure.

I can’t wait for ‘1001 kelvin’.


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4 Responses to “Bent Hamer and the Kilogram”

  1. iamamro Says:

    I’m a big fan of Bent Hamer too. It’s something to look forward to.

    Happy kilogram!

  2. Richard Craft Says:

    Actually, I am very interested in the minutae. Where can I find some details?

    The kilogram has been getting all the attention, along with the rivalty between the Watt balance and the Avogadro project (solved by breaking the amu so both projects get used to define constants, h and N_A). There’s been lots of ink spilled in both the popular press and jourmal commentary, and I’m sure NPL & NRC are proud that their Watt balance was right and mighty NIST had to revise their results significantly.

    But Boltzmann’s constant has been a lot quieter. It’s particularly hard to figure out what’s current, and what’s last year’s results.

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Richard Craft

      Thank you for your comment. Yes the issue with the kilogram certainly takes the limelight because it is one of the big three units (second-metre-kilogram) that define energy units and hence many other units including (hopefully) temperature.

      The issues around the determination of kB are being resolved by the CODATA committee as we speak. They will meet in NOvember for the usual reconsideration and then again in February 2015 for a special conference on the redefinition.

      I will be giving a talk at NPL in the next day or two that will eventually make it to the web. I will try to post a link here. If you need any more details please contact me off-line

  3. 1001 grams: Film Review | Protons for Breakfast Blog Says:

    […] has been one year, 5 months and  23 days  since I posted a trailer for the Bent Hamer movie “1001 grams”. And this week I finally saw the […]

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