Everything stays the same: Standard measurement units redefined

Scales aren’t changing and the weather won’t be noticeably different, but on May 20 the definitions that underlie what your scale and thermometer report – along with standard definitions used in chemistry and electronics – are undergoing a major overhaul. That’s the date that a more-than-centuries-long process of standardizing measurements reaches its conclusion.

At that time, the way we define an amount of light or electrical current – along with the more familiar measurements of volume and mass – will all be based on descriptions that could be replicated by anyone not just on Earth but in galaxies far, far away.

May 20 also marks the debut of a new book on the history of measurement by Emanuele Lugli, assistant professor of art and art history at the School of Humanities and Sciences. The Making of Measure and the Promise of Sameness (University of Chicago Press) is a quest for the foundations of objectivity through an analysis of the ways measurement standards were made, displayed, used and imagined between the 12th and the 17th century.