Is America Actually Metric?

Is America Actually Metric?

I’m here at the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and I’m about to see some of the original kilogram standards. Is that right? Patrick: You are, you are. When were these made? Well the originals were made in the 1880s. There were 40 of them that were brethren of the International prototype kilogram and these 40 were distributed to the signatories of the Treaty of the meter and the United States was given two, K4 and K20. What was this meter agreement? The treaty of the meter? Yeah, what is that? It’s the modern-day foundation of the metric system. So the U.S. signed that? The U.S. signed it. As if they were going to become metric? Yes. A little known secret and I’ll tell you something else that all the units that we commonly use like feet and gallons and so on are actually defined in terms of metric units. So it’s just a little translation that we do here but our country is actually on the metric system. [Laughter] Doesn’t that seem crazy? Yes! Isn’t that insane that like you base all of these measurements on the metric system and then you add a conversion factor and then later some people have to convert back. Yes, it’s stupid. [Laughter] Are you allowed to say that? It’s true. So can we see it? sure sure What do we have to do? This requires that we go through some high-security gear and also that would be somewhat clean in what we do so I’ll have to ask you to put on some booties here. Let me see if I can do this all right so, did I do it? Yep, there you go. straight back, all the way there you go. This is the first BootieButler that I’ve ever… I’m a big fan. This is the first layer. Secret code I’m going to show you two I’m going to show you one of the originals and I’m going to show you a more modern version This is K 20. Oh my goodness that is like the original kilogram mass standard of the US. That’s right. I never thought I would get this close to it virtually every mass that has been accurately weighed in the US over the past hundred and thirty years can trace its measurement back to this one kilogram hunk of 90 percent platinum 10 percent iridium. Iridium makes the alloy much harder than pure platinum and both elements were selected for their high density and resistance to oxidation this kilogram was created in the same way at around the same time as an object which to this day remains the definition of the kilogram an identical cylinder stored in a basement vault on the outskirts of Paris. If you look straight down from the top you can maybe see K 20 doesn’t have a very nice finish on it compared to the more modern prototypes here’s K 92 so it’s got a much higher polish on it different manufacturing techniques absolutely no swirls it is a really like beautiful looking specimen yes it is I mean is there a reason why you want it to look so beautiful? well you want it not to be very rough because roughness increases surface area surface area increases the probability that you will get contaminants on that will change the mass of the entire thing how much is it worth well monetarily the new ones are about $100,000 a piece if you were to buy one oh my goodness so but if you think about K 20 K for with about 130 years of history they’re priceless you could never replace them the purpose of this room then is to share the precise mass of K 20 with anyone who wants to make a measurement without sharing K 20 itself what we do in this suite here is we transfer the definition of the kilogram from the platinum-iridium prototypes to stainless steel secondary standards and you can tell that they’re a lot bigger and the platinum-iridium prototypes and that’s because of the relative difference in density the density of stainless steel is about 8 grams per cubic centimeter whereas the density of platinum iridium is about 21.5 grams per cubic centimeter so there’s all of the three times difference in density which tells you why this is so much bigger in volume and that creates a problem ordinarily we don’t worry much about the buoyant force that is the upward force on every object in the atmosphere equal to the weight of air it displaces but since the volumes of these masses are so different a stainless steel object that has around the same mass as k20 can have its weight reduced due to buoyancy by around 110 milligrams the precise amount depends on the temperature pressure and humidity of the air that’s why the mass comparator itself is inside of a chamber here that’s isolated from the outside world so that the temperature remains relatively stable I’m the humidity the same pressure is by far the biggest contributor to air density so we don’t want it changing all over the place with the weather the problem scientists are having with the kilogram now is much bigger than weather fluctuations it’s something they discovered when all the original kilograms were returned to Paris for a weigh-in including k20 how did it get there it gets there by a person hand carrying it each prototype gets taken out of the bell jar and put in its container how do we sound after we get it in there all nicely secured then we wrap the whole thing in bubble wrap and put it in a camera bag and sling it over our shoulders don’t let it out of our sight it sounds a little casual so you actually like while you’re on the plane do you put it in like the overhead stretch know it stay just at all times like it’s a you know the nuclear football codes were setting off a nuclear weapon and you never have any scares while you’re carrying the only scare comes that somebody wants to see it like a customs official I’ve never had to open it although I had a kind of a scary moment at one time when they asked me what it was made of and I told them it was platinum iridium and somebody heard the word iridium and connected that with radioactivity no no and kind of you know flew off the handle a little bit and I had to calm them down on the shoreland that it wasn’t radioactive there was no threats going on here the real threat was the unreliable weight and the kilogram mass standard what they do is a series of comparisons they compare every one of those with the International prototype kilogram using that data and plotting it it looked as if there had been a change in the International prototype that made it about 50 micrograms heavier than one kilogram now over the course of a hundred years all right but the interesting thing is if one looks at the data that was recently taken at the end of 2013 international prototype kilogram did not show an increasing mass telling me for several decades it was gaining mass and also on the stop which you know I find that hard to explain but it seemed like all of the 40 masses in to be somewhat diverging at that weigh-in they went different ways they went in different directions yes so that some changed a lot some changed little some hardly changed at all but it’s hard to tell I mean they could we’ll all be changing a lot but because all you can tell is the difference between them they’ve already married all that matters is the difference between them and the International prototype because the International prototype is the only thing you need the only thing that you really know because it’s defined as one kilogram right but I mean the outside of that definition there’s a chance it could have gained you know five grams as long as they all gain five grams you know I’m having these ridiculous obviously it’s ridiculous but the point is they could have all been gaining or they could all been losing right it’s a relative measurement and that’s the weakness of the system and that’s why as of 2018 the kilogram will no longer be defined as the mass of a metal cylinder why if you want to find out how the kilogram will be redefined be sure to subscribe to Veritasium

100 thoughts on “Is America Actually Metric?

  1. So when the English refer to their body weight in "Stones" I guess that's stupid? Of course social/cultural comforts…colloquialisms in familiar "terminology" be damned….right?

  2. Can’t it also then be said that the metric system is based in the United States customary units if the metric units an be derived from American units.

  3. This is too good, now I really have no reason to ever again to not laugh at someone for using imperials, because they're still based on metric xD

  4. Why anyone still uses imperial measurements I'll never know. They're just ridiculous. I work as an engineer in the UK and if someone gives me a measurement in pounds, inches, yards, miles, chains whatever I'll assume they're taking the piss and if they're not, I won't be in any rush to work with them again. It's fine if they're an older guy that's just guesstimating and it slipped their mind that most people now don't know what those are without looking them up or it came from a document or something that was made a few decades ago but really there's just no other reason for it nowadays other than that. It's just a pain in the ass to convert it into something people will be able to use, convert and understand easily. If you gave most people a tape measure and asked them to measure out a chain or a yard they'd have no clue, let alone converting between the two.

  5. I feel like the relative changes between masses of the kilograms (and the sudden stop in changes) could probably be explained by improvements made in measuring tools and manufacturing tools since the originals were made. It's not that they were gaining or losing mass, but that the prototypes made in the 1880's weren't made as precisely as we can now measure, and that increase in precision is simply revealing their imperfections.

  6. Quick question, in the UK what do the speed limit signs say? … oh ok then guess the US is not the only ones huh.

  7. If you cant understand the metric system, how do you understand that there are ten pennies in a dime, 10 dimes in a dollar, and so on.

  8. So if someone took some sandpaper and scratched off the surface of that metal cylinder, everything in the universe would suddenly gain mass? Since mass is defined by that cylinder?


    US NOW: Okay we'll use it where it matters, but still use football fields per obesity squared for everything else.

  10. Why bother with removing the extremes of air pressure and humidity if it fluctuates weight to drastically? That means everything outside of the vacuum will be an incorrect weight. Which makes the whole system incorrect.

  11. While watching I noticed that the guy in purple has the exact same smile as Christian Bale. Once you see it you can't unsee it.

  12. I've heard that imperial is actually still in wide use in canada (apparently using both imperial and metric, with either being used for different tasks. ie gallons for fluid and km for distance), and a few other places that are 'officially' metric. I doubt the whole world will ever standardize on one system. its like trying to push a new language onto a nation that's been speaking another since its founding. (yes I know the US hasnt been imperial its whole life but the point still stands)

  13. "Is America Actually Metric?"
    In the 80's the automotive industry started mixing the hardware with metric and fractional. We also use the decimal system breaking an inch into 1000nths…There are other forms of measurements we use that work just fine.

  14. The problem is, gravity is really a dipole electric attraction between electrons and is subject to variations, which are by their very nature electrical.

    Just kidding, I have no idea.

  15. if you want a good approach 1 Kilogram is the weight of 1 liter of pure water. Metric system is so easy. You just need to know to multiply or divide by 10, any fools knows that and it's a great help nowadays.

  16. I was working on a sterile filling machine from Bosch in Cralscheim (their pharmaceutical packaging, manufacturing plant), which is in Ireland. I got asked to go help with the replacement of parts of a similar machine made in the US which was to be converted to fill the same syringes they fill here Ireland. Everything was in fractions of inches. I didn't say anything, it's not the first time I've used Imperial on high tolerance parts. However, this was the first time I hadn't been requested to send any parts designed, back in Imperial, and a couple of small parts were drawn up in both Imperial and metric already. As the team I was working with were all Irish or German, we agreed to work in metric. A few weeks later, parts are written up, the requested ones made, and the remaining drawings emailed over to the US. Within a few hours, we got a call asking if what we had sent was a joke. Why wed sent everything in metric, to America. Some harsh words were sent on the phone, and some unessicery claims made. A few days later and after some more aggressive calls, and a very quick meeting to investigate for clarification from our side back home in Ireland, we were told we would need to pay up for the costs involved for sending it all in metric. To which we replied, we're sorry such a large problem had occurred, the parts had been fitted, tested, and were well within the requested tolerances. We then decided to reference the treaty of the metre and that metric was part of the ISO, and hoped the yanks wouldn't start paying for solicitor work, which would be useless, and a waist of their money. The very next day, we were told they'd stopped complaining.
    My experience with US companies in Ireland has typically been very positive outside of how they treat their employees. They make it very clear what they do and don't want in what system. Metric is the standard, they know that's what we use. This time just seemed to be a really bad example….

  17. In the US we are free to use whatever system we like. The US government has never made it a law, unlike most other countries. That's a fundamental difference. NASA uses the metric system because it's easier and it's less likely for humans to make mistakes with it. I use inches and feet.

  18. Only in Scandinavia do we know that

    Norway and Sweden have also "mil".

    One "mil" (sounds meel or meal) = ten kilometers.

  19. Everyone arguing about which measuring system is better but come on why does this even exists. I feel like this is just a big waste of time and money. Edit: Wow I was a minutes from finishing the video when I wrote this. spoiler alert it’s useless…another win for Murcia!

  20. I've always wondered why the American date system is so weird. Why is the month before the day? Do you also give minutes before hours on the clock?

  21. But Americans haven't gone metric officially. There are only 2 other countries who also haven't:
    1) Liberia
    2) Myanmar
    So they're in good company. 8^)

  22. isnt it defined by h2o…. 1L of h2o is 1kg at a sertain preassure and 5°c .the stupid metal cylinders are just a repesentation

  23. The Metric System is so easy to use because there are just three units: gram (weight), liter (volume), and meter (length). And all the other measurements are based on the scale of ten, either increasing (Deca, Hecto, Kilo, Mega, Giga), or decreasing (deci, centi, milli, micro, nano). That is it!

    Who likes to convert inches to feet, yards, miles, and so on? Or teaspoons to tablespoons, ounces, cups, quarts, and gallons? Or ounces (again?) to pounds and tons? It we all learn and use the Metric system, we will simplify our lives, and become compatible to 99% of all the other nations who use it. Even Thomas Jefferson applied a similar method when he and others created our monetary system using cents (a centi or a hundredth) or a dime (a deci or tenth) for a dollar.

    I live where we use mostly the Metric System (we buy water, milk, and gasoline in liters) because we were a Spanish territory for over five hundred years. So we are ahead already of the rest of the U.S. who still use the British Imperial System. Didn't the U.S revolted from the Imperials over 243 years ago? So why do you still use their system?

  24. I still don't understand why so many people feel the need to bash or complain about the units of measurement used by America. Like, most of you don't live here, it doesn't affect you in any way how we do our measurements, why do you care? Most of us know the metric system as well because we get taught both, so unless you're dealing with someone who doesn't know metric and/or Celcius, how does this affect you?

  25. Wow, how do you get this Government gig being keeper of the Kilogram? Seems pretty simple and stress free….Drive to work, go through security, clock in, put on gloves and booties, enter secret room and check to make sure kilogram thing is still there, work completed for the day, go on brake until 5:00 pm, clock out…..repeat. Lol

  26. It's pretty misleading to say something like an inch is based on metric. The inch has been around far longer, and has been redefined several times. From the width of a mans finger, to grains of barley to poppy seeds. It has been since been redefined by a metric standard.

  27. I lost hope in humanity when I saw those fox News fools saying we should not use metric system because it's a creepy system and the yoke of tyranny

  28. I enjoy watching Americans crossing the Canadian border and messing with units conversion, and Canadian cops giving tickets because people don't realize they use km/h instead of mph

  29. American crybaby defense for imperial system on the internet: "Metric didn't get us to the Moon!"
    Meanwhile NASA works entirely on Metric system

    You can measure their tears in football fields per elbow multiplied by 10 cubic trucks.

  30. Hey, one question:
    wouldnt be a portion of pure Aurium better to use as standard kilogram? its not hard at all, but surely its more resistant to oxidation then this alloy.

  31. Still staying imperial and having metric issues. Just stay on only the metric system then nothing has a problem.


  33. Breh seems like one does not argue the particulars of the definition of one kilogram with the keeper of the kilogram. I never saw a man closer to serving a knuckle sandwich and I was in the infantry for twelve years.

  34. So I'm just gonna go ahead and say this.

    America uses the metric system when doing science, industry, or another field a.k.a if it's important we use metric if its not America uses the Imperial System.

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