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Physics and Astronomy Colloquium: Measurement of the Planck Constant and the Revision of the SI

Speaker(s) / Presenter(s):
Dr. Stefan Schlamminger (NIST)

A revision of our system of units, the SI, is currently discussed and may be implemented as early as 2018. The new SI is a logical extension of an argument made in 1983 when the meter was redefined to be based on the exact value of the speed of light. In the new SI all units will be derived from seven fundamental reference constants, thus replacing the seven base units of the current system.

For example, the unit of mass, the kilogram, is currently defined by an artifact called the International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK). In the future we will be able to realize the unit of mass, not just at the kilogram level, from a fixed value of the Planck constant, which has units of kg m^2/s.

One condition for redefinition is agreement between different measurements of the Planck constant.  Currently two measurement strategies lead to values with relative uncertainties less than 100 parts per billion (ppb): (1) Avogadro’s number can be determined by estimating the number of atoms in a well characterized crystal. From Avogadro’s number h can be calculated using the Rydberg constant, which is known with much smaller uncertainty (2) A watt balance can be used to measure mechanical power in units of electrical power. Electrical power can be measured as the product of the Planck constant and two frequencies by utilizing the Josephson effect and the Quantum Hall effect. NIST has carried out measurements of h with watt balances for over 20 years. In 2012/13 a new team has performed a largely independent determination of h. I will describe this measurement and measurements from other laboratories.

Refreshments will be served in CP 179 at 3:15 PM