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Summer Science in the City

by AprilSix Proof

The Royal Society (RS) has once again opened its doors to eager crowds of science enthusiasts from all age groups in time for their annual Summer Science Exhibition. Showcasing some of the most recent breakthroughs in science, technology and engineering from across the UK, the RS boasted 22 exhibits and the opportunity to talk directly with the scientists involved.

Monday proved to be the start of a truly modern conversazione, inviting guests to get hands-on with the exhibits and learn more about the latest and most innovative research. There were beguiling stalls being run by the Webb Telescope team, the University of Oxford, and the Barbraham Institute, amongst others.

We’re a little bit biased of course, but we think our client, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) hosted one of the most enthralling exhibits, entitled ‘The Measure of All Things’. This stand focused on how we define the seven base units of theInternational System of Units (SI), and how we might define them in the future. The NPL team provided hands-on demonstrations of all the ‘7 units that rule the world’ and explained in detail the subtle but profound changes that will be made to the definitions of four of them from May 2019. From this time, the kilogram, the ampere, the kelvin and the mole will be defined by physical constants, like the speed of light, or the electric charge of a single electron.

Dr Michael de Podesta, who was working on the exhibit, explained the importance of metrology in society. He told me how, as technology progresses, we can no longer rely on measuring against standards that exist in mass, such as the International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK), since studies have worryingly shown that they might be changing over time. We are working with smaller objects and there is a need to be ever more precise. He compared the urgency of today’s need to redefine the base units with the urgency to first introduce the SI in the mid-eighteenth century, when everyone’s measurement of an inch might have been marginally different, and manufacturers were receiving nuts that didn’t fit bolts, for instance.

The NPL team also offered guests marbles that were weighed in front of their eyes in a special balance which was related to the Kibble balance at NPL, before presenting them in a small bag with its accurately measured mass written on. The extremely accurate Kibble balance was developed by Dr Bryan Kibble at NPLin 1975, and is being used by NPL researchers as part of their ongoing attempt to redefine the kilogram, the last SI base unit to be defined by a physical object: the International Prototype Kilogram (IPK), kept securely underground in Sèvres, France.

The day was exciting and informative and bodes well for the rest of the week. If you are passing the RS, by St. James’s Park on The Mall, make sure to pop in and have a look around the exhibition; it’s free to enter, and running until the 8thof July. There are exhibits for fans of all areas of science, including a ‘Mind the (nano) gap’ stall, run by the University of Cambridge and NanoDTC; a “Code for creation” stall, run by Imperial College London, the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Theory and Simulation of Materialsand the Thomas Young Centre; and a ‘Quantum sensing the brain’ stall, presented by the University of Nottingham and University College London, all of which are excellent and entertaining.