The latest metric system is met with prefixes: ronna-, quetta-, ronto- and quecto-.
It was adopted on November 18 at the 27th General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles, France. This is the first time that the International System of Units, or SI, has been expanded since 1991, when the prefixes zetta-, yotta-, zepto, and yocto- were added (SN: 1/16/93).
The number is 1027 (that is, the digit followed by 27 zeros) and the rest is 1030 (30 zeros). Their smallest counterparts, ronto- and quecto-, also look at 27 and 30 zeros, but those come after the decimal point. Hitherto the yotta- and yocto- (24 zeros) metric system is open to the pinifere.
New Sciences spoke with Richard Brown, head of methodology at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, England, about what the latest SI means for the expansion of science. The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
SN: Why do we need new prefixes?
Brown: The amount of information in the world is increasing exponentially. And we expect it to grow and probably increase because of quantum computing, digitization and the like. At the same time, this data set begins to be close to the top range of prefixes that we currently use. People start asking what next?
SN: Where are the nouns prefixed?
Brown: About five years ago I heard about these new names for the BBC podcast. And the two they named were Brontobyte and Hellabyte. Brontobyte, I think, comes from brontosaurus, a large dinosaur, and hellabyte comes from “the hell of big numbers”.
The problem with those that are measured from a metrology point of view or part of a measurement, begin with the letters B and H, which are already in use with other units and prefixes. Therefore we cannot have these names. [It was clear] that we had to do something official because people were starting to need these prefixes. R and Q are not really used in prefixes or SI units. [The prefix names themselves are] very, loosely in Greek and Latin names for nine and ten.
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SN: How will the prefixes be used?
Brown: The whole point of the International System of Units is that it is a globally accepted system that if you use it, you will understand it.
When you use a prefix with a unit, it means the number of changes associated with the unit. and men can understand themselves only in small numbers. Thus you will be able to express the mass of the Earth by ronnagrams; It is six grammes. Thursday’s mass is two quintals. Some good examples of [small numbers] the mass of an electronic device is about one rontogram and the mass of one bit of data stored in a mobile phone is about one quintogram.
I think the use of appropriate prepositions makes things more understandable. And I don’t think we should forget that even if there is not always a direct scientific use, it results in the traction of time.
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