Science: New Time, New Length

Since the 19th century, science and industry have honored a holy of holies: a bar of platinum-iridium alloy, triple-locked in a subbasement at Sèvres on the outskirts of Paris. Near the ends of the bar were engraved two microscopically thin lines, and the distance between them was exactly one meter—by international agreement, the world standard of measurement. Around the globe, other countries had copies of the bar at Sèvres, and their traditional units of length—feet (3.28 to a meter), versts, li, or whatever —were defined by reference to it. But last week the...

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