New measures for size, as world surpasses 8 billion mark

Paris: What is bigger: A ronna or a quetta?

Scientists meeting outside of Paris last Friday — who have expanded the world’s measuring unit systems for the first time this century as the global population surges past 8 billion — have the answer.

Rapid scientific advances and vast worldwide data storage on the web, in smartphones, and in the cloud mean that the very terms used to measure things in weight and size need extension too. And one British scientist led the push to incorporate bold new, tongue-twisting prefixes on the gigantic and even the minuscule scale.

“Most people are familiar with prefixes like milli- as in milligram. But these are prefixes for the biggest and smallest levels ever measured,” Dr. Richard Brown, head of Metrology at the U.K.’s National Physical Laboratory who proposed the four new prefixes said.

“In the last 30 years, the data-sphere has increased exponentially, and data scientists have realized they will no longer have words to describe the levels of storage. These terms are upcoming, the future,” he explained.

There’s the gargantuan “ronna” (that’s 27 zeros after the one) and its big brother the “quetta” – (that’s 30 zeros).

Their ant-sized counterparts are the “ronto” (27 zeros after the decimal point), and the “quecto” (with 30 zeros after the decimal point) — representing the smaller numbers needed for quantum science and particle physics.

Brown presented the new prefixes to officials from 64 nations attending the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles, outside of Paris — who approved them.

The conference, which takes place every four years in France, is the supreme authority of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. The new terms take effect immediately, marking the first time since 1991 that any new additions have been made.

Brown said the new terms also make it easier to describe things scientists already know about — reeling off a list of the smallest and biggest things discovered by humankind.

Image courtesy of (Image: The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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