Simanaitis Says

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AT FIRST GLANCE, 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 should be large enough. And, at the other extreme, 0.000,000,000,000,000,000,000,001 would seem small indeed.

Nope. Within a couple of decades, global data storage may exceed 1024, 1 followed by 24 zeros as above, in scientific terms, 1 yottabyte. And, at the other extreme, quantum physicists have already measured tiny atomic forces as small as 42 yoctonewtons; 42 x 10-24 newtons.

Rest easy, though, because the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, Bureau International des Poids et Mesures in Paris, is on it.

Details are given in “You Know Kilo, Mega, and Giga. Is the Metric System Ready for Ronna and Quecca?” by David Adams, in Science February 15, 2019.

The Need for Units. One scientist is quoted by Adams, “Where there is a need that is not met, there is also the risk that unofficial units can take hold and that can cause confusion.”

To avoid this, the BIPM will discuss new scientific prefixes at a meeting later this year. A final vote will come in a general conference of the BIPM scheduled for 2022.

Here are the current prefixes, together with four proposed new ones: ronna, R, 1027; quecca, Q, 1030; ronto, r, 10-27; and quecto, q, 10-30.

Image from Science, February 15, 2019.

Familiar Units. My Apple iMac operates at 3.2 GHz, 3.2 gigahertz, 3.2 x 109 cycles each second. It has 1.0-TB, one-terabyte, 1.0 x 1012 bytes of disc storage.

At the other extreme, we’ve all grown accustomed to the infinitesimal world of nano this and nano that. Yet notice how “large” a nanometer is: There are 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1021) of the proposed qm (quectometers) in a single nm.

Do Words Evade Us? Well, they don’t evade us here, but they do squirm a bit: The world agrees up to one million, 106. But then, blame the French and others who follow the notion of a milliard, their 109, and a billiard, their 1015.

Standard Dictionary Numbers. Image from Wikipedia..

In the U.S., Eastern European, English Canadian, Australian, and modern British usage, a billion is a thousand million; for others, it’s a thousand milliard.

For modern English speakers, there are a sextillion proposed quectometers in a nanometer, though it’s better to learn scientific notation and not worry about whether you’re talking to a ’Merican or whomever.

The Fun Units. The googol, 1 followed by 100 zeros, 10100, was named by Milton Sirotta, mathematician Edward Kastner’s nine-year-old nephew.

In search of a yet bigger number, It was first suggested that a googolplex be 1 followed by zeros until you got tired of writing them. What with the strong and the weak having different googolplexes, this wouldn’t do. Instead, a googolplex is 1 followed by a googol of zeros. Large though it is, even a googolplex is still finite.

Adams cites other fun units proposed for scientific notation: “One prankster hacked a Wikipedia article to introduce a new technical term for a computer that could attempt 1048 operations per second: a gonnaflop. It lasted 7 minutes before being deleted.”

Also: “In 2010, a physics student in California suggested ‘hella’ as a prefix for 1027, and thousands of people signed an online petition in support.”

I would prefer “helluva.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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