Tools & Technology


Chemistry has always been a science of measurement. In this episode, we look how measurements affect both scientific research and daily life.

Episode 4 | January 4, 2008

Episode 4: Measurement by Distillations Podcast

Chemistry has always been a science of measurement. In this episode, we look at several cases of how measurements affect scientific research and practice as well as daily life. We also explore two instances where the “standards” are changing: debates over how to fix the standard kilogram, housed at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures in Sevres, France; and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry‘s recent decision to change the atomic weights of five elements. Washington Post food science writer Robert Wolke joins us to discuss the chemistry of cooking. The Element of the Week: platinum.

Show Clock

00:00  Opening Credits
00:32  Introduction
01:09  The Element of the Week: Platinum
03:34  Interview with Norm Holden, Brookhaven National Laboratories, on changing atomic weights
07:21  Stoichiometry: Featuring Robert Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook
11:28  Quote of the Week: Robert Weber
11:46  Closing Credits

Resources and References

On platinum: John Emsely, Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

On units of measurement: “The International System of Units,” National Institute of Standards and Technology

On the kilogram and Avogadro’s number: Ronald F. Fox and Theodore P. Hill, “An Exact Value for Avogadro’s Number,” American Scientist, March-April 2007.

On IUPAC: IUPAC homepage

Quote: Robert L. Weber, Science with a Smile (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1992).


Special thanks to Hilary Domush for researching the show.

Our theme music is composed by Dave Kaufman. Additional music was provided from the Podsafe Music Network. This week’s show ID music is Salala featuring Peter Gabriel and Angelique Kidjo. The music for the transition into the Element of the Week is Set the Controls, by 3rd Man; the music for the transition out of the Element of the Week is El Relicario, by Blue Jar. The music for the quotation is Dark Eyes, by Blue Jar.

Photo courtesy of National Research Council Canada.