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Categorized | Science

Lab Letters Issue #14: Le Grand K, Grey Hair, and a Space Oddity

Hey there! Now that the election dust has settled, more or less, let’s get back to Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science micro-post! Let’s see what we have for this week.


The International Prototype Kilogram, also known as Le Grand K, sits under three nested bell jars and is cleaned every 40 years. (credit:

A Better Kilo

Ever wonder how we worked out how heavy a kilogram should be? It sounds like a recurring loop (“well, it should be just as heavy as a… uh… kilogram!”), and that is exactly right. There exists the kilogram, a standard that is sitting in a vault in France. The kilogram unit was named by the French in 1795 and defined as the mass of one liter of water at 4C, and a more practical ‘reference weight’ made of platinum and iridium was then made in 1879. Forty replicas of this standard weight are found all over the world. Recently, however, these kilogram standards have begun to vary in weight because of accumulating dust from the atmosphere. The kilogram is also the only remaining SI unit that is still based on a physical weight. So the folks at Swiss Federal Office of Metrology put out a call for better ways to measure and define a kilogram, and it seems that Mettler Toledo (known for making precision measuring instruments) has found one: the watt balance is a scale that measures the amount of voltage required to lift the kilogram standard in an electromagnetic field. Other teams from the world over are also in the game. Check out Team Avogadro and Team Planck.


Michael Jackson had had vitiligo since the 1980s, which eventually caused all his skin to lighten in color. (source:

 Goodbye, Gray Hair & Vitiligo

A grey hair develops hydrogen peroxide accumulates in the hair follicle and bleaches it out completely. Now, researchers from the UK and Germany have discovered a cure: stop the accumulation, and you can reverse the bleaching. And it works on people with vitiligo, too, because it targets the same mechanism. The “topical, UVB-activated pseudocatalase” is an antioxidant that prevents the buildup of, well, oxidants, including hydrogen peroxide. I guess people won’t be needing that spray-on hair in the future.


And finally…


This is a snapshot taken by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on his last day as Commander of the International Space Station. Along with two astronauts, Hadfield returned to Earth via the Soyuz spacecraft that landed in Kazakhstan on 13 May 2013.

Hadfield has been lauded for his efforts to make space exploration cool again by actively engaging people on social media. He has a Youtube channel, where he shows Earthlings what it’s like living in orbit (exercise is important! food comes in sachets! tears just pool on your face!), and a Twitter account (@Cmdr_Hadfield) that he uses to post spectacular pictures taken from space and interact with Canada’s other famous space captain.

He recently turned over command of the ISS to Russian Pavel Vinogradovin, but not before posting his cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, which is also the first music video made in space. Sit down for a minute and let that wash over you. Now go watch the video here.


I’ll be seeing you folks next week! Same time, same place.



DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.