Public Release: 

MontanaPBS releases trailer explaining search for new weight standard

The film probes the international race to redefine the standard for the kilogram and reboot the international measurement system

Montana State University


IMAGE: Encased within three sealed bell jars at atmospheric pressure, a small metallic cylinder about the diameter of golf ball that is the current standard for weight is kept in a... view more 

Credit: Photo courtesy of MontanaPBS.

BOZEMAN, Montana - In celebration of World Metrology Day on Sunday, May 20, MontanaPBS has released the trailer for "The Last Artifact," a feature-length documentary to be released next year about the international race to redefine the standard for the kilogram and reboot the international measurement system.

Jaime Jacobsen, producer of the "The Last Artifact," said the film documents the work going on behind the scenes to modernize the standardized measurement system upon which all of modern life depends. While the 60-minute documentary will be released in 2019, the trailer is now available online.

Jacobsen said the trailer has been released to coincide with World Metrology Day, an annual celebration of the signature of the Metre Convention between 17 nations on May 20, 1875, that set the framework for international collaboration on the science of measurement and its modern applications in business, industry and commerce.

Jacobsen explains that since the French Revolution, the standard for the way we weigh the world has been based on a small metallic cylinder about the diameter of golf ball, located just outside of Paris inside a high-tech vault.

"Encased within three sealed bell jars at atmospheric pressure, it may not look like much, but it is one of the most important objects on the planet," Jacobsen said. "It affects every aspect of our lives from the moment we are born, to the food we eat, the cars we drive and the medicines we take. This object has helped send men to the moon and satellites into space. It is an object unlike any other, the last of its kind. It is a literal constant in an ever-changing world, and the weight by which all others are measured.

"But, in 2018 all this will change. This remarkable object will be resigned to history. It will be redefined." Jacobsen said. "'The Last Artifact' tells the story about how this artifact came to be, how it came to pass, and what the future holds for standardized weight."

Jacobsen said Montana State University, in collaboration with MontanaPBS, received a $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support the making of the film. "The Last Artifact" is co-produced and directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Jacobsen and Ed Watkins, both graduates of MSU's Master of Fine Arts in Science and Natural History Filmmaking.

Jacobsen, Watkins and team are spending two years following teams of scientists from around the world as they seek to establish a new definition, weaving together a tale of historical ingenuity, international competition and dogged determination. "If past experience is any judge, the implications for the future will be compelling," Watkins said. "The last big revision in the definition of just one measurement unit, time, enabled the development of GPS, the internet and interstellar navigation." The film's production team is composed of an array of MSU School of Film and Photography graduates. They include: Rick Smith, director of photography; Parker Brown, sound; and Stefanie Watkins, editor. In addition, Scott Sterling, MontanaPBS' director of production who is also an MSU graduate, will serve as the film's colorist and online editor. Aaron Pruitt, interim director and general manager at MontanaPBS and also an MSU graduate, will serve as the film's executive producer. Jacobsen said filming will culminate at the General Conference on Weights and Measures at the Palace of Versailles in France in November when delegates vote to redefine the weight of the world.

"The Last Artifact's" distribution plan in 2019 will include national broadcast on public television and release on secondary platforms including cable, satellite, HD, video on demand, mobile and educational forums.


For more information about the efforts to redefine the kilogram, see NIST's webpage. More information about MontanaPBS may be found on the organization's website: More information about the film may be found on its website:

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