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Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2005 Sep 15;363(1834):2177-201.

Base units of the SI, fundamental constants and modern quantum physics.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Physique des Lasers, UMR 7538 CNRS and Universitéde Paris Nord, Clément, Villetaneuse, France. chbo@ccr.jussieu.fr


Over the past 40 years, a number of discoveries in quantum physics have completely transformed our vision of fundamental metrology. This revolution starts with the frequency stabilization of lasers using saturation spectroscopy and the redefinition of the metre by fixing the velocity of light c. Today, the trend is to redefine all SI base units from fundamental constants and we discuss strategies to achieve this goal. We first consider a kinematical frame, in which fundamental constants with a dimension, such as the speed of light c, the Planck constant h, the Boltzmann constant k(B) or the electron mass m(e) can be used to connect and redefine base units. The various interaction forces of nature are then introduced in a dynamical frame, where they are completely characterized by dimensionless coupling constants such as the fine structure constant alpha or its gravitational analogue alpha(G). This point is discussed by rewriting the Maxwell and Dirac equations with new force fields and these coupling constants. We describe and stress the importance of various quantum effects leading to the advent of this new quantum metrology. In the second part of the paper, we present the status of the seven base units and the prospects of their possible redefinitions from fundamental constants in an experimental perspective. The two parts can be read independently and they point to these same conclusions concerning the redefinitions of base units. The concept of rest mass is directly related to the Compton frequency of a body, which is precisely what is measured by the watt balance. The conversion factor between mass and frequency is the Planck constant, which could therefore be fixed in a realistic and consistent new definition of the kilogram based on its Compton frequency. We discuss also how the Boltzmann constant could be better determined and fixed to replace the present definition of the kelvin.

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