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Units of Scientific Measurement

Last week, I noted that the first controlled nuclear reaction occurred in a squash court, which implies there was a squash court going spare - or requisitionable for a large, military-funded research project - in 1942. This week, I noted that ENIAC was built in a room the size of a squash court (but presumably not an actual ex-squash court). Suddenly wondering if large science projects of the twentieth century were all measured in terms of squash courts, I superficially did a web search for answers.

Describing the International Space Station:
"The largest single ISS module—the centerpiece of Japan’s contribution to the station—is scheduled to be launched into space in October 2008. The pressurized volume inside this metal-walled module will be about 150 cubic meters, or about half the size of a squash court."

Describing air quality tests:
"‘When using traditional methods, measurement of diesel particle levels requires a test cell the size of a squash court, crammed with over a million dollars worth of equipment, operated by two or three highly skilled staff, but only producing vehicle test results every two to three hours.’"

On remote controls:
"The world’s largest TV remote controller is owned by Japanese businessman Henri Osaka. Weighing in at over 55lb, the unit is roughly half the size of a squash court. Ironically enough, the TV it controls is just a regular 30” set!"

Is it politics, or is it a scientifically-allocated quantity of space?
"The World Bank and the IMF have disagreed with the city- state's ban on outdoor assemblies and its objection to 27 of the more than 700 civil society representatives accredited by the event organizers. A 538-square-foot area, about the size of a squash court, has been set aside at a corner of the downtown convention center venue for the civil society groups to protest."

On a cutting-edge way to clear mines:
""We train them to detect concentrations of explosives lower than those they experience in a real minefield. That way we can guarantee a rat will never walk over a mine without indicating its presence," Mr Weetjens said. On their first assignment in Mozambique the rats swept an area the size of a squash court in 30 minutes. As yet no mine has been missed."

I thought I had a conclusive case, but it turns out that tennis courts are also used as a scientific measurement. Satellites and lumps of gold are both measured in terms of tennis courts. Alveoli are special, as they can be measured in both tennis courts AND in badminton courts. Only oceanographers and engineers use volleyball courts, however.

And as for the future of scientific measurement, that lies in handball courts. (PDF)


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 30th, 2007 10:09 pm (UTC)
Of course Fermi's first nuclear reactor was built in a squash court...
Apr. 30th, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC)
Which was my starting point for this whole thing! Perhaps everyone else was merely modeling their work on Fermi's.
(no subject) - purplecthulhu - Apr. 30th, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Apr. 30th, 2007 10:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 30th, 2007 11:17 pm (UTC)
Squash courts are the standard unit of area. Length and height are measured in double-decker buses. Volume is measured in Olympic size swimming pools.

I'm sure I remember New Scientist running a series of pieces in its Feedback column on this very subject.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - sam_t - May. 1st, 2007 09:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - May. 1st, 2007 02:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sam_t - May. 2nd, 2007 09:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - geesepalace - May. 1st, 2007 12:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - May. 1st, 2007 02:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - May. 1st, 2007 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - May. 1st, 2007 02:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pfy - May. 1st, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 1st, 2007 12:56 am (UTC)
Hmm... I always thought the scientists had a reference manual or book of recommended measurements that a layperson might understand for those inevitable times when the people footing the bills needed some reassurance. Sort of like Strunk's "Elements of Style".
May. 1st, 2007 02:28 pm (UTC)
If there isn't one, there should be.
May. 1st, 2007 01:41 am (UTC)
I recall an In the Neighbourhood cartoon showing a tv weatherman saying "...and hail the size of individually-sized non-dairy creamers." Below, the caption: "Weren't you getting tired of hearing about golf-ball-sized hail?"
May. 1st, 2007 06:41 am (UTC)
You could get money for that if you wrote it as a light piece for a serious paper (New Scientist?). Seriously, do it!
May. 1st, 2007 02:29 pm (UTC)
I'll see if pfy was right about there already having been one on the subject first. Thank you for the suggestion!
(no subject) - haggisthesecond - May. 1st, 2007 11:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 1st, 2007 07:11 am (UTC)

Interesting and amusing.
May. 1st, 2007 12:19 pm (UTC)
Wait -- alveoli, as in the things in one's lungs?
May. 1st, 2007 02:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, those kinds of alveoli. Unintuitive, isn't it?
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - May. 1st, 2007 03:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lazyknight - May. 1st, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - May. 1st, 2007 09:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lazyknight - May. 3rd, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 1st, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)
I think the oddest unit of measurement was one of my university lecturers illustrating the search-space of different problems via the use of sugar-cubes.
May. 7th, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC)
This is so cool! And strange, but cool nonetheless!
May. 14th, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC)
please help me!
hello i was just reading your article and i was wondering if you know anything about how volleyball connects to the kinetic and potential energy and speed and gravity. im doing a science project and i would love to hear your feedback!
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )