152nd AGM, 1272nd OGM and retiring president’s address

Brynn Hibbert

   “Measuring what we can:
   or how to lose weight on May 20th”

   Emeritus Professor Brynn Hibbert
   School of Analytical Chemistry
   UNSW

Wednesday 3 April 2019
Gallery Room, State Library of NSW

Galileo said “Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so”, which is a statement of how important measurement is, not just to science, but living as a human.  I have spent much of my career measuring things in chemistry, and have become fascinated by why, what and how we measure.  Whether it was the length of a Pharoh’s forearm in 3000 BCE, or a ten-millionth of half a meridian in 1795, we have attempted to understand our world by first measuring it: its extent (length, area and volume), how much of it there is (mass, amount of substance), and duration (time).  Modern phenomena of electricity, forms of energy, temperature and the brightness of light, have all been wrestled into submission by the metrologists.
I raise this now, because on 20 May 2019, World Metrology Day, we will witness a new turn of the metrological wheel, as the dear old kilogramme in Paris is retired in favour of a quantum mechanical definition in which the numerical value of the Planck constant is fixed.  There will be other changes and in my talk I shall tell you whether we will all weigh any different at 00:01 on 20 May than we did at 23:59 on 19 May.

Brynn Hibbert occupied the Chair of Analytical Chemistry at the University of New South Wales since arriving from England in 1987 until his retirement in 2013.  His research interests are in metrology and statistics in chemistry, ionic liquids and electroanalytical chemistry, but he also does a sideline in expert opinion, scientific fraud and presenting science to the public.  Long a member of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, he has helped name elements, revise the SI units and write the terminology of chemistry.  More recently he has become a go-to expert witness in matters of drugs (of abuse, and sports).  He is the immediate past President of the Royal Society of New South Wales, and was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2018.

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