Every known item of matter in the universe has some amount of mass, even if it is very small. But what about something so insignificant in mass that comparing it to a gram is like comparing a millimeter to the distance between Earth and the nearest galaxy? Obviously, special units are needed for such measurements; then again, one might ask why it is necessary to weigh atoms at all. One answer is that everything is made of atoms. More specifically, the work of a chemist requires the use of accurate atomic proportions in forming the molecules that make up a compound. The measurement of atomic mass was thus a historic challenge that had to be overcome, and the story of the ways that scientists met this challenge is an intriguing one.

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