Should a Northern California slang term become the official word for a giant number? Nearly 30,000 people think it's a hella good idea.
In mid-February, Austin Sendek, a University of California at Davis physics student, launched an online campaign to make "hella" the official prefix for numbers with 27 zeros after the first digit. A Facebook petition supporting the idea has picked up steam, attracting almost 30,000 students and scientists from around the world.
"The analysis of many physical phenomena reveals natural quantities in excess of 27 orders of magnitude, a number which is currently ignored by the SI system," Sendek wrote in an open letter on Facebook detailing his argument, referring to the International System of Units (SI). "Designating a prefix for 10^27 is of critical importance for scientists in all fields."
The number could be valuable in calculating distances between galaxies, the number of atoms in a large sample and the wattage of the sun, he continued.
Student: 'Hella' Would Honor Northern California Scientists
Following the SI tradition of naming units of measurement after accomplished scientists, Sendek said using "hella" would honor the scientific community of Northern California.
According to the Urban Dictionary the word originated in San Francisco and is often used instead of "really" or "very," as in "Thank God LA is hella far away."
In addition to the Facebook page, Sendek launched a "Make Hella Official" blog and online store that sells "hella" campaign T-shirts and stickers. He didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from ABCNews.com.
The largest prefix in SI, which is determined by the International Committee for Weights and Measures, is "yotta," which refers to 10^24. Zetta (10^21), Exa (10^18), Peta (10^15) and Tera (10^12) are close behind.
Could International Committee Actually Approve 'Hella'?
Sendek argues that advances in science have opened the doors to hella-atoms, hellatons, hellawatts and more.
"In our world of increasing physical awareness and experimental precision, [yotta] is no longer a satisfactory "upper bound" in scientific nomenclature," he wrote. "We believe that the SI system can not only rectify their failing prefix system but also honor the scientific progress of Northern California by formally establishing "hella-" as the prefix for 10^27."
According to the U.K.'s Telegraph, Sendek reached out to a British scientist who leads the Consultative Committee for Units (CCU), which advises the international committee that oversees the SI system.
Professor Ian Mills, a chemist at the University of Reading, told the Telegraph he would raise the issue at the next meeting, but said he doubted "hella" would be approved.
"The prefixes we introduced 20 years ago are still not widely used. There is no point making changes that nobody pays any attention to and would only make things more complicated," he said. "At the moment we are focusing on more pressing issues, such as redefining the weight of the kilogram. But he is correct to say that we will need prefixes to express a greater range of magnitudes as science advances. The very fact that a student is asking a question like this is very encouraging."
He also said that most prefixes are derived from Latin or Greek words for numbers, which means that even if the system needed a new prefix it would likely not be called "hella."
In a letter to Sendek, the Telegraph said Mills wrote, "I will mention this exchange at our next CCU meeting, and I am sure it will be received with smiles -- but I doubt that it will go further!"