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The kelvin (symbol: K) is a unit increment of temperature and is one of the seven SI base units. The Kelvin scale is a thermodynamic (absolute) temperature scale where absolute zero — the coldest possible temperature — is zero kelvin (0 K).
The Kelvin scale and the kelvin are named after the Northern Irish physicist and engineer William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (1824 – 1907), who wrote of the need for an “absolute thermometric scale.”
Additional recommended knowledge
Definition of kelvin
The kelvin unit and its scale, by international agreement, are defined by two points: absolute zero, and the triple point of specially prepared water (VSMOW) . This definition also precisely relates the Kelvin scale to the Celsius scale. Absolute zero—the temperature at which nothing could be colder and minimal heat energy remains in a substance—is defined as being precisely 0 K and −273.14 °C. The triple point of water is defined as being precisely 273.14 K and 0.01 °C. This definition does three things:
A For Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water at one standard atmosphere (101.325 kPa) when calibrated solely per the two-point definition of thermodynamic temperature. Older definitions of the Celsius scale once defined the boiling point of water under one standard atmosphere as being precisely 100 °C. However, the current definition results in a boiling point that is actually 16.1 mK less. For more about the actual boiling point of water, see VSMOW in temperature measurement.
SI prefixed forms of kelvin
SI prefixes are often employed to denote decimal multiples and submultiples of the kelvin; see table.
Typographical and usage conventions
Uppercase/lowercase, plural form usage, and written conventions
When reference is made to the unit kelvin (either a specific temperature or a temperature interval), kelvin is always spelled with a lowercase k unless it is the first word in a sentence. When reference is made to the “Kelvin scale,” the word “kelvin”—which is normally a noun—functions adjectivally to modify the noun “scale” (like “Georgia peach”) and is capitalized.
Until the 13th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) in 1967–1968, the unit kelvin was called a “degree,” the same as with the other temperature scales at the time. It was distinguished from the other scales with either the adjective suffix “Kelvin” (“degree Kelvin”) or with “absolute” (“degree absolute”) and its symbol was °K. Note that the latter (degree absolute), which was the unit’s official name from 1948 until 1954, was rather ambiguous since it could also be interpreted as referring to the Rankine scale. Before the 13th CGPM, the plural forms were “degrees Kelvin” or “degrees absolute.” The 13th CGPM changed the name to simply “kelvin” (symbol K) and the plural form became “kelvins.” 
Temperatures and intervals
Because the kelvin is an individual unit of measure, it is particularly well-suited for expressing temperature intervals: differences between temperatures or their uncertainties (e.g. “Agar exhibited a melting point hysteresis of 25 kelvins,” and “The uncertainty was 10 millikelvins”). Of course, the kelvin is also used to express specific temperatures along its scale (e.g. “Gallium melts at 302.9146 kelvin”).
One disadvantage of the kelvin is that intervals and specific temperatures on the Kelvin scale use exactly the same symbol (e.g., “Agar exhibited a melting point hysteresis of 25 K,” and “The triple point of hydrogen is 13.8033 K”).
Formatting and typestyle for the K symbol
The kelvin symbol is always a roman (non-italic) capital K. In the SI naming convention, all symbols named after a person are capitalized; in the case of the kelvin, capitalizing also distinguishes the symbol from the SI prefix “kilo”, which has the lowercase k as its symbol. The admonition against italicizing the symbol K applies to all SI unit symbols; only symbols for variables and constants (e.g. p = pressure, and c = 299,792,458 m/s) are italicized in scientific and engineering papers. As with most other SI unit symbols (angle symbols, e.g. 45° 3′ 4″, are the exception) there is a space between the numeric value and the kelvin symbol (e.g. “99.987 K”).
The special Unicode kelvin sign
Unicode, which is an industry standard designed to allow text and symbols from all of the writing systems of the world to be consistently represented and manipulated by computers, includes a special “kelvin sign” at U+212A. One types
When viewed on computers that properly support Unicode, the above line appears as follows (size may vary):
Depending on the operating system, Web browser, and the default font, the “K” in the Unicode character may be narrower and slightly taller than a plain uppercase K; precisely the opposite may be true on other platforms. However, there will usually be a discernible difference between the two. If the computer being used to view a particular Web page doesn’t support the Unicode kelvin sign character (
Why technical articles use a mix of Kelvin and Celsius scales
In science (especially) and in engineering, the Celsius scale and the kelvin are often used simultaneously in the same article (e.g. “…its measured value was 0.01023 °C with an uncertainty of 70 µK…”). This practice is permissible because the degree Celsius is a special name for the kelvin for use in expressing Celsius temperatures and the magnitude of the degree Celsius is precisely equal to that of the kelvin. Notwithstanding the official endorsement provided by decision #3 of Resolution 3 of the 13th CGPM, which stated “a temperature interval may also be expressed in degrees Celsius,” the practice of simultaneously using both “°C” and “K” remains widespread throughout the scientific world as the use of SI prefixed forms of the degree Celsius (such as “µ°C” or “microdegrees Celsius”) to express a temperature interval has not been well-adopted.
The kelvin is often used in the measure of the color temperature of light sources. Color temperature is based upon the principle that a black body radiator emits light whose color depends on the temperature of the radiator. Black bodies with temperatures below about 4000 K appear reddish whereas those above about 7500 K appear bluish. Color temperature is important in the fields of image projection and photography where a color temperature of approximately 5500 K is required to match “daylight” film emulsions. In astronomy, the stellar classification of stars and their place on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram are based, in part, upon their surface temperature. The Sun for instance, has an effective photosphere temperature of 5778 K.
History of the Kelvin scale
Below are some historic milestones in the development of the Kelvin scale and its unit increment, the kelvin. For more on the history of thermodynamic temperature, see Thermodynamic temperature: History of thermodynamic temperature.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Kelvin". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|