Template:Temperature 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 theoretical absence of all thermal energy, is zero (0 K). The Kelvin scale and the kelvin are named after the British physicist and engineer William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (1824–1907), who wrote of the need for an "absolute thermometric scale". Unlike the degree Fahrenheit and degree Celsius, the kelvin is not referred to as a "degree", nor is it typeset with a degree symbol; that is, it is written K and not °K.

Typographical and usage conventions Edit

Capitalization, plural form usage, and written conventionsEdit

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.[1] When reference is made to the "Kelvin scale", the word "kelvin"—which is normally a noun—functions adjectivally to modify the noun "scale" 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. 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 form was "degrees absolute". The 13th CGPM changed the name to simply "kelvin" (symbol K).[2] The omission of "degree" indicates that it is not relative to an arbitrary reference point like the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales, but rather an absolute unit of measure which can be manipulated algebraically (e.g., multiplied by two to indicate twice the amount of "mean energy" available among elementary degrees of freedom of the system). Template:SI unit lowercase

Formatting and typestyle for the K symbolEdit

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”).[3][4]

The special Unicode kelvin characterEdit

Unicode provides a compatibility character for the kelvin at U+212A (decimal 8490), for compatibility with CJK encodings that provide such a character (as such, in most fonts the width is the same as for fullwidth characters). Below in maroon text is the kelvin character followed immediately by a simple uppercase K:


When viewed on computers that properly support Unicode, the above line may be similar to the line below (size may vary):


The canonical decomposition of this character is U+004B (uppercase K), so some browsers may simply display a "K" in its place due to Unicode normalization.

Mixed use of Kelvin and Celsius scales in technical articlesEdit

In science 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 exactly equal to that of the kelvin.[5] Notwithstanding that the official endorsement provided by Resolution 3 of the 13th CGPM states, “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 widely adopted.[6]

Color temperature Edit

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, known as effective temperature. The photosphere of the Sun, for instance, has an effective temperature of 5778 K.

History of the Kelvin scale Edit

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.

  • 1848: Lord Kelvin (William Thomson), wrote in his paper, On an Absolute Thermometric Scale, of the need for a scale whereby “infinite cold” (absolute zero) was the scale’s null point, and which used the degree Celsius for its unit increment. Thomson calculated that absolute zero was equivalent to −273 °C on the air thermometers of the time.[7] This absolute scale is known today as the Kelvin thermodynamic temperature scale. It’s noteworthy that Thomson’s value of “−273” was actually derived from 0.00366, which was the accepted expansion coefficient of gas per degree Celsius relative to the ice point. The inverse of −0.00366 expressed to five significant digits is −273.22 °C which is remarkably close to the true value of −273.15 °C.
  • 1954: Resolution 3 of the 10th CGPM gave the Kelvin scale its modern definition by designating the triple point of water as its second defining point and assigned its temperature to exactly “273.16 degrees Kelvin.”[8]
  • 1967/1968: Resolution 3 of the 13th CGPM renamed the unit increment of thermodynamic temperature “kelvin”, symbol K, replacing “degree absolute”, symbol °K.[6] Furthermore, feeling it useful to more explicitly define the magnitude of the unit increment, the 13th CGPM also held in Resolution 4 that “The kelvin, unit of thermodynamic temperature, is equal to the fraction 1/273.16 of the thermodynamic temperature of the triple point of water.”[9]
  • 2005: The Comité International des Poids et Mesures (CIPM), a committee of the CGPM, affirmed that for the purposes of delineating the temperature of the triple point of water, the definition of the Kelvin thermodynamic temperature scale would refer to water having an isotopic composition specified as VSMOW.[10]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. BIPM: SI brochure, Section 5.2
  2. Barry N. Taylor. "Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (SI)" (.PDF). Special Publication 811. National Institute of Standards and Technology. Retrieved on 2008-02-06.
  3. "SI Unit rules and style conventions". National Institute of Standards and Technology (September 2004). Retrieved on 2008-02-06.
  4. "Rules and style conventions for expressing values of quantities". SI Brochure, 8th edition Section 5.3.3. Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (1967). Retrieved on 2008-02-06.
  5. "Units with special names and symbols; units that incorporate special names and symbols". SI Brochure, 8th edition Section 2.2.2, Table 3. Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (2006). Retrieved on 2008-02-06.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Resolution 3: SI unit of thermodynamic temperature (kelvin)". Resolutions of the 13th CGPM. Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (1967). Retrieved on 2008-02-06.
  7. Thomson, William (October 1848). "On an Absolute Thermometric Scale". Philosophical Magazine, Retrieved on 6 February 2008. 
  8. "Resolution 3: Definition of the thermodynamic temperature scale". Resolutions of the 10th CGPM. Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (1954). Retrieved on 2008-02-06.
  9. "Resolution 4: Definition of the SI unit of thermodynamic temperature (kelvin)". Resolutions of the 13th CGPM. Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (1967). Retrieved on 2008-02-06.
  10. "Unit of thermodynamic temperature (kelvin)". SI Brochure, 8th edition Section Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (1967). Retrieved on 2008-02-06.

External links Edit

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