International Prototype of the Kilogram

The International Prototype of the Kilogram (referred to by metrologists as the IPK or Le Grand K; sometimes called the ur-kilogram,[1][2] or urkilogram,[3] particularly by German-language authors writing in English[3][4]:30[5]:64) is an object that was used to define the magnitude of the mass of the kilogram from 1889, when it replaced the Kilogramme des Archives,[6] until 2019, when it was replaced by a new definition of the kilogram based on physical constants.[7] During that time, the IPK and its duplicates were used to calibrate all other kilogram mass standards on Earth.

The International Prototype Kilogram, a.k.a. Le Grand K or the Big K or IPK, stored in a vault in Paris, was replaced by a formula using Planck's constant in 2019. The IPK was losing mass so the metrology community redefined the kilogram with the aid of the Planck constant.

The IPK is a roughly golfball-sized object made of a platinum alloy known as "Pt10Ir", which is 90% platinum and 10% iridium (by mass) and is machined into a right-circular cylinder with height equal to its diameter of about 39 millimetres to reduce its surface area.[8] The addition of 10% iridium improved upon the all-platinum Kilogramme des Archives by greatly increasing hardness while still retaining platinum's many virtues: extreme resistance to oxidation, extremely high density (almost twice as dense as lead and more than 21 times as dense as water), satisfactory electrical and thermal conductivities, and low magnetic susceptibility.

By 2018, the IPK underpinned the definitions of 4 of the 7 SI base units: the kilogram itself, plus the mole, ampere, and candela (whose definitions at the time referenced the gram, newton, and watt respectively)[9][10][11] as well as the definitions of every named SI derived unit except the hertz, becquerel, degree Celsius, gray, sievert, farad, ohm, siemens, henry and the dimensionless radian and steradian.

The IPK and its six sister copies are stored at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (known by its French-language initials BIPM) in an environmentally monitored safe in the lower vault located in the basement of the BIPM's Pavillon de Breteuil in Saint-Cloud[Note 1] on the outskirts of Paris (see External images, below, for photographs). Three independently controlled keys are required to open the vault. Official copies of the IPK were made available to other nations to serve as their national standards. These were compared to the IPK roughly every 40 years, thereby providing traceability of local measurements back to the IPK.[12]

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