What is the kilogram?
The kilogram is the SI unit for measuring mass. It is the last remaining base unit to be defined as a physical object rather than in terms of a naturally occurring constant.
For example, the metre’s definition comes from the speed of light, but the kilogram is defined by the mass of the prototype kilogram, the IPK. All mass measurements are made based on the mass of this one object.
See more about the SI unit of mass on our page about the kilogram.
Why do we need to redefine the kilogram?
Currently, the kilogram is defined as the mass of the international prototype, the IPK. However, as it is a solid object, it could be changed physically due to environmental changes, accidental damage, or even sabotage.
To overcome such risks and also to improve our system of units, we need a definition that depends on nothing other than the value of a fundamental constant, e.g. the Planck constant h. This is what the current Watt balance research is working towards.
The kilogram (kg) is equal to the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram, the IPK.
The IPK is made of an alloy of platinum (90 %) and iridium (10 %) and is kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in France.
At present all standards of mass must ultimately be traceable to this one object. But as science and industry's requirement for a more accurate way to measure extreme weights increases, the search is on for a definition of the kilogram in terms of a fundamental constant so that it can be measured with greater accuracy and can be realised by many standards laboratories.
Introduction to Mass
[PDF - 1.42 MB]
Find out more about the kilogram on our SI units page.