The Boltzmann constant ( or ) is the proportionality factor that relates the average relative

Draft Chapter 2 for SI Brochure, following redefinitions of the base units

(prepared by the Consultative Committee for Units)

{{DEFAULTSORT:Boltzmann Constant Constant Fundamental constants Statistical mechanics Thermodynamics

kinetic energy
In physics, the kinetic energy of an object is the energy that it possesses due to its motion.
It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its ac ...

of particle
In the physical sciences, a particle (or corpuscule in older texts) is a small localized object which can be described by several physical or chemical properties, such as volume, density, or mass.
They vary greatly in size or quantity, from ...

s in a gas
Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being solid, liquid, and plasma).
A pure gas may be made up of individual atoms (e.g. a noble gas like neon), elemental molecules made from one type of atom (e.g. oxygen), or ...

with the thermodynamic temperature
Thermodynamic temperature is a quantity defined in thermodynamics as distinct from kinetic theory or statistical mechanics.
Historically, thermodynamic temperature was defined by Kelvin in terms of a macroscopic relation between thermodynamic ...

of the gas. It occurs in the definitions of the kelvin
The kelvin, symbol K, is the primary unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI), used alongside its prefixed forms and the degree Celsius. It is named after the Belfast-born and University of Glasgow-based engineer and ...

and the gas constant
The molar gas constant (also known as the gas constant, universal gas constant, or ideal gas constant) is denoted by the symbol or . It is the molar equivalent to the Boltzmann constant, expressed in units of energy per temperature increment per ...

, and in Planck's law
In physics, Planck's law describes the spectral density of electromagnetic radiation emitted by a black body in thermal equilibrium at a given temperature , when there is no net flow of matter or energy between the body and its environment.
A ...

of black-body radiation
Black-body radiation is the thermal electromagnetic radiation within, or surrounding, a body in thermodynamic equilibrium with its environment, emitted by a black body (an idealized opaque, non-reflective body). It has a specific, continuous sp ...

and Boltzmann's entropy formula
In statistical mechanics, Boltzmann's equation (also known as the Boltzmann–Planck equation) is a probability equation relating the entropy S, also written as S_\mathrm, of an ideal gas to the multiplicity (commonly denoted as \Omega or W), t ...

, and is used in calculating thermal noise
A thermal column (or thermal) is a rising mass of buoyant air, a convective current in the atmosphere, that transfers heat energy vertically. Thermals are created by the uneven heating of Earth's surface from solar radiation, and are an exampl ...

in resistors
A resistor is a passive two-terminal electrical component that implements electrical resistance as a circuit element. In electronic circuits, resistors are used to reduce current flow, adjust signal levels, to divide voltages, bias activ ...

. The Boltzmann constant has dimensions
In physics and mathematics, the dimension of a mathematical space (or object) is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it. Thus, a line has a dimension of one (1D) because only one coord ...

of energy divided by temperature, the same as entropy
Entropy is a scientific concept, as well as a measurable physical property, that is most commonly associated with a state of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty. The term and the concept are used in diverse fields, from classical thermodyna ...

. It is named after the Austrian scientist Ludwig Boltzmann
Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann (; 20 February 1844 – 5 September 1906) was an Austrian physicist and philosopher. His greatest achievements were the development of statistical mechanics, and the statistical explanation of the second law of thermodyn ...

.
As part of the 2019 redefinition of SI base units
In 2019, four of the seven SI base units specified in the International System of Quantities were redefined in terms of natural physical constants, rather than human artifacts such as the standard kilogram.
Effective 20 May 2019, the 144t ...

, the Boltzmann constant is one of the seven " defining constants" that have been given exact definitions. They are used in various combinations to define the seven SI base units. The Boltzmann constant is defined to be exactly .
Roles of the Boltzmann constant

Macroscopically, theideal gas law
The ideal gas law, also called the general gas equation, is the equation of state of a hypothetical ideal gas. It is a good approximation of the behavior of many gases under many conditions, although it has several limitations. It was first s ...

states that, for an ideal gas
An ideal gas is a theoretical gas composed of many randomly moving point particles that are not subject to interparticle interactions. The ideal gas concept is useful because it obeys the ideal gas law, a simplified equation of state, and is ...

, the product of pressure
Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force applied perpendicular to the surface of an object per unit area over which that force is distributed. Gauge pressure (also spelled ''gage'' pressure)The preferred spelling varies by country a ...

and volume
Volume is a measure of occupied three-dimensional space. It is often quantified numerically using SI derived units (such as the cubic metre and litre) or by various imperial or US customary units (such as the gallon, quart, cubic inch). ...

is proportional to the product of amount of substance
In chemistry, the amount of substance ''n'' in a given sample of matter is defined as the quantity or number of discrete atomic-scale particles in it divided by the Avogadro constant ''N''A. The particles or entities may be molecules, atoms, ions ...

(in moles) and absolute temperature
Thermodynamic temperature is a quantity defined in thermodynamics as distinct from kinetic theory or statistical mechanics.
Historically, thermodynamic temperature was defined by Kelvin in terms of a macroscopic relation between thermodynami ...

:
:$pV\; =\; nRT\; ,$
where is the molar gas constant
The molar gas constant (also known as the gas constant, universal gas constant, or ideal gas constant) is denoted by the symbol or . It is the molar equivalent to the Boltzmann constant, expressed in units of energy per temperature increment per ...

(). Introducing the Boltzmann constant as the gas constant per molecule transforms the ideal gas law into an alternative form:
:$p\; V\; =\; N\; k\; T\; ,$
where is the number of molecules of gas.
Role in the equipartition of energy

Given athermodynamic
Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with heat, work, and temperature, and their relation to energy, entropy, and the physical properties of matter and radiation. The behavior of these quantities is governed by the four laws of the ...

system at an absolute temperature
Thermodynamic temperature is a quantity defined in thermodynamics as distinct from kinetic theory or statistical mechanics.
Historically, thermodynamic temperature was defined by Kelvin in terms of a macroscopic relation between thermodynami ...

, the average thermal energy carried by each microscopic degree of freedom in the system is (i.e., about , or , at room temperature). This is generally true only for classical systems with a large number of particles, and in which quantum effects are negligible.
In classical statistical mechanics
In physics, statistical mechanics is a mathematical framework that applies statistical methods and probability theory to large assemblies of microscopic entities. It does not assume or postulate any natural laws, but explains the macroscopic b ...

, this average is predicted to hold exactly for homogeneous ideal gas
An ideal gas is a theoretical gas composed of many randomly moving point particles that are not subject to interparticle interactions. The ideal gas concept is useful because it obeys the ideal gas law, a simplified equation of state, and is ...

es. Monatomic ideal gases (the six noble gases) possess three degrees of freedom
Degrees of freedom (often abbreviated df or DOF) refers to the number of independent variables or parameters of a thermodynamic system. In various scientific fields, the word "freedom" is used to describe the limits to which physical movement or ...

per atom, corresponding to the three spatial directions. According to the equipartition of energy this means that there is a thermal energy of per atom. This corresponds very well with experimental data. The thermal energy can be used to calculate the root-mean-square speed of the atoms, which turns out to be inversely proportional to the square root of the atomic mass
The atomic mass (''m''a or ''m'') is the mass of an atom. Although the SI unit of mass is the kilogram (symbol: kg), atomic mass is often expressed in the non-SI unit dalton (symbol: Da) – equivalently, unified atomic mass unit (u). 1&nb ...

. The root mean square speeds found at room temperature accurately reflect this, ranging from for helium
Helium (from el, ἥλιος, helios, lit=sun) is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas and the first in the noble gas group in the periodic ta ...

, down to for xenon
Xenon is a chemical element with the symbol Xe and atomic number 54. It is a dense, colorless, odorless noble gas found in Earth's atmosphere in trace amounts. Although generally unreactive, it can undergo a few chemical reactions such as the ...

.
Kinetic theory gives the average pressure for an ideal gas as
:$p\; =\; \backslash frac\backslash frac\; m\; \backslash overline.$
Combination with the ideal gas law
:$p\; V\; =\; N\; k\; T$
shows that the average translational kinetic energy is
:$\backslash tfracm\; \backslash overline\; =\; \backslash tfrac\; k\; T.$
Considering that the translational motion velocity vector has three degrees of freedom (one for each dimension) gives the average energy per degree of freedom equal to one third of that, i.e. .
The ideal gas equation is also obeyed closely by molecular gases; but the form for the heat capacity is more complicated, because the molecules possess additional internal degrees of freedom, as well as the three degrees of freedom for movement of the molecule as a whole. Diatomic gases, for example, possess a total of six degrees of simple freedom per molecule that are related to atomic motion (three translational, two rotational, and one vibrational). At lower temperatures, not all these degrees of freedom may fully participate in the gas heat capacity, due to quantum mechanical limits on the availability of excited states at the relevant thermal energy per molecule.
Role in Boltzmann factors

More generally, systems in equilibrium at temperature have probability of occupying a state with energy weighted by the corresponding Boltzmann factor: :$P\_i\; \backslash propto\; \backslash frac,$ where is the partition function. Again, it is the energy-like quantity that takes central importance. Consequences of this include (in addition to the results for ideal gases above) theArrhenius equation
In physical chemistry, the Arrhenius equation is a formula for the temperature dependence of reaction rates. The equation was proposed by Svante Arrhenius in 1889, based on the work of Dutch chemist Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff who had noted in ...

in chemical kinetics
Chemical kinetics, also known as reaction kinetics, is the branch of physical chemistry that is concerned with understanding the rates of chemical reactions. It is to be contrasted with chemical thermodynamics, which deals with the direction in ...

.
Role in the statistical definition of entropy

In statistical mechanics, theentropy
Entropy is a scientific concept, as well as a measurable physical property, that is most commonly associated with a state of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty. The term and the concept are used in diverse fields, from classical thermodyna ...

of an isolated system
In physical science, an isolated system is either of the following:
# a physical system so far removed from other systems that it does not interact with them.
# a thermodynamic system enclosed by rigid immovable walls through which neither ...

at thermodynamic equilibrium
Thermodynamic equilibrium is an axiomatic concept of thermodynamics. It is an internal state of a single thermodynamic system, or a relation between several thermodynamic systems connected by more or less permeable or impermeable walls. In therm ...

is defined as the natural logarithm
The natural logarithm of a number is its logarithm to the base of the mathematical constant , which is an irrational and transcendental number approximately equal to . The natural logarithm of is generally written as , , or sometimes, ...

of , the number of distinct microscopic states available to the system given the macroscopic constraints (such as a fixed total energy ):
:$S\; =\; k\; \backslash ,\backslash ln\; W.$
This equation, which relates the microscopic details, or microstates, of the system (via ) to its macroscopic state (via the entropy ), is the central idea of statistical mechanics. Such is its importance that it is inscribed on Boltzmann's tombstone.
The constant of proportionality serves to make the statistical mechanical entropy equal to the classical thermodynamic entropy of Clausius:
:$\backslash Delta\; S\; =\; \backslash int\; \backslash frac.$
One could choose instead a rescaled dimensionless
A dimensionless quantity (also known as a bare quantity, pure quantity, or scalar quantity as well as quantity of dimension one) is a quantity to which no physical dimension is assigned, with a corresponding SI unit of measurement of one (or 1) ...

entropy in microscopic terms such that
:$,\; \backslash quad\; \backslash Delta\; S\text{'}\; =\; \backslash int\; \backslash frac.$
This is a more natural form and this rescaled entropy exactly corresponds to Shannon's subsequent information entropy
In information theory, the entropy of a random variable is the average level of "information", "surprise", or "uncertainty" inherent to the variable's possible outcomes. Given a discrete random variable X, which takes values in the alphabet \ ...

.
The characteristic energy is thus the energy required to increase the rescaled entropy by one nat
Nat or NAT may refer to:
Computing
* Network address translation (NAT), in computer networking
Organizations
* National Actors Theatre, New York City, U.S.
* National AIDS trust, a British charity
* National Archives of Thailand
* National ...

.
The thermal voltage

Insemiconductors
A semiconductor is a material which has an electrical conductivity value falling between that of a conductor, such as copper, and an insulator, such as glass. Its resistivity falls as its temperature rises; metals behave in the opposite way ...

, the Shockley diode equation—the relationship between the flow of electric current
An electric current is a stream of charged particles, such as electrons or ions, moving through an electrical conductor or space. It is measured as the net rate of flow of electric charge through a surface or into a control volume. The moving ...

and the electrostatic potential
Electrostatics is a branch of physics that studies electric charges at rest ( static electricity).
Since classical times, it has been known that some materials, such as amber, attract lightweight particles after rubbing. The Greek word for ...

across a p–n junction
A p–n junction is a boundary or interface between two types of semiconductor materials, p-type and n-type, inside a single crystal of semiconductor. The "p" (positive) side contains an excess of holes, while the "n" (negative) side contain ...

—depends on a characteristic voltage called the ''thermal voltage'', denoted by . The thermal voltage depends on absolute temperature as
$$V\_\backslash mathrm\; =\; ,$$
where is the magnitude of the electrical charge on the electron with a value Equivalently,
$$=\; \backslash approx\; 8.61733034\; \backslash times\; 10^\backslash \; \backslash mathrm.$$
At room temperature
Colloquially, "room temperature" is a range of air temperatures that most people prefer for indoor settings. It feels comfortable to a person when they are wearing typical indoor clothing. Human comfort can extend beyond this range depending on ...

, is approximately which can be derived by plugging in the values as follows:
$$V\_\backslash mathrm=\; =\backslash frac\; \backslash simeq\; 25.85\backslash \; \backslash mathrm$$
At the standard state
In chemistry, the standard state of a material (pure substance, mixture or solution) is a reference point used to calculate its properties under different conditions. A superscript circle ° (degree symbol) or a Plimsoll (⦵) character is use ...

temperature of , it is approximately . The thermal voltage is also important in plasmas and electrolyte solutions (e.g. the Nernst equation
In electrochemistry, the Nernst equation is a chemical thermodynamical relationship that permits the calculation of the reduction potential of a reaction ( half-cell or full cell reaction) from the standard electrode potential, absolute tem ...

); in both cases it provides a measure of how much the spatial distribution of electrons or ions is affected by a boundary held at a fixed voltage.
History

The Boltzmann constant is named after its 19th century Austrian discoverer,Ludwig Boltzmann
Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann (; 20 February 1844 – 5 September 1906) was an Austrian physicist and philosopher. His greatest achievements were the development of statistical mechanics, and the statistical explanation of the second law of thermodyn ...

. Although Boltzmann first linked entropy and probability in 1877, the relation was never expressed with a specific constant until Max Planck
Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck (, ; 23 April 1858 – 4 October 1947) was a German theoretical physicist whose discovery of energy quanta won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.
Planck made many substantial contributions to theoretica ...

first introduced , and gave a more precise value for it (, about 2.5% lower than today's figure), in his derivation of the law of black-body radiation in 1900–1901.. English translation: Before 1900, equations involving Boltzmann factors were not written using the energies per molecule and the Boltzmann constant, but rather using a form of the gas constant
The molar gas constant (also known as the gas constant, universal gas constant, or ideal gas constant) is denoted by the symbol or . It is the molar equivalent to the Boltzmann constant, expressed in units of energy per temperature increment per ...

, and macroscopic energies for macroscopic quantities of the substance. The iconic terse form of the equation on Boltzmann's tombstone is in fact due to Planck, not Boltzmann. Planck actually introduced it in the same work as his eponymous .
In 1920, Planck wrote in his Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes ( ; sv, Nobelpriset ; no, Nobelprisen ) are five separate prizes that, according to Alfred Nobel's will of 1895, are awarded to "those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind." Alfr ...

lecture:
This "peculiar state of affairs" is illustrated by reference to one of the great scientific debates of the time. There was considerable disagreement in the second half of the nineteenth century as to whether atoms and molecules were real or whether they were simply a heuristic
A heuristic (; ), or heuristic technique, is any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, or rational, but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate ...

tool for solving problems. There was no agreement whether ''chemical'' molecules, as measured by atomic weight
Relative atomic mass (symbol: ''A''; sometimes abbreviated RAM or r.a.m.), also known by the deprecated synonym atomic weight, is a dimensionless physical quantity defined as the ratio of the average mass of atoms of a chemical element in a give ...

s, were the same as ''physical'' molecules, as measured by kinetic theory. Planck's 1920 lecture continued:
In versions of SI prior to the 2019 redefinition of the SI base units
In 2019, four of the seven SI base units specified in the International System of Quantities were redefined in terms of natural physical constants, rather than human artifacts such as the standard kilogram.
Effective 20 May 2019, the 144t ...

, the Boltzmann constant was a measured quantity rather than a fixed value. Its exact definition also varied over the years due to redefinitions of the kelvin (see ) and other SI base units (see ).
In 2017, the most accurate measures of the Boltzmann constant were obtained by acoustic gas thermometry, which determines the speed of sound of a monatomic gas in a triaxial ellipsoid chamber using microwave and acoustic resonances. This decade-long effort was undertaken with different techniques by several laboratories; it is one of the cornerstones of the 2019 redefinition of SI base units. Based on these measurements, the CODATA
The Committee on Data of the International Science Council (CODATA) was established in 1966 as the Committee on Data for Science and Technology, originally part of the International Council of Scientific Unions, now part of the International ...

recommended to be the final fixed value of the Boltzmann constant to be used for the International System of Units
The International System of Units, known by the international abbreviation SI in all languages and sometimes pleonastically as the SI system, is the modern form of the metric system and the world's most widely used system of measurement. ...

.
Value in different units

Since is a proportionality factor between temperature and energy, its numerical value depends on the choice of units for energy and temperature. The small numerical value of the Boltzmann constant in SI units means a change in temperature by 1 K only changes a particle's energy by a small amount. A change of is defined to be the same as a change of . The characteristic energy is a term encountered in many physical relationships. The Boltzmann constant sets up a relationship between wavelength and temperature (dividing ''hc''/''k'' by a wavelength gives a temperature) with one micrometer being related to , and also a relationship between voltage and temperature (multiplying the voltage by ''k'' in units of eV/K) with one volt being related to . The ratio of these two temperatures, / ≈ 1.239842, is the numerical value of ''hc'' in units of eV⋅μm.Natural units

The Boltzmann constant provides a mapping from this characteristic microscopic energy to the macroscopic temperature scale . In fundamental physics this mapping is often simplified by using thenatural units
In physics, natural units are physical units of measurement in which only universal physical constants are used as defining constants, such that each of these constants acts as a coherent unit of a quantity. For example, the elementary charge ...

of setting to unity. This convention means that temperature and energy quantities have the same dimensions
In physics and mathematics, the dimension of a mathematical space (or object) is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it. Thus, a line has a dimension of one (1D) because only one coord ...

. In particular the SI unit kelvin becomes superfluous, being defined in terms of joules as . With this convention temperature is always given in units of energy and the Boltzmann constant is not explicitly needed in formulas.
This convention simplifies many physical relationships and formulas. For example, the equipartition formula for the energy associated with each classical degree of freedom ($\backslash tfrac\; k\; T$ above) becomes
:$E\_\; =\; \backslash tfrac\; T$
As another example the definition of thermodynamic entropy coincides with the form of information entropy
In information theory, the entropy of a random variable is the average level of "information", "surprise", or "uncertainty" inherent to the variable's possible outcomes. Given a discrete random variable X, which takes values in the alphabet \ ...

:
:$S\; =\; -\; \backslash sum\_i\; P\_i\; \backslash ln\; P\_i.$
where is the probability of each microstate
A microstate or ministate is a sovereign state having a very small population or very small land area, usually both. However, the meanings of "state" and "very small" are not well-defined in international law.Warrington, E. (1994). "Lilliputs ...

.
See also

* CODATA 2018 * Thermodynamic betaNotes

References

External links

Draft Chapter 2 for SI Brochure, following redefinitions of the base units

(prepared by the Consultative Committee for Units)

{{DEFAULTSORT:Boltzmann Constant Constant Fundamental constants Statistical mechanics Thermodynamics