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Units and Standards

Derived Units

Many physical phenomena are measured in units that are derived from SI units. As an example, frequency is measured in a unit known as the hertz (Hz). The hertz is the number of vibrations made by a wave in a second. It can be expressed in terms of the basic SI unit as s-1. Pressure is another derived unit. Pressure is defined as the force per unit area. In the metric system, the unit of pressure is the Pascal (Pa) and can be expressed as kilograms per meter per second squared, or kg/m x2. Even units that appear to have little or no relationship to the nine fundamental units can, nonetheless, be expressed in these terms. The absorbed dose, for example, indicates that amount of radiation received by a person or object. In the metric system, the unit for this measurement is the gray. One gray can be defined in terms of the fundamental units as meters squared per second squared, or m2 x s2.

Many other commonly used units can also be expressed in terms of the nine fundamental units. Some of the most familiar are the units for area (square meter: m2), volume (cubic meter: m3), velocity (meters per second: m/s), concentration (moles per cubic meter: mol/m3), density (kilogram per cubic meter: kg/m3), luminance (candela per square meter: cd/m2), and magnetic field strength (amperes per meter: A/m).

A set of prefixes is available that makes it possible to use the fundamental SI units to express larger or smaller amounts of the same quantity. Among the most commonly used prefixes are milli- (m) for one-thousandth, centi- (c) for one-hundredth, micro- (æ) for one- millionth, kilo- (k) for one thousand times, and mega- (M) for one million times. Thus, any volume can be expressed by using some combination of the fundamental unit (liter) and the appropriate prefix. One million liters, using this system, would be a megaliter (ML) and one millionth of a liter, a microliter (æL).

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Two-envelope paradox to VenusUnits and Standards - History, The Metric System, Le Système International D'unités (the Si System), Derived Units