Vol. Advanced Theory
Chapter Physics in Industrial Instrumentation

The International System of Units

The very purpose of physics is to quantitatively describe and explain the physical world in as few terms as possible. This principle extends to units of measurement as well, which is why we usually find different units used in science actually defined in terms of more fundamental units. The watt, for example, is one joule of energy transferred per second of time. The joule, in turn, is defined in terms of three base units, the kilogram, the meter, and the second:

\[[J] = {[\hbox{kg}][\hbox{m}^2] \over [\hbox{s}^2]}\]

Within the metric system of measurements, an international standard exists for which units are considered fundamental and which are considered “derived” from the fundamental units. The modern standard is called SI, which stands for Système International. This standard recognizes seven fundamental, or base units, from which all others are derived:


Physical quantity SI unit SI symbol
Length meter m
Mass kilogram kg
Time second s
Electric current ampere A
Temperature kelvin K
Amount of substance mole mol
Luminous intensity candela cd

An older standard existed for base units, in which the centimeter, gram, and second comprised the first three base units. This standard is referred to as the cgs system, in contrast to the SI system. You will still encounter some derived cgs units used in instrumentation, including the poise and the stokes (both used to express fluid viscosity). Then of course we have the British engineering system which uses such wonderful units as feet, pounds, and (thankfully) seconds. Despite the fact that the majority of the world uses the metric (SI) system for weights and measures, the British system is sometimes referred to as the Customary system.