PHYS 2211 Module 1.2

Units and Standards

Recommended Reading

1.2 Units and Standards

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe how SI base units are defined.
  • Describe how derived units are created from base units.
  • Express quantities given in SI units using metric prefixes.

We define a physical quantity either by specifying how it is measured or by stating how it is calculated from other measurements.

Measurements of physical quantities are expressed in terms of units, which are standardized values.

SI Units: Base and Derived Units

In any system of units, the units for some physical quantities must be defined through a measurement process. These are called the base quantities for that system and their units are the system’s base units. All other physical quantities can then be expressed as algebraic combinations of the base quantities. Each of these physical quantities is then known as a derived quantity and each unit is called a derived unit.

ISQ Base QuantitySI Base Unit
Lengthmeter (m)
Masskilogram (kg)
Timesecond (s)
Electrical currentampere (A)
Thermodynamic temperaturekelvin (K)
Amount of substancemole (mol)
Luminous intensitycandela (cd)
ISQ Base Quantities and Their SI Units

Check out a comprehensive source of information on SI units at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Reference on Constants, Units, and Uncertainty.

Metric Prefixes

SI units are part of the metric system, which is convenient for scientific and engineering calculations because the units are categorized by factors of 10.

Metric Prefixes for Powers of 10 and Their Symbols


Complete the relationship: 1 millimeter = _____ meter.
(a) 0.001
(b) 1000
(c) 0.01
(d) 100
Complete the relationship: 200 centimeters = 2 _____.
(a) meters
(b) micrometers
(c) kilometers
(d) millimeters
Rank the following in order of increasing size (smallest to largest).
(a) 1 millimeter, 1 decimeter, 1 picometer, 1 nanometer
(b) 1 nanometer, 1 decimeter, 1 picometer, 1 millimeter
(c) 1 decimeter, 1 picometer, 1 nanometer, 1 millimeter
(d) 1 picometer, 1 nanometer, 1 millimeter, 1 decimeter