What are Units

Metric system
Metric system

In my previous post, I explained with example how to solve the In problems in physics. To solve problems and to under stand the basics of the Physics it is very important to know what is a physical quantity, types of physical quantities, what is a unit, what are the units of different physical quantities, types of units, symbols of units.

There is one and only branch of science which measures a physical quantity, that branch of science is “Physics”. Measurements have an important role not only in physics but also in every branch of science and everywhere in our day-to-day life.

To measure physical quantities we need units. Let’s try to understand necessity of measurements and units of measurement in Physics.

The information about a physical quantity, by description of its external properties like color, taste etc is incomplete with out knowing its temperature, size (dimensions), which depends on measurement

, i.e. with out measurements it is impossible to know about the external properties of any object. So, it becomes necessary to measure it.

To measure a physical quantity we require a unit. Different physical quantities will have different units.

What is unit? A standard reference of the same physical quantity is essential to measure any physical quantity. That standard which we use to measure a physical quantity is called unit.

Let me put it this way, if we want to measure length of a table, we have to select a standard length (length of our hand), and by comparing the table’s length with the standard length we can measure the length of the table. If the table is 3.5 times that of standard length, i.e. length of our hand then we can write the result as “length of table = 3.5 times the length of our hand. In this example length of hand is taken as standard length to measure the table’s length.

Like that we can define any convenient standard or unit to measure a physical quantity.

But, if we choose standards as in the above example which are not consistent, and can not be reproduced then  errors and confusion in measurements will creep in. To avoid such confusion, instead of taking any undefined reference as a standard, well-defined and universal standards are used. Such a reference taken a standard is generally called a well defined unit or unit. Measurement of every physical quantity will have two parts a number (n) followed by a unit (u).

There fore n u = constant.

Ex: If the length of a table is 1.2 meters.In this measurement number n= 1.2 and unit is meter.

→ length (L)= n_1u_1 = 1.2 meters

→ length (L)= )= n_2u_2 = 120 centimeters

→ length (L)= n_3u_3 = 1200 millimeters

From the above data we can understand that

i)we can measure a physical quantity in different units.what ever may be the unit it’s value is same.

→ L =n_1u_1 = n_2u_2=n_3u_3

If theunit cosen is smaller, the multiple number will be greater.

u_1>u_2>u_3 = n_1 <n_2<n_3

iii)The units(u) of a physical quantity will be reciprocal to the multiple (n)

nu=constant\Rightarrow n_1u_1=n_2u_2

u\propto\frac{1}{n} or n\propto\frac{1}{u}

\frac{n_1}{ n_2}= \frac{u_2}{ u_1}