Unit of measurement

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This cube can hold one litre of a liquid
Beer mugs, at Oktoberfest: They hold one litre of beer

Measurement is a process that uses numbers to describe things based on what we can observe about them. This is done to be able to compare them to each other. We can measure how big things are, how warm they are, how heavy they are, and lots of other features as well. Units of Measurement provide standards for our comparisons, so that the numbers from our measurements refer to the same thing. For example, the metre is a standard unit to measure length. Before 1982, it was defined as the distance between two markers on a special rod. Now scientists define the metre as a fraction of the speed of light.

Saying something has a length of 2 metres means that it is exactly twice as long as that rod used to define the metre, or that light takes twice the time defined for a metre to travel that distance.

Today, most units of measure fall into one of three systems. The older two, the British imperial system and the closely related US customary system use the foot as a measure of length, the pound as a measure for weight and the second as a measure for time. There are other units as well. In these systems the number of smaller units that make the bigger units varies. For example, there are 12 inches in a foot and 16 ounces in a pound. A newer system is the metric system or SI system which usually use 10 of the smaller unit to make the bigger one. It uses the metre for length, the kilogram for weight, and, as with the others, the second for time.

Number and Unit of measure[change | edit source]

The property of the thing being measured is given as a number of units of measure. The number only has sense when the unit of measurement is also given.

For example, The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France is 300 meters tall.[1] That is, the distance from the top to the bottom of the Eiffel Tower is 300 meters. The property of the Eiffel Tower being measured is a distance. The number measured is 300. This number does not make sense without the unit of measure. The unit of measure is the meter.

Measurement Standards[change | edit source]

Standards are special objects that are used to make measurements in terms of fixed units of measurement. A metre stick is an example of a standard. When you measure something with a metre stick, you can compare that measurement to anything else that is also measured with a metre stick. This makes measurement easier and comparisons between measurements easier.[2]

Size of Units of Measurement[change | edit source]

There are units of measurement of different sizes. There are small units of measurement to measure small things. There are big units of measurement to measure big things.

Science, medicine and engineering use smaller units of measurement to measure small things with less error. It is easier to measure large things using larger units of measurement. Large measurements like the width of a galaxy and small measurements like the mass of an atom use special units of measurement.

Systems of Units of Measurement[change | edit source]

There are many different standards and units used all over the world.

Metric System[change | edit source]

see SI and Metric system

The metric system is a system of measurement used in most of the world. It is also called the International System of Units, or SI.

Units of measure in the metric system include:

  • The unit of volume is the litre. It is used for measuring an amount of liquid. A millilitre (abbreviated as ml) is the amount of liquid that would fill up a cube that measures 1 centimetre on each side. One l litre of liquid would fill up a cube that is 10 cm on each side.
  • The unit of mass is the kilogram. A kilogram (kg) weighs the same as a litre of water (at normal temperature, and pressure). 1 gram (g) is the weight of 1 millilitre of water at 0 degrees Celsius. The metric tonne is 1000 kilograms or a million grams.

British imperial Units[change | edit source]

Imperial units were defined in the United Kingdom in 1825. These units were based on similar units that were in use before 1825. Imperial units were used in countries that were part of the British Empire. While many of these countries, including the United Kingdom, have officially adopted SI, the older system of units are still used.

US customary units[change | edit source]

US customary units are the official units used in the US. These are similar to the British imperial units and also based on the units used in the United Kingdom from before American Independence. But some of the units are different to the British ones. For example, there are 20 imperial fluid ounces in an imperial pint, but 16 US fluid ounces in a US pint. Additionally, the US fluid ounce is slightly bigger than the imperial fluid ounce. The result is that US pints and gallons are smaller than imperial pints and gallons. In the United States, the metric system has been legal for trade since 1866 but other measurements such as the gallon, inch, and the pound are still widely used.

Imperial and US units of measurement include:

  • Length - inch (in), foot (ft), yard (yd), and mile.
    • 1 foot = 12 inches
    • 1 yard = 3 feet (plural of foot) = 36 inches
    • 1 mile = 1760 yards = 5280 feet
  • US volume - US fluid ounces (fl oz), US cup (cp), US pint (pt), US quart (qt), and US gallon (gal).
    • 1 US cup = 8 US fluid ounces
    • 1 US pint = 2 US cups = 16 US fluid ounces
    • 1 US quart = 2 US pints
    • 1 US gallon = 4 US quarts = 8 US pints
  • Weight and mass are measured in ounces (oz) and pounds (lb), and stone (st) in imperial only.
    • 1 pound = 16 ounces
    • 1 stone = 14 pounds

The ounces for weight and volume are different. Even when measuring water, the number of ounces of weight is not the same as the number of fluid ounces.

Converting Between Systems[change | edit source]

Metric to US
  • 1 meter = 1.09 yards = 39.37 inches.
  • 1 liter = 33.3 fluid ounces = 1.76 pints = .26 US gallons.
  • 1 kilogram = 35.32 ounces = 2.2 pounds
US to metric
  • Length
    • 1 inch = 2.54 centimetres
    • 1 foot = 30.48 centimetres
    • 1 yard = .914 metres
    • 1 mile = 1.61 kilometres
  • Volume
    • 1 fluid ounce = 29.6 millilitres
    • 1 pint = 473.1 millilitres
    • 1 gallon = 3.79 litres
    • 1 cup = 16 ounces
  • Mass
    • 1 ounce = 28.35 grams
    • 1 pound = .45 kilograms

Other Units of Measure[change | edit source]

Time[change | edit source]

The unit of time is the second. The minute (60 seconds) and hour (60 minutes or 3600 seconds) are larger units. A day is usually said to be 24 hours, but is actually a small bit longer. This difference is corrected at the end of every year. A week (7 days) and month are also standard units.

Money[change | edit source]

A unit of measurement that applies to money is called a unit of account. This is normally a currency issued by a country. For instance, the United States use dollars. Each dollar is 100 cents. The United Kingdom uses pounds. Each pound is 100 pennies or pence. Other countries in Europe use the Euro which is 100 cent for the Euro (they are not called "cents")

Notes[change | edit source]

  1. A person can also say "The Eiffel Tower's height is 300 meters."
  2. An example of unit of measurement standards:
    David is making a house. David wants a window in his house. David makes a hole in the wall of his house for a window. David measures the hole using the length of his arm as a unit of measurement. The hole is one arm tall and two arms wide.

    Abbie makes windows. Abbie measures her windows using her arm as a unit of measurement. Some of Abbie's windows are two arms wide and one arm tall.

    David buys a window from Abbie that Abbie says is two arms wide and one arm tall. If David's arms are a different length than Abbie's arms, then the window will be the wrong size.

    For David to get the right size window, he has to tell the people with the windows what size the hole is. The easy way to do this is for David and Abbie to use the same unit of measurement standard. If David and Abbie both use the meter, they will both know the size of the hole and the size of the windows.

    Michael wants to use the same window in his house ten years later. Michael makes a hole in his house wall. If the unit of measurement changed in ten years, then Michael would have to remeasure the window. The easiest way to do this is if the unit of measurement did not change in ten years.