Centimetre gram second system of units

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The centimetre-gram-second system (abbreviated CGS or cgs) is a metric system of physical units based on centimetre as the unit of length, gram as a unit of mass, and second as a unit of time. All CGS mechanical units are unambiguously derived from these three base units, but there are several different ways of extending the CGS system to cover electromagnetism.

The CGS system has been largely supplanted by the MKS system, based on metre, kilogram, and second. MKS was in turn extended and replaced by the International System of Units (SI). The latter adopts the three base units of MKS, plus the ampere, mole, candela and kelvin. In many fields of science and engineering, SI is the only system of units in use. However, there remain certain subfields where CGS is prevalent.

In measurements of purely mechanical systems (involving units of length, mass, force, energy, pressure, etc.), the differences between CGS and SI are straightforward and rather trivial; the unit-conversion factors are all powers of 10 arising from the relations 100 cm = 1 m and 1000 g = 1 kg. For example, the CGS derived unit of force is the dyne, equal to 1 g·cm/s2, while the SI derived unit of force is the newton, 1 kg·m/s2. Thus it is straightforward to show that 1 dyne=10−5 newton.

On the other hand, in measurements of electromagnetic phenomena (involving units of charge, electric and magnetic fields, voltage, etc.), converting between CGS and SI is much more subtle and involved. In fact, formulas for physical laws of electromagnetism (such as Maxwell's equations) need to be adjusted depending on what system of units one uses. This is because there is no one-to-one correspondence between electromagnetic units in SI and those in CGS, as is the case for mechanical units. Furthermore, within CGS, there are several plausible choices of electromagnetic units, leading to different unit "sub-systems", including Gaussian, "ESU", "EMU", and Heaviside-Lorentz. Among these choices, Gaussian units are the most common today, and in fact the phrase "CGS units" is often used to refer specifically to CGS-Gaussian units.


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