The debye (symbol: D) (/dɛˈb/;[1] Dutch: [dəˈbɛiə]) is a CGS unit[2] (a non-SI metric unit) of electric dipole moment[note 1] named in honour of the physicist Peter J. W. Debye. It is defined as 1×10−18 statcoulomb-centimeters.[note 2] Historically the debye was defined as the dipole moment resulting from two charges of opposite sign but an equal magnitude of 10−10 statcoulomb[note 3] (generally called e.s.u. (electrostatic unit) in older scientific literature), which were separated by 1 ångström.[note 4] This gave a convenient unit for molecular dipole moments.

1 D  = 10−18 statC·cm
= 10−18 cm5/2⋅g1/2⋅s−1 [note 5]
= 10−10 statC·Å [note 2]
1299,792,458×10−21 C·m[note 6]
≈ 3.33564×10−30 C·m
≈ 0.3934303 e·a0[3]
≈ 0.2081943 e⋅Å
≈ 0.02081943 e·nm

Typical dipole moments for simple diatomic molecules are in the range of 0 to 11 D. Symmetric homoatomic species, e.g. chlorine, Cl2, have zero dipole moment, and highly ionic molecular species have a very large dipole moment, e.g. gas-phase potassium bromide, KBr, with a dipole moment of 10.41 D.[4]

The debye is still used in atomic physics and chemistry because SI units are inconveniently large. As of 2022, The smallest SI unit of electric dipole moment is the yoctocoulomb-metre, which is roughly 300,000 D.[note 7]

See also


  1. ^ Two equal and opposite charges separated by some distance constitute an electric dipole. This dipole possesses an electric dipole moment whose value is given as charge times length of separation, it is a vector whose direction is in the direction of the unit vector of the position vector of the positive charge w.r.t negative charge:
    p = qr.
  2. ^ a b The statcoulomb is also known as the franklin or electrostatic unit of charge.
    1 statC = 1 Fr = 1 esu = 1 cm3/2⋅g1/2⋅s−1.
  3. ^ 10−10 statcoulomb corresponds to approximately 0.2083 units of elementary charge.
  4. ^ The ångström is within an order of magnitude of the nuclear separation for a typical covalent bond.
    1 Å = 100 pm = 10−8 cm = 10−10 m.
  5. ^ In any of the CGS systems, electromagnetic units are expressed in terms of the three base units, cm, g and s, albeit that the systems are mutually inconsistent in this regard.
  6. ^ One debye corresponds to 1×10−21 C·m2/s divided by the speed of light in vacuum. Conversely, 1 C·m = 2.9979×1029 D.
  7. ^ Yocto-, with a value of 10−24, is the smallest SI prefix. However, a draft resolution of the CGPM to be voted on in November 2022, the prefix quecto- (10−30) would permit the quectocoulomb-metre (approximately, 1 qC⋅m ≘ 0.33 D).


  1. ^ "Debye". Random House Dictionary. 2013.
  2. ^ CGS units Archived 2011-08-09 at the Wayback Machine R. Rowlett (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).
  3. ^ Atomic unit of electric dipole moment, NIST.
  4. ^ Physical chemistry 2nd Edition (1966) G. M. Barrow. McGraw-Hill.