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Dimensionless quantities, also known as quantities of dimension one[1] are implicitly defined in a manner that prevents their aggregation into units of measurement.[2][3] Typically expressed as ratios that align with another system, these quantities do not necessitate explicitly defined units. For instance, alcohol by volume (ABV) represents a volumetric ratio; its value remains independent of the specific units of volume used, such as in milliliters per milliliter (mL/mL).

The number one is recognized as a dimensionless base quantity.[4] Radians serve as dimensionless units for angular measurements, derived from the universal ratio of 2π times the radius of a circle being equal to its circumference.[5]

Dimensionless quantities play a crucial role serving as parameters in differential equations in various technical disciplines. In calculus, concepts like the unitless ratios in limits or derivatives often involve dimensionless quantities. In differential geometry, the use of dimensionless parameters is evident in geometric relationships and transformations. Physics relies on dimensionless numbers like the Reynolds number in fluid dynamics,[6] the fine-structure constant in quantum mechanics,[7] and the Lorentz factor in relativity.[8] In chemistry, state properties and ratios such as mole fractions concentration ratios are dimensionless.[9]



Quantities having dimension one, dimensionless quantities, regularly occur in sciences, and are formally treated within the field of dimensional analysis. In the 19th century, French mathematician Joseph Fourier and Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell led significant developments in the modern concepts of dimension and unit. Later work by British physicists Osborne Reynolds and Lord Rayleigh contributed to the understanding of dimensionless numbers in physics. Building on Rayleigh's method of dimensional analysis, Edgar Buckingham proved the π theorem (independently of French mathematician Joseph Bertrand's previous work) to formalize the nature of these quantities.[10]

Numerous dimensionless numbers, mostly ratios, were coined in the early 1900s, particularly in the areas of fluid mechanics and heat transfer. Measuring logarithm of ratios as levels in the (derived) unit decibel (dB) finds widespread use nowadays.

There have been periodic proposals to "patch" the SI system to reduce confusion regarding physical dimensions. For example, a 2017 op-ed in Nature[11] argued for formalizing the radian as a physical unit. The idea was rebutted[12] on the grounds that such a change would raise inconsistencies for both established dimensionless groups, like the Strouhal number, and for mathematically distinct entities that happen to have the same units, like torque (a vector product) versus energy (a scalar product). In another instance in the early 2000s, the International Committee for Weights and Measures discussed naming the unit of 1 as the "uno", but the idea of just introducing a new SI name for 1 was dropped.[13][14][15]

Buckingham π theorem

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The Buckingham π theorem [16] indicates that validity of the laws of physics does not depend on a specific unit system. A statement of this theorem is that any physical law can be expressed as an identity involving only dimensionless combinations (ratios or products) of the variables linked by the law (e. g., pressure and volume are linked by Boyle's Law – they are inversely proportional). If the dimensionless combinations' values changed with the systems of units, then the equation would not be an identity, and Buckingham's theorem would not hold.

Another consequence of the theorem is that the functional dependence between a certain number (say, n) of variables can be reduced by the number (say, k) of independent dimensions occurring in those variables to give a set of p = nk independent, dimensionless quantities. For the purposes of the experimenter, different systems that share the same description by dimensionless quantity are equivalent.


Number of entities
Common symbols
SI unitUnitless

Integer numbers may represent dimensionless quantities. They can represent discrete quantities, which can also be dimensionless. More specifically, counting numbers can be used to express countable quantities.[17][18] The concept is formalized as quantity number of entities (symbol N) in ISO 80000-1.[19] Examples include number of particles and population size. In mathematics, the "number of elements" in a set is termed cardinality. Countable nouns is a related linguistics concept. Counting numbers, such as number of bits, can be compounded with units of frequency (inverse second) to derive units of count rate, such as bits per second. Count data is a related concept in statistics. The concept may be generalized by allowing non-integer numbers to account for fractions of a full item, e.g., number of turns equal to one half.

Ratios, proportions, and angles


Dimensionless quantities can be obtained as ratios of quantities that are not dimensionless, but whose dimensions cancel out in the mathematical operation.[19][20] Examples of quotients of dimension one include calculating slopes or some unit conversion factors. Another set of examples is mass fractions or mole fractions, often written using parts-per notation such as ppm (= 10−6), ppb (= 10−9), and ppt (= 10−12), or perhaps confusingly as ratios of two identical units (kg/kg or mol/mol). For example, alcohol by volume, which characterizes the concentration of ethanol in an alcoholic beverage, could be written as mL / 100 mL.

Other common proportions are percentages % (= 0.01),   (= 0.001). Some angle units such as turn, radian, and steradian are defined as ratios of quantities of the same kind. In statistics the coefficient of variation is the ratio of the standard deviation to the mean and is used to measure the dispersion in the data.

It has been argued that quantities defined as ratios Q = A/B having equal dimensions in numerator and denominator are actually only unitless quantities and still have physical dimension defined as dim Q = dim A × dim B−1.[21] For example, moisture content may be defined as a ratio of volumes (volumetric moisture, m3⋅m−3, dimension L3⋅L−3) or as a ratio of masses (gravimetric moisture, units kg⋅kg−1, dimension M⋅M−1); both would be unitless quantities, but of different dimension.

Dimensionless physical constants


Certain universal dimensioned physical constants, such as the speed of light in vacuum, the universal gravitational constant, the Planck constant, the Coulomb constant, and the Boltzmann constant can be normalized to 1 if appropriate units for time, length, mass, charge, and temperature are chosen. The resulting system of units is known as the natural units, specifically regarding these five constants, Planck units. However, not all physical constants can be normalized in this fashion. For example, the values of the following constants are independent of the system of units, cannot be defined, and can only be determined experimentally:[22]



Physics and engineering




Other fields


See also



  1. ^ "1.8 (1.6) quantity of dimension one dimensionless quantity". International vocabulary of metrology — Basic and general concepts and associated terms (VIM). ISO. 2008. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  2. ^ "SI Brochure: The International System of Units, 9th Edition". BIPM. ISBN 978-92-822-2272-0.
  3. ^ Mohr, Peter J.; Phillips, William Daniel (2015-06-01). "Dimensionless units in the SI". Metrologia. 52.
  4. ^ Mills, I. M. (May 1995). "Unity as a Unit". Metrologia. 31 (6): 537–541. Bibcode:1995Metro..31..537M. doi:10.1088/0026-1394/31/6/013. ISSN 0026-1394.
  5. ^ Zebrowski, Ernest (1999). A History of the Circle: Mathematical Reasoning and the Physical Universe. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-2898-4.
  6. ^ Cengel, Yunus; Cimbala, John (2013-10-16). EBOOK: Fluid Mechanics Fundamentals and Applications (SI units). McGraw Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-717359-3.
  7. ^ Webb, J. K.; King, J. A.; Murphy, M. T.; Flambaum, V. V.; Carswell, R. F.; Bainbridge, M. B. (2011-10-31). "Indications of a Spatial Variation of the Fine Structure Constant". Physical Review Letters. 107 (19): 191101. arXiv:1008.3907. Bibcode:2011PhRvL.107s1101W. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.107.191101. PMID 22181590.
  8. ^ Einstein, A. (2005-02-23). "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper [AdP 17, 891 (1905)]". Annalen der Physik. 14 (S1): 194–224. doi:10.1002/andp.200590006.
  9. ^ Ghosh, Soumyadeep; Johns, Russell T. (2016-09-06). "Dimensionless Equation of State to Predict Microemulsion Phase Behavior". Langmuir. 32 (35): 8969–8979. doi:10.1021/acs.langmuir.6b02666. ISSN 0743-7463. PMID 27504666.
  10. ^ Buckingham, Edgar (1914). "On physically similar systems; illustrations of the use of dimensional equations". Physical Review. 4 (4): 345–376. Bibcode:1914PhRv....4..345B. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.4.345. hdl:10338.dmlcz/101743.
  11. ^ "Lost dimension: A flaw in the SI system leaves physicists grappling with ambiguous units - SI units need reform to avoid confusion" (PDF). This Week: Editorials. Nature. 548 (7666): 135. 2017-08-10. Bibcode:2017Natur.548R.135.. doi:10.1038/548135b. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 28796224. S2CID 4444368. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-12-21. Retrieved 2022-12-21. (1 page)
  12. ^ Wendl, Michael Christopher (September 2017). "Don't tamper with SI-unit consistency". Nature. 549 (7671): 160. doi:10.1038/549160d. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 28905893. S2CID 52806576.
  13. ^ "BIPM Consultative Committee for Units (CCU), 15th Meeting" (PDF). 17–18 April 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  14. ^ "BIPM Consultative Committee for Units (CCU), 16th Meeting" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  15. ^ Dybkær, René (2004). "An ontology on property for physical, chemical, and biological systems". APMIS Suppl. (117): 1–210. PMID 15588029.
  16. ^ Buckingham, E. (1914). "On Physically Similar Systems; Illustrations of the Use of Dimensional Equations". Physical Review. 4 (4): 345–376. Bibcode:1914PhRv....4..345B. doi:10.1103/physrev.4.345.
  17. ^ Rothstein, Susan (2017). Semantics for Counting and Measuring. Key Topics in Semantics and Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-1-107-00127-5. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  18. ^ Berch, Daniel B.; Geary, David Cyril; Koepke, Kathleen Mann (2015). Development of Mathematical Cognition: Neural Substrates and Genetic Influences. Elsevier Science. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-12-801909-2. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  19. ^ a b "ISO 80000-1:2022(en) Quantities and units — Part 1: General". Retrieved 2023-07-23.
  20. ^ "7.3 Dimensionless groups" (PDF). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2023-11-03.
  21. ^ Johansson, Ingvar (2010). "Metrological thinking needs the notions of parametric quantities, units and dimensions". Metrologia. 47 (3): 219–230. Bibcode:2010Metro..47..219J. doi:10.1088/0026-1394/47/3/012. ISSN 0026-1394. S2CID 122242959.
  22. ^ Baez, John Carlos (2011-04-22). "How Many Fundamental Constants Are There?". Retrieved 2015-10-07.
  23. ^ Einstein, A. (2005-02-23). "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper [AdP 17, 891 (1905)]". Annalen der Physik. 14 (S1): 194–224. doi:10.1002/andp.200590006.
  24. ^ Huba, Joseph D. (2007). "NRL Plasma Formulary: Dimensionless Numbers of Fluid Mechanics". Naval Research Laboratory. pp. 23–25. Archived from the original on 2021-04-27. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
  25. ^ Zukoski, Edward E. (1986). "Fluid Dynamic Aspects of Room Fires" (PDF). Fire Safety Science. Retrieved 2022-06-13.

Further reading