In physics, the Stoney units form a system of units named after the Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney, who first proposed them in 1881. They are the earliest example of natural units, i.e., a coherent set of units of measurement designed so that chosen physical constants fully define and are included in the set.


Quantity Expression Value in SI Units
Length (L) 1.3807×10−36 m
Mass (M) 1.8592×10−9 kg
Time (T) 4.6054×10−45 s
Electric charge (Q) 1.6022×10−19 C

The constants that Stoney used to define his set of units is the following:[1][2]

Later authors, especially after the redefinition of the base units in the International System of Units, sometimes replace the Coulomb constant with 1/4πε0.[3][4]

This means that the numerical values of all these constants, when expressed in coherent Stoney units, is equal to one:

In Stoney units, the numerical value of the reduced Planck constant is

where α is the fine-structure constant.


George Stoney was one of the first scientists to understand that electric charge was quantized; from this quantization and three other constants that he perceived as being universal (a speed from electromagnetism, and the coefficients in the electrostatic and gravitational force equations) he derived the units that are now named after him.[5][6] Stoney's derived estimate of the unit of charge, 10−20 ampere-second, was 116 of the modern value of the charge of the electron[7] due to Stoney using the approximated value of 1018 for the number of molecules presented in one cubic millimetre of gas at standard temperature and pressure. Using the modern values for the Avogadro constant 6.02214×1023 mol−1 and for the volume of a gram-molecule under these conditions of 22.4146×106 mm3, the modern value is 2.687×1016, instead of Stoney's 1018.

Stoney units and Planck units

Stoney's set of base units is similar to the one used in Planck units, proposed independently by Planck thirty years later, in which Planck normalized the Planck constant[a] in place of the elementary charge.[8]

Planck units are more commonly used than Stoney units in modern physics, especially for quantum gravity (including string theory). Rarely, Planck units are referred to as Planck–Stoney units.[8]

The Stoney length and the Stoney energy, collectively called the Stoney scale, are not far from the Planck length and the Planck energy, the Planck scale. The Stoney scale and the Planck scale are the length and energy scales at which quantum processes and gravity occur together. At these scales, a unified theory of physics is thus required. The only notable attempt to construct such a theory from the Stoney scale was that of Hermann Weyl, who associated a gravitational unit of charge with the Stoney length[9][10][11] and who appears to have inspired Dirac's fascination with the large numbers hypothesis.[12] Since then, the Stoney scale has been largely neglected in the development of modern physics, although it is still occasionally discussed.[13]

The ratio of Stoney units to Planck units of length, time and mass is , where is the fine-structure constant:[14]

See also


  1. ^ In modern usage, Planck units are understood to normalize the reduced Planck constant in place of the Planck constant.


  1. ^ Ray, T. P. "Stoney's fundamental units." Irish Astronomical Journal, Vol. 15, P. 152, 1981 15 (1981): 152.
  2. ^ Stoney, G. Johnstone (May 1881). "LII. On the physical units of nature". The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science. 11 (69): 381–390. doi:10.1080/14786448108627031. ISSN 1941-5982.
  3. ^ Barrow, John D.; Tipler, Frank (1988), The anthropic cosmological principle, Oxford University Press, p. 291, ISBN 978-0-192-82147-8
  4. ^ Flowers, Jeff; Petley, Brian (2004), "Constants, Units and Standards", in Karshenboim, Savely G.; Peik, Ekkehard (eds.), Astrophysics, clocks and fundamental constants, Springer, p. 79, ISBN 978-3-540-21967-5
  5. ^ Stoney, G. (1881), "On The Physical Units of Nature", Phil. Mag., 11: 381–391
  6. ^ Stoney, G. Johnstone (1883), "On The Physical Units of Nature", The Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, 3: 51–60, retrieved 2010-11-28
  7. ^ O'Hara, J. G. (1993), George Johnstone Stoney and the Conceptual Discovery of the Electron, Occasional Papers in Science and Technology, vol. 8, Royal Dublin Society, pp. 5–28
  8. ^ a b Barrow, John D. (2004), "Outer Space", in Penz, François; Radick, Gregory; Howell, Robert (eds.), Space: in science, art and society, Cambridge University Press, p. 191, ISBN 978-0-521-82376-0
  9. ^ Tomilin, K. (2000), "Natural System of Units", Proc. of the XX11 International Workshop on High Energy Physics and Field Theory: 289
  10. ^ Weyl, H. (1918), "Gravitation und Elekrizitaet", Koniglich Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften: 465–78
  11. ^ Weyl, H. (1919), "Eine Neue Erweiterung der Relativitaetstheorie", Annalen der Physik, 59: 101–103
  12. ^ Gorelik, G. (2002), "Hermann Weyl and Large Numbers in Relativistic Cosmology", in Balashov, Y.; Vizgin, V. (eds.), Einstein Studies in Russia, Birkhaeuser
  13. ^ Uzan, Jean-Philippe (2011), "Varying Constants, Gravitation and Cosmology", Living Rev. Relativ., 14 (1): 15–16, arXiv:1009.5514, Bibcode:2011LRR....14....2U, doi:10.12942/lrr-2011-2, PMC 5256069, PMID 28179829
  14. ^ Duff, M. J.; Okun, L. B.; Veneziano, G. (2002-03-09), "Trialogue on the number of fundamental constants", Journal of High Energy Physics, 2002 (3): 3, arXiv:physics/0110060, Bibcode:2002JHEP...03..023D, doi:10.1088/1126-6708/2002/03/023, ISSN 1029-8479, S2CID 15806354