Electrical units and standards

Electrical units and standards

The process of measurement consists in finding out how many times the quantity to be measured contains a fixed quantity of the same kind, called a unit. The definitions of the units often involve complex physical theory and do not lend themselves readily to practical realization. The concrete representations of units are known as measurement standards. In practice, measurements are made by using an instrument calibrated against a local reference standard, which itself has been calibrated either directly or by several links in a traceability chain against the national standard held by the national standards laboratory.

Electrical and magnetic units

A proposal by W. E. Weber in 1851 led to the absolute cgs system in which all units of quantities to be measured could be derived from the base units of length, mass, and time—the centimeter, gram, and second. This system was widely adopted although it had three weaknesses: the size of the units was inconvenient for practical use; it was difficult to realize the units from their definitions; and there were separate sets of units for electrostatic and electromagnetic quantities, based respectively on the inverse-square laws of force between electric charges and between magnetic poles.

International units

The first weakness was resolved by international agreement in 1881 to fix the practical units—the volt, the ohm, and the ampere—at 108, 109, and 0.1 times the respective cgs electromagnetic units. The other weaknesses were avoided by the decisions of the 1908 International Congress in London, where realizations of these units in terms of easily reproducible standards were defined.

The mksa units

A more fundamental change resulted from a proposal by G. Giorgi in 1902. This led to the adoption of the mksa system of units, in which there are four base units: the meter, the kilogram, the second, and the ampere. Use of the meter and the kilogram instead of the centimeter and the gram gave units of a size more convenient for practical use, and use of the ampere as a base unit resolved the conflict between electrostatic and electromagnetic units while maintaining the magnitudes of the widely used practical units. This was a truly coherent system, in the sense that other units were derived from the base units without the need for factors of proportionality other than unity.

SI units

From the mksa system the present-day SI (Système Internationale), formally adopted in 1954, has developed, by the addition of further base units to include other fields of measurement. The seven base units of SI are the kilogram (kg; mass); second (s; time); meter (m; length); ampere (A; electric current); kelvin (K; thermodynamic temperature); candela (cd; luminous intensity); and mole (m; amount of substance). The units of other physical quantities (derived units) are derived from the base units by simple numerical relations.

The SI base unit for electrical measurements is the ampere (A), the unit of electric current. It is defined in terms of a hypothetical experiment as that constant current which, if maintained in two straight parallel conductors of infinite length, of negligible circular cross section, and placed 1 meter apart in vacuum, would produce between these conductors a force equal to 2 × 10-7 newton per meter of length.

The volt (V) is the unit of potential difference and of electromotive force. It is defined as the potential difference between two points of a conducting wire carrying a constant current of 1 ampere when the power dissipated between these points is equal to 1 watt. From the ampere and the volt, the ohm is derived by Ohm's law, and the other derived quantities follow in a similar manner by the application of known physical laws. See Ohm's law

The remaining units of electrical and magnetic quantities are:

Coulomb (C): The unit of electric charge, equal to 1 ampere-second. The coulomb is the quantity of electricity carried in 1 second by a current of 1 ampere.

Farad (F): The unit of capacitance, equal to 1 coulomb per volt. The farad is the capacitance of a capacitor between the plates of which there appears a potential difference of 1 volt when it is charged by a quantity of electricity of 1 coulomb.

Henry (H): The unit of inductance, equal to 1 weber per ampere. The henry is the inductance of a closed circuit in which an electromotive force of 1 volt is produced when the electric current in the circuit varies uniformly at the rate of 1 ampere per second.

Ohm (&OHgr;): The unit of electrical resistance, equal to 1 volt per ampere. The ohm is defined as the resistance between two points of a conductor when a constant potential difference of 1 volt, applied to these points, produces in the conductor a current of 1 ampere, the conductor not being the seat of any electromotive force.

Siemens (S): The unit of electrical conductance (the reciprocal of resistance), equal to 1 ampere per volt. It was formerly known as the mho.

Tesla (T): The unit of magnetic flux density, equal to 1 weber per square meter.

Weber (Wb): The unit of magnetic flux, equal to 1 volt-second. The weber is the magnetic flux which, linking a circuit of one turn, would produce in it an electromotive force of 1 volt if it were reduced to zero at a uniform rate in 1 second.

The mechanical units of frequency (hertz), energy or work (joule), and power (watt) are frequently involved in expressing electrical and magnetic quantities. The cgs units, such as the gauss, gilbert, maxwell, and oersted, formerly used, are not part of the SI and are now obsolete. See Units of measurement

Electrical standards

Realization of the values of the electrical and other units from their SI definitions involves great experimental difficulties. For this reason, it is customary for national standards laboratories to maintain stable primary standards of the units against which other reference standards can be compared. From time to time, absolute determinations of the values of these primary standards are made in terms of their definitions. By the late 1980s, the Josephson effect and the quantum Hall effect had made possible the standardization of the volt and the ohm by relation to fundamental physical constants. The recommendation by the CCE of the values to be adopted for these constants in 1990 led to a complete change in primary electrical standards and the method of handling them; and all the major national laboratories, and the BIPM, now use this method. See Fundamental constants, Hall effect, Josephson effect

For many years the primary standards maintained by most laboratories were the volt, in terms of the mean electromotive force of a group of Weston cells, and the ohm, using a group of standard resistors. A range of reference standards of other quantities are derived from these, including direct-current (dc) voltage and resistance at a variety of levels; alternating-current (ac) voltage, resistance, and power; capacitance and inductance; radio-frequency (rf) and microwave quantities; magnetic quantities and properties of materials; dielectric properties; and other quantities. These secondary standards are used for day-to-day measurements and for the calibration of local reference standards of other users in the national measurement system. See Capacitance measurement, Inductance measurement, Magnetic materials, Microwave measurements, Permittivity, Resistance measurement, Voltage measurement

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