Next: Natural Units, Up: Alternative Unit Systems [Contents][Index]

The SI—an extension of the MKS (meter–kilogram–second) system—has
largely supplanted the older CGS (centimeter–gram–second) system, but
CGS units are still used in a few specialized fields, especially in
physics where they lead to a more elegant formulation of Maxwell’s equations.
Conversions between SI and CGS involving mechanical units are
straightforward, involving powers of 10 (e.g., 1 m = 100 cm).
Conversions involving electromagnetic units are more complicated, and
`units`

supports four different systems of CGS units:
electrostatic units (ESU), electromagnetic units (EMU), the
Gaussian system and the Heaviside–Lorentz system.
The differences between these systems
arise from different choices made for proportionality
constants in electromagnetic equations.
Coulomb’s law gives electrostatic force between two
charges separated by a distance
*\(r\)*:

Ampere’s law gives the electromagnetic force per unit length
between two current-carrying conductors separated by a distance
*\(r\)*:

The two constants,
*\(k_{\rm C}\)* and *\(k_{\rm A}\)*,
are related by the square of the speed of light:

In the SI, the constants have dimensions, and an additional base unit,
the ampere, measures electric current. The CGS systems do not define
new base units, but express charge and current as derived units in
terms of mass, length, and time. In the ESU system, the constant for
Coulomb’s law is chosen to be unity and dimensionless, which defines
the unit of charge. In the EMU system, the constant for Ampere’s law
is chosen to be unity and dimensionless, which defines a unit of
current. The Gaussian system usually uses the ESU units for charge
and current; it chooses another constant so that the units for the
electric and magnetic fields are the same. The Heaviside–Lorentz
system is “rationalized” so that factors of
*\(4\pi\)*
do not appear in
Maxwell’s equations. The SI system is similarly rationalized, but the
other CGS systems are not. In the Heaviside–Lorentz (HLU) system the
factor of
*\(4\pi\)*
appears in Coulomb’s law instead; this system differs
from the Gaussian system by factors of
*\(\sqrt{4\pi}\)*.

The dimensions of electrical quantities in the various CGS systems are
different from the SI dimensions for the same units;
strictly, conversions between these systems and SI are not possible.
But units in different systems relate to the same physical quantities,
so there is a *correspondence* between these units.
The `units`

program defines the units so that you can convert
between corresponding units in the various systems.

Next: Natural Units, Up: Alternative Unit Systems [Contents][Index]