dimension, in physics, an expression of the character of a derived quantity in relation to fundamental quantities, without regard for its numerical value. In any system of measurement, such as the metric system, certain quantities are considered fundamental, and all others are considered to be derived from them. Systems in which length ( L ), time ( T ), and mass ( M ) are taken as fundamental quantities are called absolute systems. In an absolute system force is a derived quantity whose dimensions are defined by Newton's second law of motion as ML / T 2, in terms of the fundamental quantities. Pressure (force per unit area) then has dimensions M/LT 2; work or energy (force times distance) has dimensions ML 2/ T 2; and power (energy per unit time) has dimensions ML 2/ T 3. Additional fundamental quantities are also defined, such as electric charge and luminous intensity. The expression of any particular quantity in terms of fundamental quantities is known as dimensional analysis and often provides physical insight into the results of a mathematical calculation.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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