Units of measurement

Dr Daniel J Bell et al.

For units of measurement the use of SI units (both base and derived units) in articles and cases on Radiopaedia.org is preferred. This is in line with best scientific practice and helps maintain consistency across the site.

By scientific convention:

  • for eponymous units, the full name is not capitalized, but the symbol is, e.g. tesla is the correct form - not Tesla - but the symbol is T
  • for non-eponymous units, neither the full name nor the symbol is capitalized, e.g. ‘second’ is the correct form and the symbol is ‘s’
    • only exception to this rule for non-eponymous units is the liter
    • strictly-speaking the symbol should be 'l', i.e. the non-capital form of the letter 'L'. However, in view of the risk of mixing up 'l' with '1' in some fonts, it was decided in some countries, e.g. USA, Australia, to legally mandate the upper case for safety reasons
    • the full name remains liter, not Liter
    • other countries, e.g. UK have kept it as 'l'
    • on Radiopaedia.org we have decided to use L, and therefore mL etc.
  • a single-space should always be inserted between the numeric quantity and the symbol of the unit, e.g. 3 T magnet, and not 3T magnet. This becomes easier to remember and appreciate if one considers that the symbol is just a shortening of a word, i.e. using the same example, 3 tesla magnet, no-one would write 3tesla magnet! 
    • only exception to this is the symbol for angle measurements, e.g. ninety degrees is 90° and not 90 °
  • SI unit of distance is the meter (m)
  • for most of our purposes the meter is too long, and we prefer the centimeter (cm) or millimeter (mm)
  • for cases (like imaging reports) try to stick to one unit rather than switching between them e.g. "1 cm calculus in the gallbladder with a 0.4 cm wall", rather than a "1 cm calculus in the gallbladder with a 4 mm wall"
  • liquid/gas volumes or for organ size (e.g. ovary), we prefer milliliter (mL) rather than ml, cc or cubic centimeter
    • remember that 1 mL is numerically equivalent to 1 cm3
  • solid lesions e.g. lung nodules, mm3 or cm3, are best
  • SI unit of mass is the kilogram (kg)
    • the spellings kilogramme/gramme are now deemed to be archaic 3
  •  SI unit of time is the second (s)
  • SI unit of temperature is the kelvin (K)
    • unlike other temperature units, kelvin is never expressed as degrees, therefore "degree kelvin"/°K is scientifically incorrect and should never be used
  • SI unit of amount of substance is the mole (mol)

For ionizing radiation, SI units should be used even though older units (e.g. rad) remain in common use in a few countries (e.g. USA). It should be noted, that even though this is the case the USA's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) "strongly discourages" the use of non-SI units 2

  • derived SI unit of radioactivity is the becquerel (Bq)
    • commonly used for doses in nuclear medicine
    • one Bq is a tiny unit, nuclear medicine doses are most commonly expressed in megabecquerels (MBq) or gigabecquerels (GBq)
      • the old equivalent cgs unit is the curie (Ci)
      • however as the curie remains in common use in some parts of the world we express all doses in Bq, with the curie equivalent following in brackets, e.g. 37 MBq (1 mCi)
  • derived SI unit of magnetic field strength is the tesla (T)
  • when stating the field strength of an MRI scanner, the normal scientific convention is followed, e.g. 1.5 T and 3 T, not 1.5T and 3T
  • derived SI unit of frequency of a wave is the hertz (Hz)
  • one hertz is one cycle per second

Help and Style Guide
Share article

Article information

rID: 59489
Tag: help
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Measurement units

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Updating… Please wait.

 Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

 Thank you for updating your details.