The Metric System - Conquer Your Fear

by Robert Burke - Date: 2006-12-04 - Word Count: 421 Share This!

The Metric System! Do you feel stress and anxiety just hearing those words?

If so, you are not alone. But don't worry, learning and using the metric system really isn't as hard as you may fear. And there are many resources available to help you.

The metric system is an international system of weights and measures, based on the meter as a unit of length, and the gram as the unit of weight. Other measurements are derived from these basic dimensions. The decimal system (powers of 10) is used to describe larger and smaller multiples of these primary measurements.

To describe measurements larger than the base unit, the most common prefixes are kilo- (thousand) and mega- (million).

For measurements smaller than the base unit, the common prefixes are deci- (tenth), centi- (hundredth) and milli- (thousandth).

So, for example, 1 meter equals 10 decimeters, or 100 centimeters, or 1000 millimeters. And 1 kilometer equals 1000 meters. In the same way, a kilogram equals 1000 grams. Since we are familiar with powers of 10, it should simply be a matter of learning the prefixes once, and then applying them to all of the different units.

The more difficult part, for most people, is getting a feel for the size of metric measurements in comparison to the standard or U.S. customary units with which we are familiar.

Here are some approximate comparisons that may help:

- 1 liter is a little more than 1 quart (Think of the common 2 liter soda bottles.)

- 4 liters is just over 1 gallon.

- 1 meter is a little more than 1 yard or 3 feet.

- 1 inch is about 2.5 centimeters (2 and one-half centimeters).

- 30 centimeters is about 1 foot.

- 1 kilometer is a little over half a mile.

- 1 kilogram is a little more than 2 pounds.

- 1 gram is about the weight of a paper clip, and a nickel weighs about 5 grams.

There may be times when you need to convert between metric and U.S. customary units. Don't worry, there are many tools you can use to make it easier. If you have access to the internet, there are web sites that will do the metric conversion on-line for you. If you need to do these kinds of calculations on a regular basis, you can buy special calculators that will make your task quick and easy. There are also many books and charts listing conversion factors and tables. When facing this challenge, there is no reason to be overwhelmed. Remember to take advantage of all of the resources available to help you.

Related Tags: convert, metric system, metric conversions, metric, measurement, units, meter, liter, gram

Robert Burke has a Master of Science degree in Engineering, and many years of experience in science education, industry and writing. Visit Science Made Simple ( for easy on-line metric conversions and to read more articles on science fairs and science projects.

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