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SI Brochure: The International System of Units (SI) [8th edition, 2006; updated in 2014]
Unit of amount of substance (mole)
SI Brochure, Section

    Following the discovery of the fundamental laws of chemistry, units called, for example, "gram-atom" and "gram-molecule", were used to specify amounts of chemical elements or compounds. These units had a direct connection with "atomic weights" and "molecular weights", which are in fact relative masses. "Atomic weights" were originally referred to the atomic weight of oxygen, by general agreement taken as 16. But whereas physicists separated the isotopes in a mass spectrometer and attributed the value 16 to one of the isotopes of oxygen, chemists attributed the same value to the (slightly variable) mixture of isotopes 16, 17 and 18, which was for them the naturally occurring element oxygen. Finally an agreement between the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) brought this duality to an end in 1959/60. Physicists and chemists have ever since agreed to assign the value 12, exactly, to the so-called atomic weight of the isotope of carbon with mass number 12 (carbon 12, 12C), correctly called the relative atomic mass Ar(12C). The unified scale thus obtained gives the relative atomic and molecular masses, also known as the atomic and molecular weights, respectively.

    The quantity used by chemists to specify the amount of chemical elements or compounds is now called "amount of substance". Amount of substance is defined to be proportional to the number of specified elementary entities in a sample, the proportionality constant being a universal constant which is the same for all samples. The unit of amount of substance is called the mole, symbol mol, and the mole is defined by specifying the mass of carbon 12 that constitutes one mole of carbon 12 atoms. By international agreement this was fixed at 0.012 kg, i.e. 12 g.

    Following proposals by the IUPAP, the IUPAC, and the ISO, the CIPM gave a definition of the mole in 1967 and confirmed it in 1969. This was adopted by the 14th CGPM (1971, Resolution 3):

    1. The mole is the amount of substance of a system which contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 0.012 kilogram of carbon 12; its symbol is "mol".
    2. When the mole is used, the elementary entities must be specified and may be atoms, molecules, ions, electrons, other particles, or specified groups of such particles.

    It follows that the molar mass of carbon 12 is exactly 12 grams per mole, M(12C) = 12 g/mol.

    In 1980 the CIPM approved the report of the CCU (1980) which specified that

      In this definition, it is understood that unbound atoms of carbon 12, at rest and in their ground state, are referred to.

    The definition of the mole also determines the value of the universal constant that relates the number of entities to amount of substance for any sample. This constant is called the Avogadro constant, symbol NA or L. If N(X) denotes the number of entities X in a specified sample, and if n(X) denotes the amount of substance of entities X in the same sample, the relation is

    n(X) = N(X)/NA.

    Note that since N(X) is dimensionless, and n(X) has the SI unit mole, the Avogadro constant has the coherent SI unit reciprocal mole.

    In the name "amount of substance", the words "of substance" could for simplicity be replaced by words to specify the substance concerned in any particular application, so that one may, for example, talk of "amount of hydrogen chloride, HCl", or "amount of benzene, C6H6". It is important to always give a precise specification of the entity involved (as emphasized in the second sentence of the definition of the mole); this should preferably be done by giving the empirical chemical formula of the material involved. Although the word "amount" has a more general dictionary definition, this abbreviation of the full name "amount of substance" may be used for brevity. This also applies to derived quantities such as "amount of substance concentration", which may simply be called "amount concentration". However, in the field of clinical chemistry the name "amount of substance concentration" is generally abbreviated to "substance concentration".

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We are pleased to present the updated (2014) 8th edition of the SI Brochure, which defines and presents the Système International d'Unités, the SI (known in English as the International System of Units).

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: SI units

Chapter 3: Decimal multiples and submultiples of SI units

  • SI prefixes
  • Factor Name Symbol Factor Name Symbol
    101 deca da 10–1 deci d
    102 hecto h 10–2 centi c
    103 kilo k 10–3 milli m
    106 mega M 10–6 micro µ
    109 giga G 10–9 nano n
    1012 tera T 10–12 pico p
    1015 peta P 10–15 femto f
    1018 exa E 10–18 atto a
    1021 zetta Z 10–21 zepto z
    1024 yotta Y 10–24 yocto y
  • The kilogram

Chapter 4: Units outside the SI

Chapter 5: Writing unit symbols and names, and expressing the values of quantities

General principles for the writing of unit symbols and numbers were first given by the 9th CGPM (1948, Resolution 7). These were subsequently elaborated by ISO, IEC, and other international bodies. As a consequence, there now exists a general consensus on how unit symbols and names, including prefix symbols and names, as well as quantity symbols should be written and used, and how the values of quantities should be expressed. Compliance with these rules and style conventions, the most important of which are presented in this chapter, supports the readability of scientific and technical papers.

Appendix 1: Decisions of the CGPM and the CIPM

This appendix lists those decisions of the CGPM and the CIPM that bear directly upon definitions of the units of the SI, prefixes defined for use as part of the SI, and conventions for the writing of unit symbols and numbers. It is not a complete list of CGPM and CIPM decisions. For a complete list, reference must be made to the BIPM website, successive volumes of the Comptes Rendus des Séances de la Conférence Générale des Poids et Mesures (CR) and Procès-Verbaux des Séances du Comité International des Poids et Mesures (PV) or, for recent decisions, to Metrologia.

Since the SI is not a static convention, but evolves following developments in the science of measurement, some decisions have been abrogated or modified; others have been clarified by additions. In the SI Brochure, a number of notes have been added by the BIPM to make the text more understandable; they do not form part of the original text.

In the printed brochure, the decisions of the CGPM and CIPM are listed in strict chronological order in order to preserve the continuity with which they were taken. However in order to make it easy to locate decisions related to particular topics a table of contents is also provided, ordered by subject:

Appendix 2: Practical realization of the definitions of some important units

Appendix 3: Units for photochemical and photobiological quantities

Optical radiation is able to cause chemical changes in certain living or non-living materials: this property is called actinism, and radiation capable of causing such changes is referred to as actinic radiation. Actinic radiation has the fundamental characteristic that, at the molecular level, one photon interacts with one molecule to alter or break the molecule into new molecular species. It is therefore possible to define specific photochemical or photobiological quantities in terms of the result of optical radiation on the associated chemical or biological receptors.

In the field of metrology, the only photobiological quantity which has been formally defined for measurement in the SI is for the interaction of light with the human eye in vision. An SI base unit, the candela, has been defined for this important photobiological quantity. Several other photometric quantities with units derived from the candela have also been defined (such as the lumen and the lux, see Table 3 in Chapter 2).