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dimensional analysis

n. (context physics English) The study of the dimensions of physical quantities; used to obtain information about large complex systems, and as a means of checking mathematical and physics equations.

Dimensional analysis

In engineering and science, dimensional analysis is the analysis of the relationships between different physical quantities by identifying their fundamental dimensions (such as length, mass, time, and electric charge) and units of measure (such as miles vs. kilometers, or pounds vs. kilograms vs. grams) and tracking these dimensions as calculations or comparisons are performed. Converting from one dimensional unit to another is often somewhat complex. Dimensional analysis, or more specifically the factor-label method, also known as the unit-factor method, is a widely used technique for such conversions using the rules of algebra.

The concept of physical dimension was introduced by Joseph Fourier in 1822. Physical quantities that are commensurable have the same dimension and can be directly compared to each other, even if they are originally expressed in differing units of measure. If they have different dimensions, they are incommensurable and cannot be directly compared in quantity. For example, it is meaningless to ask whether a kilogram is greater than, equal to, or less than an hour.

Any physically meaningful equation (and likewise any inequality and inequation) will have the same dimensions on the left and right sides, a property known as "dimensional homogeneity". Checking this is a common application of dimensional analysis. Dimensional analysis is also routinely used as a check on the plausibility of derived equations and computations. It is generally used to categorize types of physical quantities and units based on their relationship to or dependence on other units.