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Comparison between the micro symbol and the Greek letter mu in Linux Libertine Micro symbol vs Greek mu in Linux Libertine.svg
Comparison between the micro symbol and the Greek letter mu in Linux Libertine

Micro- (Greek letter μ or legacy micro symbol µ) is a unit prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of 10−6 (one millionth). [1] Confirmed in 1960, the prefix comes from the Greek μικρός (mikrós), meaning "small".


The symbol for the prefix comes from the Greek letter μ (mu). It is the only SI prefix which uses a character not from the Latin alphabet. "mc" is commonly used as a prefix when the character "μ" is not available; for example, "mcg" commonly denotes a microgram. Also the letter u instead of μ is allowed by one of the ISO documents [2] .


PrefixBase 1000Base 10 Decimal English wordAdoption [nb 1]
NameSymbol Short scale Long scale
yotta Y 10008  1024 1000000000000000000000000 septillion quadrillion1991
zetta Z 10007  1021 1000000000000000000000 sextillion trilliard1991
exa E 10006  1018 1000000000000000000 quintillion trillion1975
peta P 10005  1015 1000000000000000 quadrillion billiard1975
tera T 10004  1012 1000000000000 trillion billion1960
giga G 10003  109 1000000000 billion milliard1960
mega M 10002  106 1000000 million1873
kilo k 10001  103 1000 thousand1795
hecto h 10002/3  102 100 hundred1795
deca da 10001/3  101 10 ten1795
 10000  100 1 one
deci d 1000−1/3  10−1 0.1 tenth1795
centi c 1000−2/3   10−2 0.01 hundredth1795
milli m 1000−1  10−3 0.001 thousandth1795
micro μ 1000−2  10−6 0.000001 millionth1873
nano n 1000−3  10−9 0.000000001 billionth milliardth1960
pico p 1000−4  10−12 0.000000000001 trillionth billionth1960
femto f 1000−5  10−15 0.000000000000001 quadrillionth billiardth1964
atto a 1000−6  10−18 0.000000000000000001 quintillionth trillionth1964
zepto z 1000−7  10−21 0.000000000000000000001 sextillionth trilliardth1991
yocto y 1000−8  10−24  0.000000000000000000000001 septillionth quadrillionth1991
  1. Prefixes adopted before 1960 already existed before SI. 1873 was the introduction of the CGS system.

Symbol encoding in character sets

The official symbol for the SI prefix micro- is a Greek lowercase mu (μ). [4] For reasons stemming from its design, there are two different characters in Unicode, which appear slightly different in some fonts, although most fonts use the same glyph. The micro sign (µ) is encoded in the "Latin-1 Supplement" range identical to ISO/IEC 8859-1 (since 1987), at U+00B5 (Alt+0181), [5] residing at this code point also in DEC MCS (since 1983) and ECMA-94 (since 1985). The Greek letter (μ) is encoded in the Greek range at U+03BC (Alt+956). According to The Unicode Consortium, the Greek letter character is preferred, [6] but implementations must recognize the micro sign as well.

In circumstances in which only the Latin alphabet is available, ISO 2955 (1974, [7] 1983 [8] ), DIN 66030 (Vornorm 1973; [9] 1980, [10] [11] 2002 [12] ) and BS 6430 (1983) allow the prefix μ to be substituted by the letter u (or even U , if lowercase letters are not available), as, for example, in um for μm, or uF for μF. Similar, capacitor values according to the RKM code defined in IEC 60062 (IEC 62) (since 1952), EN 60062, DIN 40825 (1973), BS 1852 (1974), IS 8186 (1976) etc. can be written as 4u7 (or 4U7) instead of 4μ7 if the Greek letter μ is not available.

Other abbreviating conventions

In some health care institutions, house rules deprecate the standard symbol for microgram, "μg", in prescribing or chart recording, because of the risk of misdose via the misreading of poor handwriting. [13] The two alternatives are to abbreviate as "mcg" [13] or to write out "microgram" in full (see also List of abbreviations used in medical prescriptions). But this deprecation, focused on bedside misdose avoidance in contexts where handwriting is often present, does not extend to all health-care contexts and institutions (for example, some clinical laboratories' reports adhere to it, whereas others do not [13] ), and in physical sciences academia, "μg" remains the sole official abbreviation.

In medical data exchange according to the Health Level 7 (HL7) standard, the μ can be replaced by u as well. [14]

See also


  1. International Bureau of Weights and Measures (2006), The International System of Units (SI) (PDF) (8th ed.), ISBN   92-822-2213-6, archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-08-14
  2. ISO 2955, table 2.
  3. Biology by Campbell & Reece tenth edition page 98 Ch. 6 A Tour of the Cell
  4. Prefixes of the International System of Units, International Bureau of Weights and Measures (page visited on 9 May 2016).
  5. (Unicode 1.0, 1991)
  6. Unicode Technical Report #25
  7. ISO 2955-1974: lnformation processing - Representations of SI and other units for use in systems with limited character sets (1st ed.). 1974.
  8. "Table 2". ISO 2955-1983: lnformation processing - Representations of SI and other units for use in systems with limited character sets (PDF) (2nd ed.). 1983-05-15. Retrieved 2016-12-14.
  9. Vornorm DIN 66030[Preliminary standard DIN 66030] (in German). January 1973.
  10. DIN 66030: Darstellungen von Einheitennamen in Systemen mit beschränktem Schriftzeichenvorrat (in German) (1st ed.). 1980.
  11. "Neue Normen für die Informationsverarbeitung". Computerwoche (in German). 1981-01-09. Archived from the original on 2016-12-14. Retrieved 2016-12-14.
  12. DIN 66030:2002-05 - Informationstechnik - Darstellung von Einheitennamen in Systemen mit beschränktem Schriftzeichenvorrat [Information technology - Representation of SI and other units in systems with limited character sets] (in German). Beuth Verlag  [ de ]. May 2002. Retrieved 2016-12-14.
  13. 1 2 3 Burtis, Carl A.; Ashwood, Edward R.; Bruns, David E. (2012), Tietz Textbook of Clinical Chemistry and Molecular Diagnostics (5th ed.).
  14. "Commonly Used UCUM Codes for Healthcare Units". HL7 Deutschland e.V. Retrieved 2015-11-21.