Volume measurement in SI units

Dr. Walt Volland revised June 29, 2013

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The SI volume unit is the cubic meter. We rarely use this volume unit in biology, chemistry or life science. The commonly used volume unit is the liter even though it is not truly the SI volume unit. It is easy to see why when we learn that a cubic meter is equal to 1000 liters.  This is not a convenient sized volume for lab work so the cubic meter is not used routinely. One liter is 1/1000 of the cubic meter.

The liter is a volume equal to a cube with 10 cm edges. This leads to a volume equal to 1000 cubic centimeters.

1 liter = 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm or 1000 cm3 .

The liter is derived from the definition of the meter and decimeter (see image below).    The decimeter is 10 centimeters so 1 liter equals 1 cubic decimeter.

It is useful to know that the milliliter is the same size volume as the cubic centimeter or cc that is to say 1 mL = 1 cc.

The milliliter(mL), and cubic centimeter (cm3) have the same volume. This means  1 milliliter = 1 cc = 1 cm3


1. What is the volume of 4.3 liters in milliliters? Click here for answer
2. What is a volume of 823 ml equal in liters? Click here for answer
3. How does the volume of a 2 ml syringe compare with the volume of a liter? Click here for answer
4. How does the volume of one liter compare with the volume of a US quart? Click here for answer.