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Faster-than-lightspeed Constants

In most libraries, physical constants are implemented as constant (possibly constexpr) quantity values. Such an approach has some disadvantages, often affecting the run time performance and causing a loss of precision.

Simplifying constants in an equation

When dealing with equations involving physical constants, they often occur more than once in an expression. Such a constant may appear both in a numerator and denominator of a quantity equation. As we know from fundamental physics, we can simplify such an expression by striking a constant out of the equation. Supporting such behavior allows a faster runtime performance and often a better precision of the resulting value.

Physical constants as units

The mp-units library allows and encourages the implementation of physical constants as regular units. With that, the constant's value is handled at compile-time, and under favorable circumstances, it can be simplified in the same way as all other repeated units do. If it is not simplified, the value is stored in a type, and the expensive multiplication or division operations can be delayed in time until a user selects a specific unit to represent/print the data.

Such a feature often also allows using simpler or faster representation types in the equation. For example, instead of always having to multiply a small integral value with a big floating-point constant number, we can just use the integral type all the way. Only in case a constant will not simplify in the equation, and the user will require a specific unit, such a multiplication will be lazily invoked, and the representation type will need to be expanded to facilitate that. With that, addition, subtractions, multiplications, and divisions will always be the fastest - compiled away or done in out-of-order execution.

To benefit from all of the above, in the mp-units library, SI defining and other constants are implemented as units in the following way:

namespace si {

namespace si2019 {

inline constexpr struct speed_of_light_in_vacuum final :
  named_unit<"c", mag<299'792'458> * metre / second> {} speed_of_light_in_vacuum;

}  // namespace si2019

inline constexpr struct magnetic_constant final :
  named_unit<{u8"μ₀", "u_0"}, mag<4> * mag_pi * mag_power<10, -7> * henry / metre> {} magnetic_constant;

}  // namespace mp_units::si

Usage examples

With the above definitions, we can calculate vacuum permittivity as:

constexpr auto permeability_of_vacuum = 1. * si::magnetic_constant;
constexpr auto speed_of_light_in_vacuum = 1 * si::si2019::speed_of_light_in_vacuum;

QuantityOf<isq::permittivity_of_vacuum> auto q = 1 / (permeability_of_vacuum * pow<2>(speed_of_light_in_vacuum));

std::println("permittivity of vacuum = {} = {::N[.3e]}", q, / m));

The above first prints the following:

permittivity of vacuum = 1  μ₀⁻¹ c⁻² = 8.854e-12 F/m

As we can clearly see, all the calculations above were just about multiplying and dividing the number 1 with the rest of the information provided as a compile-time type. Only when a user wants a specific SI unit as a result, the unit ratios are lazily resolved.

Another similar example can be an equation for total energy:

QuantityOf<isq::mechanical_energy> auto total_energy(QuantityOf<isq::momentum> auto p,
                                                     QuantityOf<isq::mass> auto m,
                                                     QuantityOf<isq::speed> auto c)
  return isq::mechanical_energy(sqrt(pow<2>(p * c) + pow<2>(m * pow<2>(c))));
constexpr auto GeV = si::giga<si::electronvolt>;
constexpr QuantityOf<isq::speed> auto c = 1. * si::si2019::speed_of_light_in_vacuum;
constexpr auto c2 = pow<2>(c);

const auto p1 = isq::momentum(4. * GeV / c);
const QuantityOf<isq::mass> auto m1 = 3. * GeV / c2;
const auto E = total_energy(p1, m1, c);

std::cout << "in `GeV` and `c`:\n"
          << "p = " << p1 << "\n"
          << "m = " << m1 << "\n"
          << "E = " << E << "\n";

const auto p2 = / (m / s));
const auto m2 = / pow<2>(m / s));
const auto E2 = total_energy(p2, m2, c).in(GeV);

std::cout << "\nin `GeV`:\n"
          << "p = " << p2 << "\n"
          << "m = " << m2 << "\n"
          << "E = " << E2 << "\n";

const auto p3 = * m / s);
const auto m3 =;
const auto E3 = total_energy(p3, m3, c).in(J);

std::cout << "\nin SI base units:\n"
          << "p = " << p3 << "\n"
          << "m = " << m3 << "\n"
          << "E = " << E3 << "\n";

The above prints the following:

in `GeV` and `c`:
p = 4 GeV/c
m = 3 GeV/c²
E = 5 GeV

in `GeV`:
p = 1.33426e-08 GeV s/m
m = 3.33795e-17 GeV s²/m²
E = 5 GeV

in SI base units:
p = 2.13771e-18 kg m/s
m = 5.34799e-27 kg
E = 8.01088e-10 J