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Scientific Notation with a Calculator

Use technology to perform operations on numbers in scientific notation

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Scientific Notation with a Calculator

What if you knew that a milligram was one-millionth of a kilogram? How could you express this relationship exponentially? After completing this Concept, you'll be able to solve real-world problems like this one that involve scientific notation.

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CK-12 Foundation: 0809S Applications Using Scientific Notation


Let's look at some real-world applications involving scientific notation.

Example A

The mass of a single lithium atom is approximately one percent of one millionth of one billionth of one billionth of one kilogram. Express this mass in scientific notation.


We know that a percent is , and so our calculation for the mass (in kg) is:

Next we use the product of powers rule we learned earlier:

The mass of one lithium atom is approximately .

Example B

You could fit about 3 million . coli bacteria on the head of a pin. If the size of the pin head in question is , calculate the area taken up by one . coli bacterium. Express your answer in scientific notation


Since we need our answer in scientific notation, it makes sense to convert 3 million to that format first:

Next we need an expression involving our unknown, the area taken up by one bacterium. Call this .

Isolate :

The area of one bacterium is .

(Notice that we had to move the decimal point over one place to the right, subtracting 1 from the exponent on the 10.)

Evaluate Expressions in Scientific Notation Using a Graphing Calculator

All scientific and graphing calculators can use scientific notation, and it’s very useful to know how.

To insert a number in scientific notation, use the [EE] button. This is [2nd] [,] on some TI models.

For example, to enter , enter 2.6 [EE] 5. When you hit [ENTER] the calculator displays 2.6E5 if it’s set in Scientific mode, or 260000 if it’s set in Normal mode.

(To change the mode, press the ‘Mode’ key.)

Example C

Evaluate using a graphing calculator.


Enter 2.3 [EE] [EE] - 10 and press [ENTER].

The calculator displays 6.296296296E16 whether it’s in Normal mode or Scientific mode. That’s because the number is so big that even in Normal mode it won’t fit on the screen. The answer displayed instead isn’t the precisely correct answer; it’s rounded off to 10 significant figures.

Since it’s a repeating decimal, though, we can write it more efficiently and more precisely as .

Watch this video for help with the Examples above.

CK-12 Foundation: Applications using Scientific Notation


  • In scientific notation, numbers are always written in the form , where is an integer and is between 1 and 10 (that is, it has exactly 1 nonzero digit before the decimal).

Guided Practice

Evaluate using a graphing calculator.


Enter (4.5 [EE] and press [ENTER].

The calculator displays 9.1125E43. The answer is .


For questions 1-9, use a calculator to evaluate the expression.

  1. The moon is approximately a sphere with radius . Use the formula Surface Area to determine the surface area of the moon, in square miles. Express your answer in scientific notation, rounded to two significant figures.
  2. The charge on one electron is approximately coulombs. One Faraday is equal to the total charge on electrons. What, in coulombs, is the charge on one Faraday?
  3. Proxima Centauri, the next closest star to our Sun, is approximately miles away. If light from Proxima Centauri takes hours to reach us from there, calculate the speed of light in miles per hour. Express your answer in scientific notation, rounded to 2 significant figures.

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