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.
Foundation: 02809S Applications Using Scientific Notation
Let's look at some real-world applications involving scientific notation.
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 1100, 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 1×10−26 kg.
You could fit about 3 million E. coli bacteria on the head of a pin. If the size of the pin head in question is 1.2×10−5 m2, calculate the area taken up by one E. 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 A.
3×106⋅A=1.2×10−5−since 3 million of them make up the area of the pin−head
A=13×106⋅1.2×10−5A=1.23⋅1106×10−5A=1.23⋅10−6×10−5A=0.4×10−11−rearranging the terms gives:−then using the definition of a negative exponent:−evaluate& combine exponents using the product rule:−but we can′t leave our answer like this, so…
The area of one bacterium is 4.0×10−12 m2.
(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 2.6×105, 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.)
Evaluate (2.3×106)×(4.9×10−10) using a graphing calculator.
Enter 2.3 [EE] 6×4.9 [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 6.296¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯×1016.
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 a×10b , where b is an integer and a is between 1 and 10 (that is, it has exactly 1 nonzero digit before the decimal).
Evaluate (4.5×1014)3 using a graphing calculator.
Enter (4.5 [EE] 14)∧3 and press [ENTER].
The calculator displays 9.1125E43. The answer is 9.1125×1043.
For questions 1-9, use a calculator to evaluate the expression.
- The moon is approximately a sphere with radius r=1.08×103 miles. Use the formula Surface Area =4πr2 to determine the surface area of the moon, in square miles. Express your answer in scientific notation, rounded to two significant figures.
- The charge on one electron is approximately 1.60×1019 coulombs. One Faraday is equal to the total charge on 6.02×1023 electrons. What, in coulombs, is the charge on one Faraday?
- Proxima Centauri, the next closest star to our Sun, is approximately 2.5×1013 miles away. If light from Proxima Centauri takes 3.7×104 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.