Scientific Notation


In science, very large and very small quantities sometimes need to be measured. Writing out these numbers longhand is tedious and can lead to errors so scientists developed a shorthand method called scientific notation that works better.


Example 1: In standard decimal notation, the speed of light is 299,800,000.0 meters per second. In scientific notation this is written as 2.998x108 meters per second, meaning that the true position of the decimal point is 8 digits to the right. In this case, that means filling in the empty spots with zeros. (Your calculator will read: 2.998_08)


Example 2: Bacteria are usually no smaller than 1 micrometer (µm). If we expressed that quantity in meters, it would be written as 0.000001 m. In scientific notation, this would be written as 1.0x10-6 m. The exponent in this case is negative, so the true position of the decimal point is 6 places to the left. (Your calculator will read: 1.0_-06)