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What Is Scientific Notation?



What Is Scientific Notation?
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 6 to 8
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.74

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    atomic, notation, negative, writing, mass, multiplied, power, ordinary, standard, scientific, meters, measure, itself, number, positive, shorten


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What Is Scientific Notation?
By Cindy Grigg
  

1     We use numbers to measure many things. Ordinary numbers are used to measure the ordinary things we see every day. Ordinary numbers are called standard notation. When we need to measure something that is very, very large or very, very small, then we can use a system called scientific notation.
 
2     Scientific notation uses ordinary numbers, but it expresses them using exponents (or powers) of the number ten. Scientists who use large numbers and small numbers can use scientific notation to shorten the numbers they have to write.
 
3     What kinds of numbers are written using scientific notation? Distances in space are often very large numbers. Atoms are very small. When scientists write the weight of atomic particles, they use scientific notation.
 
4     A number written in scientific notation is written as the product of a number between one and ten and a power of ten. Here's an example. You could write a distance of 2,000 miles as 2.0 X 10 3 miles. It is read as "two decimal point zero times ten to the third power." Ten to the third power (103) means 10 X 10 X 10. When you multiply a number by ten with any exponent, you add a zero for every number in the exponent. Ten to the third power means that you add three zeros.
 
5     Small numbers are written with negative exponents. A negative exponent tells you that the decimal point is moved that number of places to the left. For example, five cents is written as $0.05. You could write it in scientific notation as 5.0 X 10-2 dollars.

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