Basic Exponential and Scientific Notation for Chemistry

Part of the Chemistry Workbook For Dummies Cheat Sheet

In chemistry, you often use exponential notation, which is simply using exponents to express a number. Scientific notation is a specific form of exponential notation that uses powers of 10, and numbers between 1 and 10, written as follows, where A is between 1 and 10 and B is an integer:

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Measurements have only a certain amount of precision. When you do calculations with measurements, you must make sure that your answers suggest no greater precision than was present in the original measurements:

  • For addition and subtraction, use exponential notation to express both numbers using the same power of 10. Then round the sum or difference to the same number of decimal places as held by the measurement with the fewest decimal places.

  • For multiplication and division, express both numbers in scientific notation so it's clear how many significant figures each number has. Round the product or quotient to the same number of significant figures as held by the measurement with the fewest significant figures.

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