# CONNECT: Ways of writing numbers

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1 CONNECT: Ways of writing numbers SCIENTIFIC NOTATION; SIGNIFICANT FIGURES; DECIMAL PLACES First, a short review of our Decimal (Base 10) System. This system is so efficient that we can use it to write any number we like, no matter how big or how small. But, when numbers get either TOO big or small, then the amount of digits becomes unwieldy. That s where Scientific Notation, Significant Figures and Decimal Places all come in. You probably remember from school that the place value of a number is important because it determines how big the number is. I am sure you also remember the names of all the place values, especially of the whole numbers: millions hundred thousands ten thousands thousands hundreds tens units. Reading from the right (units), each column to the left has been obtained by multiplying by 10 (each column represents a number that is 10 times bigger than the one on its right). For example, 10 is 1 x 10, 100 is 10 x 10, 1000 is 100 x 10 and so on. (Same as 20 is 2 x 10, 350 is 35 x 10.) Going in the other direction, each column to the right has been obtained by dividing the one on its left by 10. The decimal point which goes straight after the units column tells us that we no longer have a whole number, and that the unit has been divided by 10. That s why 0.1 is the same as 1 10, or has been divided by 10 in the same way as = 10, or = 100. The number is moved across a column to make it smaller. So, we get new headings for our place values AFTER (to the right of) the decimal point. 1

2 millions hundred thousands ten thousands thousands hundreds tens units. tenths hundredths thousandths One tenth can be written as or 0.1, a hundredth can be written as or 0.01, and a thousandth can be written as or DECIMAL PLACES Decimal places are the positions of numbers that appear to the right of the decimal point. They can give us a way of stating how accurately we want to measure something. For example, when you fill up the car at the petrol pump, you know that the price of petrol is given to three places of decimals (in cents), yet we round that to 2 places when we pay in fact we even round to the nearest 5 cents. So the calculation that the machine does is accurate right up until the very last step. For example, my car might take 32.4 litres when the price is cents per litre. If we calculate this (and of course you can use your calculator!) we get Thankfully, this is cents, so we need to divide by 100 and get (\$) Now, rounding to 2 decimal places (the nearest cent), we look at the 3 rd decimal place that is the 7 and ignore everything that comes after it. If the 3 rd decimal place is 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9, then we round up and we would get \$ This is because the 7 is more than halfway up to the next number (this is similar to 327 being closer to 330 than it is to 320). I like to put a little line to the right of the number I m going to round to: Then I look at the next number (7) and work out what to do. Let s say we have an answer to some other calculation and it looks like this: That is too many digits for the answer to make sense in our calculation so let s try to round it to four decimal places. So we look at This time the (Of course, in cash, we would actually pay \$45.35.) 2

3 2 to the right of the line tells us to keep the 4 th number just as it is, so we get So our number represents 5 thousand, 8 hundred and ninety-four point 8 tenths, 7 hundredths, 4 thousandths, 1 ten thousandth. We rounded off the 2 hundred thousandths and 8 millionths! Of course this all depends on how precise we want an answer to be. (Is it rocket science or nanophysics?) Try these for yourself: You can check the answers to these using the solutions at the end of the resource. Round to 2 decimal places: And, some problems: 1. How much would you pay for 1.8 kg apples if they cost \$4.59 per kg? 2. A sheet of glass measures 650 mm by 455 mm. Calculate the area in m 2, correct to 3 decimal places. (Hint: change the mm measurements to metres first by dividing by 1000, then multiply.) 3. Calculate the tax on \$ at 35 cents in the dollar. (Hint: change the 35 cents to dollars first and multiply.) 3

4 SIGNIFICANT FIGURES Significant Figures are different from Decimal places, although we may round using either of them. But significant figures can apply to whole numbers as well as decimals. Significant figures are the digits that are regarded as important when stating a number or measurement. All non-zero numbers are significant. 0 ( zero ), when at the end of a whole number or at the beginning of a decimal, becomes a place holder and is not counted as significant. An example of this might be: the crowd at a game of football is accurately counted as Do you think it is more likely that a commentator would say: the crowd today is thirty-eight thousand, five hundred and twenty-one, or would they say: the crowd is nearly forty thousand? The forty thousand is a lot easier to say, and for the listener to understand has only 1 significant figure (the 4) and the 0s tell us its place value that it is in the ten thousands column. The accurate number (38 521) has 5 significant figures (ALL OF THEM!) and when we read or hear it we know that everyone in the crowd has been counted. However, zeros are significant when they are between two non-zero digits, such as 504, which has 3 significant figures. Another example: Round to 2 significant figures. As with Decimal Places, we can put a line to the right of the number we need to round at, so (the 0s are not significant, and as the 52 are the first 2 significant figures we are only interested in them). The 1 tells us to leave the 2 alone, so (is approximately, or roughly equal to) , correct to 2 significant figures. Here are some for you to try. You can check your answers from the back of the handout. Round each of the following to 3 significant figures: (Note the space between the 38 thousand, and the 521. We don t use commas any more and use a space instead.) 4

5 And some more questions: 1. According to the distance from the Earth to the Moon is km. Express this distance correct to 2 significant figures. 2. The diameter of a golf ball is given by as cm. Express this correct to 3 significant figures. 5

7 Writing a number in Scientific Notation, or Standard Form For example, we may wish to write the distance of the Earth to the Moon, km, in a more efficient form. We see that the 3 is really 3 hundred thousand, and is in the column of We put a decimal point after the 3 and call our number x To check this result, you can multiply by 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 (so you would move the decimal point to the right 5 times). Most people use this method to get the number in Scientific Notation in the first place! So, you place a decimal point after the first non-zero digit, then work out how many times you would multiply by 10 (by moving the decimal point) until you get back to the original number. Second Example: Write the number km in Scientific Notation. (This is the diameter of the Sun, according to So, we put a decimal point after the first non-zero digit, which in this case is 1, to get 1.39 (we don t need the zeros on the end as they are just place holders and are not significant ). Now, to work out the power of 10, either look at the position of the first digit in the number the 1 it is in the 10 6 column or else, count how many places you need to move the decimal point to the right to get back to the original number (6). So, km is the same as 1.39 x 10 6 km. Decimal numbers (numbers that are between 0 and 1) will always have negative powers of 10 as their multiplier. Example: The thickness of a human hair can be as small as metres. To write this in Scientific Notation, again we can put the decimal point after the first non-zero digit, which is a 1. We can look at where the 1 lines up with our powers of 10 in the table above uh oh, our number is too small, but we can see it would be 10-5 if we continue the pattern of powers. The other method is to count the number of places we move the point to the left this time to make the original number, again it would be 5, but in the negative direction. So, m is 1.7 x 10-5 metres. Remember: Decimal numbers are expressed with negative powers of 10, but numbers larger than 1 are expressed with positive powers of 10. Some for you to try. You can check your answers at the end of this resource. 7

8 Write these numbers in Scientific Notation (Standard Form): And some problems: 1. The distance from the Earth to the Sun has been calculated as km. (source: Write this distance in Scientific Notation. 2. A large flea is approximately m long. Write this measurement in Scientific Notation. 3. Very large or very small? (a) 6.73 x (b) 1.89 x If you need help with any of the Maths covered in this resource (or any other Maths topics), you can make an appointment with Learning Development through Reception: phone (02) , or Level 3 (top floor), Building 11, or through your campus. 8

9 ANSWERS to PROBLEMS Decimal places (correct to 2 decimal places) (correct to 2 decimal places) (correct to 2 decimal places). In this situation, the 9 goes up to 10 but this means that we need to put the 5 up to the 6. It s like 59 going up to 60. Problems x 4.59 = Rounding this to 2 decimal places we would get But in Australia now, we would pay \$ Change the length measurements to metres: 650 mm = m = 0.65 m 455 mm = m = m Area = 0.65 x m 2 = m m 2 (correct to 3 decimal places) 9

10 3. Tax = 0.35 x = So the tax to pay would be approximately \$ (or, probably, for the TaxPerson, \$5 539). Significant Figures (correct to 3 significant figures). Don t forget the 0s on the end to act as place value holders (correct to 3 significant figures) (correct to 3 significant figures) (correct to 3 significant figures). Some more questions: km km (correct to 2 significant figures) cm 4.27 cm (correct to 2 significant figures). 10

11 Scientific Notation = x = 4.21 x = x = 9.3 x 10-2 And, some problems: km = x 10 8 km. I would probably answer this by rounding, eg km 1.50 x 10 8 km m = 3.3 x 10-3 m. 3. (a) VERY LARGE!!! (b) VERY SMALL! 11

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