ASPIRE Scientific Notation: Students Introduction

Scientific Notation: Students Introduction

Scientists deal with big numbers everywhere they look. The numbers of stars in the sky, atoms in a drop of water, people on the earth, and bacteria on a petri dish are just a few examples of the kinds of big numbers that scientists manipulate every day.

On the Scientific Notation main page, the Ring Nebula, also known as M57, is shown. The ring nebula is an elongated planetary nebula, a type of nebula that is created when a Sun-like star evolves to throw off its outer atmosphere and becomes a white dwarf. The Ring Nebula is about 2000 light-years away and is roughly 500 times the diameter of our Solar System (about one light-year). To make these measurements, scientists had to use very large numbers.

Big numbers like six hundred septillion, or


(which is roughly the number of atoms in a few drops of water) can be hard to handle. Think of carrying all those zeros if you're multiplying by this number! Or doing long division! How can one possibly represent such huge numbers graphically?

In the three ASPIRE labs that follow, we will begin to explore the ways in which scientists write, manipulate, and graph these large numbers in an efficient and concise manner.

This symbol will appear throughout the labs, and is a reminder to you and your lab partner to discuss and record ideas. Scientists rarely work in isolation. They often discuss and explore hypothetical data, data analysis, and results in partnership with one or more other scientists.

Back to the main Scientific Notation page

Last Updated: 28 July 2000 by JB