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Converting From Decimal Notation to Scientific Notation

Converting From Decimal Notation to Scientific Notation

Remember working with place value for whole numbers and decimals? Our number system is based on powers of 10. We use tens, hundreds, thousands, and so on. Our decimal numbers are also based on powers of tens—tenths, hundredths, thousandths, and so on. Consider the numbers 4,000 and \(0.004\). We know that 4,000 means \(4\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}1,000\) and 0.004 means \(4\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\frac{1}{1,000}\).

If we write the 1000 as a power of ten in exponential form, we can rewrite these numbers in this way:

\(\begin{array}{cccc}4,000\hfill & & & \phantom{\rule{4em}{0ex}}0.004\hfill \\ 4\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}1,000\hfill & & & \phantom{\rule{4em}{0ex}}4\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\frac{1}{1,000}\hfill \\ 4\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}{10}^{3}\hfill & & & \phantom{\rule{4em}{0ex}}4\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\frac{1}{{10}^{3}}\hfill \\ & & & \phantom{\rule{4em}{0ex}}4\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}{10}^{-3}\hfill \end{array}\)

When a number is written as a product of two numbers, where the first factor is a number greater than or equal to one but less than 10, and the second factor is a power of 10 written in exponential form, it is said to be in scientific notation.

Scientific Notation

A number is expressed in scientific notation when it is of the form

\(\begin{array}{cccc}& & & a\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}{10}^{n}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{where}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}1\le a<10\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{and}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}n\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{is an integer}\hfill \end{array}\)

It is customary in scientific notation to use as the \(\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\) multiplication sign, even though we avoid using this sign elsewhere in algebra.

If we look at what happened to the decimal point, we can see a method to easily convert from decimal notation to scientific notation.

This figure illustrates how to convert a number to scientific notation. It has two columns. In the first column is 4000 equals 4 times 10 to the third power. Below this, the equation is repeated, with an arrow demonstrating that the decimal point at the end of 4000 has moved three places to the left, so that 4000 becomes 4.000. The second column has 0.004 equals 4 times 10 to the negative third power. Below this, the equation is repeated, with an arrow demonstrating how the decimal point in 0.004 is moved three places to the right to produce 4.

In both cases, the decimal was moved 3 places to get the first factor between 1 and 10.

\(\begin{array}{cccc}\text{The power of 10 is positive when the number is larger than 1:}\hfill & & & 4,000=4\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}{10}^{3}\hfill \\ \text{The power of 10 is negative when the number is between 0 and 1:}\hfill & & & 0.004=4\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}{10}^{-3}\hfill \end{array}\)

Example: How to Convert from Decimal Notation to Scientific Notation

Write in scientific notation: 37,000.

Solution

This figure is a table that has three columns and four rows. The first column is a header column, and it contains the names and numbers of each step. The second column contains further written instructions. The third column contains math. On the top row of the table, the first cell on the left reads “Step 1. Move the decimal point so that the first factor is greater than or equal to 1 but less than 10.” The second cell reads “Remember, there is a decimal at the end of 37,000.” The third cell contains 37,000. One line down, the second cell reads “Move the decimal after the 3. 3.7000 is between 1 and 10.”In the second row, the first cell reads “Step 2. Count the number of decimal places, n, that the decimal place was moved. The second cell reads “The decimal point was moved 4 places to the left.” The third cell contains 370000 again, with an arrow showing the decimal point jumping places to the left from the end of the number until it ends up between the 3 and the 7.In the third row, the first cell reads “Step 3. Write the number as a product with a power of 10. If the original number is greater than 1, the power of 10 will be 10 to the n power. If it’s between 0 and 1, the power of 10 will be 10 to the negative n power.” The second cell reads “37,000 is greater than 1, so the power of 10 will have exponent 4.” The third cell contains 3.7 times 10 to the fourth power.In the fourth row, the first cell reads “Step 4. Check.” The second cell reads “Check to see if your answer makes sense.” The third cell reads “10 to the fourth power is 10,000 and 10,000 times 3.7 will be 37,000.” Below this is 37,000 equals 3.7 times 10 to the fourth power.

Convert from decimal notation to scientific notation

  1. Move the decimal point so that the first factor is greater than or equal to 1 but less than 10.
  2. Count the number of decimal places, n, that the decimal point was moved.
  3. Write the number as a product with a power of 10.If the original number is:
    • greater than 1, the power of 10 will be 10n.
    • between 0 and 1, the power of 10 will be 10−n.
  4. Check.

Example

Write in scientific notation: \(0.0052.\)

Solution

The original number, \(0.0052\), is between 0 and 1 so we will have a negative power of 10.

 0.0052.
Move the decimal point to get 5.2, a number between 1 and 10.0.0052, with an arrow showing the decimal point jumping three places to the right until it ends up between the 5 and 2.
Count the number of decimal places the point was moved.3 places.
Write as a product with a power of 10.5.2 times 10 to the power of negative 3.
Check. 
\(\begin{array}{}\phantom{\rule{3em}{0ex}}5.2\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}{10}^{-3}\hfill \\ \phantom{\rule{3em}{0ex}}5.2\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\frac{1}{{10}^{3}}\hfill \\ \phantom{\rule{3em}{0ex}}5.2\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\frac{1}{1000}\hfill \\ \phantom{\rule{3em}{0ex}}5.2\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}0.001\hfill \end{array}\) 
\(\phantom{\rule{2em}{0ex}}0.0052\)0.0052 equals 5.2 times 10 to the power of negative 3.

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