Scientific Notation

Scientific Notation (also known as Powers of Ten) is a system of writing numbers which are very big or very small in a legible, easy to read format. (Beiser pg 1) Instead of writing a lot of zeros, standard notation allows the user to write a number multiplied by a power of 10 (as shown in the picture below). The power of 10 can be either positive or negative, moving the decimal right or left accordingly. (Beiser pg 1)


History of Scientific Notation

Rene Descartes was the first person to develop the scientific method in 1637, although it was not called that at that time (Spencer). "Descartes is in many ways, in mathematics, philosophy, and science, the first of the modern [scientists]" (Daintith 221). It appeared first in his "Discours de la Methode." (Daintith 221) It began being used as the accepted form of notating very large or very small numbers in the 1800's.


Application of Scientific Notation

Scientific notation is used in many aspects of science. Often numbers very small or very big, which necessitates using scientific notation. Some aspects of science that use scientific notation are: the estimation of grains of sand on the earth, the size and age of the universe, world population, and the molecules in a glass of water (Horn).



  1. Beiser, A. (1988). Physical Science (2nd Edition). New York, NY: McGraw Hill
  2. Spencer, Philip. "Question Corner -- Scientific Notation in Everyday Life." ยป Department of Mathematics. Toronto.Edu, 19 Apr. 1999. Web. 07 June 2011. <>.
  3. Horn, Toby. "Scientific Notation." Carnegie Institution for Science. 16 Dec. 2002. Web. 07 June 2011. <>.
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  7. Daintith, John, Sarah Mitchell, and Elizabeth Tootill. "Descartes." Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists. Second ed. Vol. 1. Bristol: Institute of Physics Pub., 1994. Print.

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