To make things simpler when expressing very large or small values, scientists express values in
terms of "a x 10b", where a is the value and b is number of places the decimal place had to move
in order to express a in manageable terms. This type of expression is called scientific
notation. Some easy examples of scie ntific notation are provided below.
1 = 1x10^{0}
10 = 1x10^{1}
100 = 1x10^{2}
1000 = 1x10^{3}
and so forth.
The value in the exponent place describes how many zeroes there are in the number being
represented. The number 100 has 2 zeroes; it's scientific notation is
1X10^{2}.
In the case of numbers smaller than one, the exponent becomes negative, and that negative value
represents how many zeroes there are between the number and the decimal place:
0.1 = 1x10^{-}10.01 = 1x10^{-}20.001 = 1x10^{-}3
As one can imagine, when expressing extremely large numbers, this method is most helpful. For
instance, take the number 602,200,000,000,000,000,000,000. Using scientific notation, this number
can be expressed as 6.022x10^{2}3, which is obviously much
more convenient.
Many, many numbers in chemistry, physics, and other sciences will appear in the
scientific notation form. It pays to understand it. As we shall see in the next
section, scientific
notation also is generally more compliant with the rules of significant figures.