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Scientific Notation & Metric Prefixes

Scientific Notation

When we are discussing electromagnetic radiation we are often dealing with both very large and very small numbers. Therefore scientific notation is often used to write these numbers. Many of the variables for radiation equations are written in scientific notation, so you will be to become comfortable converting numbers to and from scientific notation as well as adding, multiplying and dividing numbers in scientific notation.

Converting from "Normal" to Scientific Notation

In scientific notation a positive exponent indicates that the decimal point is moved that number of places to the right. A negative exponent indicates that the decimal point is shifted that number of places to the left. When converting to scientific notation place the decimal point after the first non-zero digit, and count the number of places the decimal point has moved. If the decimal place has moved to the left then multiply by a positive power of 10; to the right will result in a negative power of 10.

Example: Write 3040 in scientific notation

Click to see solutionn

Move the decimal point 3 places to the left, so it becomes 3.04 x 103 Move the decimal point 3 places to the left

Example: Write 0.00012 in scientific notation
Move the decimal point 4 places to the right, so it becomes 1.2 x 10-4 Move the decimal point 4 places to the right

Converting from Scientific Notation to "Normal"

If the power of 10 is positive, then move the decimal point to the right; if it is negative, then move it to the left.

Example: Convert 4.01 x 105 to "normal notation"
Since the exponent is positive we move the decimal point five places to the right, so it becomes 401,000 Move the decimal point 5 places to the right

Working with Numbers in Scientific Notation

Multiplication

To multiply two numbers expressed in scientific notation, simply multiply the coefficient (numbers in front) and then add the exponents.

Example: Calculate (5.1 x 104) • (2.5 x 103)
Multiply the coefficients, then add the exponents. In this case we end up with more that one digit in front of the decimal. Therefore we need to move the decimal to the left one place, which adds one to the exponent
Multiplying in scientific notation

Division

To divide two numbers expressed in scientific notation, divide the coefficient (numbers out front) and subtract the exponents.

Example: Calculate (6.2 x 106) / (3.1 x 103)
Divide the coefficients, then subtract the exponents.
Multiplying in scientific notation

Metric Prefixes and Conversions

In addition to the use of scientific notation, you will also see a variety of metric prefixes used to describe wavelength, frequency and energy.

Table of Metric Prefixes

Metric Prefixes

In order to do the calculations for this lab we will need to convert frequency and wavelength units to base units of Hertz and Meters. Let's look at some examples.

Example: Convert 610 nanometers to meters
First look at the table above to determine the conversion, in this case we see that 1 nanometer is equal to 10-9 meters. We simply multiply 610 by 10-9
Metric Pre-fixes

Activity: Lab 2

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