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# Name: _______________________________________ Course & Section: _________________ SIGNIFICANT FIGURES& SCIENTIFIC NOTATIONS Objectives 1.

Identify the number of significant figures. 2. Write numbers from standard notation to scientific notation. 3. Apply the rules in rounding-off numbers. 4. Apply the rules of significant figures in performing operations. Concept Notes Introduction Measurement of physical quantities is an important aspect one has to deal with in physics. It is from measurements of quantities where one deduces or confirms basic physical laws. In fact, this process of deducing or confirming conclusions from measured quantities is an underlying tenet of all the sciences physical, behavioral or social. Indeed, measurement is a cornerstone of the scientific method. Most physical measurements involve the reading of some scale. However, the finesse of the guardian of the scale is limited and the width of the lines marking the boundaries is by no means zero. This leads the observer to estimate the last digit of the measurements. Thus the numbers resulting from measurements are to some extent uncertain. The level of uncertainty depends on the apparatus used; the skill of the observer and the number of experiment performed. The way the measured number is written or report implies this level of uncertainty. For example in Figure 1 the length of the pencil using the ruler B is between the 10 cm and 20 mm mark. It is certain that the length of the pencil is greater than 10 mm and less than 20 mm. however, a portion of the length of the ruler is still unaccounted for. Thus, the observer has to estimate the value, say to around 18 mm. The last digit, which is 8, is uncertain. On the other hand, using ruler A, the reading may be 18.3 mm where the last digit 3 is an estimate. The place value of the estimate reflects the accuracy of the instrument. Ruler A has an accuracy of up to the tenth place of a millimeter (mm), whereas ruler B has an accuracy of just up to the units place of a millimeter (mm).

10

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Figure 1: Length measurement of a pencil using two rulers with different graduations.

## Significant Figures& Scientific Notations

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The figures that can be obtained directly by the measuring instrument followed by the first estimated figure of the measurement are called significant figures. Although an estimate figure is used, this figure is still significant because it gives meaningful information (although uncertain) about the measured object. One and only one estimated or doubtful figure is retained and regarded as significant in reading a physical measurement. In measurements, each digit in the measured value is defined as significant or non-significant. Since non-zero numbers give values on the measurement, all non-zero numbers are significant figures. Only zeros have the possibility of being non-significant. As a rule, the number of significant figures ina measurement depends on the accuracy of the instrument used, but it is incorrect to think that the number of significant figures determines the accuracy of the measurement. It is the place value of the last significant figure to the right of the decimal point, which will determine the accuracy of the instrument used in the measurement. Rules for Determining the Number of Significant Figures: 1. Values which are either exact numbers or numbers with perfect certainty contain an infinite number of significant figures. 2. Non-zero digits are significant. 3. Zeroes between non-zero digits are significant. 4. Zeroes to the right of a decimal point and to the right of a non-zero digit are significant. 5. Zeroes to the left of an expressed decimal point and to the right of a non-zero digit are significant. 6. Zeroes to the right of the decimal point and to the left of a non-zero digit are not significant (for values without non-zero digits to the left of a decimal point). The zeros are used to show the place-place value of the non-zero digits. 7. Zeroes to the right of a non-zero digit but to the left of an understood decimal point are not significant. Exercise 1 Identify the number of significant figures. 1. 0.00097 m 2. 90, 057 m 3. 538, 000 cm 4. 3.5 m 5. 7.0 km

6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

## Significant Figures& Scientific Notations

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Scientific Notation Scientific notation is the way that scientists easily handle very large numbers or very small numbers. When writing very large numbers or very small numbers in scientific notation, following format is followed. X.Y x 10n Where X is a number ranging from 1 to 9 Y is a number after the decimal point nwhich is the exponent of 10 is the number of times the decimal point is moved. A positive exponent means the decimal point is moved to the left, while negative exponent means the decimal point id moved to the right. For example, instead of writing 0.0000000056, we write 5.6 x 10-9. We can think of 5.6 x 10-9 as the product of two numbers: 5.6 (the digit term) and 10-9 (the exponential term). Rules 6 and 7 in identifying significant figures can be easily addressed if the number is expressed in scientific notation, using only significant figures in the number placed in the argument (before the power of 10). To illustrate the example in rule 6 and rule 7 are presented below in scientific notation, with the number of significant figures indicated. Values Rule 6 0.00097 0.000456 0.0281 Rule 7 538, 000 720, 000 150 Exercise 2 Fill-out the table below. Values 80, 000 101, 000, 000 0.000 000 000 734 0.000 000 109 5, 890, 100, 000 Scientific Notation 9.7 x 10-4 4.56 x 10-4 2.81 x 10-2 5.38 x 105 7.2 x 105 1.5 x 102 Number of Significant Figures 2 3 3 3 2 2

Scientific Notation

## Significant Figures& Scientific Notations

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Significant Figures and Algebraic Operations Some physical quantities are usually obtained, not by direct measurement, but by using a mathematical formula. For example, the volume of a cylinder is obtained by using the formula r2h. The radius (r) and the height (h) of the cylinder are the quantities directly measured. The final digit in the reading of these quantities is an estimated value. In the computation of the volume, the level of accuracy of the measurement must still be reflected in the final answer. The digits which are not significant must be dropped out continually; the answer must be rounded off to keep only the correct number of significant figures. The following rules may be used for the retention of significant figures in a computation. 1. Rounding Off Numbers The process of rounding off numbers to a certain number of significant figures is done so as to preserve the level of precision of the original measurements involved in a mathematical operation. In rounding off numbers to a certain number of significant figures, retain the number of digits specified starting from the leftmost side. If the digit next to the last retained digit is greater than 4, add 1 to the last retained digit. Otherwise, simply maintain the value of the last retained digit. 2. Additions and Subtractions When adding or subtracting measured values, the final answer should be rounded off to the accuracy of the least accurate measurement. 3. Multiplications and Division In multiplication and division, the number of significant figures in the final product or quotient equals the least number of significant figures in any of the original factors. 4. Square Roots and Trigonometric Functions Round off the final answer such that it has the same number of significant figures as the measure value. Exercise 3 Round off the following numbers to three significant figures 1. 350, 892 3. 7.514 2. 86, 524 4. 10.9999 Exercise 4 Perform the following operations applying the rules of significant figures. 1. 5.852 + 3.25 = 5. 10.340 x 1.51 = 2. 2.585 + 25.3 + 38.6 = 6. x 53.70 = 3. 809 273.2 = 7. 12.1 7.2 = 4. 75.699 23.0 = 8. 36.0 6.000 =
Sources: Adopted from the hands-out given by Bro. Joseph JoeScheiter http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/17rul1enowtkwjpg/original.jpg http://www.chem.tamu.edu/class/fyp/mathrev/mr-scnot.html

5. 5.55555

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