Introduction to Exponents and Scientific Notation

What you’ll learn to do: Evaluate expressions involving exponents and perform calculations with numbers in scientific notation

Mathematicians, scientists, and economists commonly encounter very large and very small numbers. But it may not be obvious how common such figures are in everyday life. For instance, a pixel is the smallest unit of light that can be perceived and recorded by a digital camera. A particular camera might record an image that is 2,048 pixels by 1,536 pixels, which is a very high resolution picture. It can also perceive a color depth (gradations in colors) of up to 48 bits per frame, and can shoot the equivalent of 24 frames per second. The maximum possible number of bits of information used to film a one-hour (3,600-second) digital film is then an extremely large number.

Using a calculator, we enter [latex]2,048\times 1,536\times 48\times 24\times 3,600[/latex] and press ENTER. The calculator displays 1.304596316E13. What does this mean? The “E13” portion of the result represents the exponent 13 of ten, so there are a maximum of approximately [latex]1.3\times {10}^{13}[/latex] bits of data in that one-hour film. In this section, we review rules of exponents first and then apply them to calculations involving very large or small numbers.