Classroom experiments and activities Print

Power of Tens

Have you ever looked at some large numbers and observed how many zeros there are? For scientists investigating our place in Space and the wider universe the numbers can become extremely large. Scientists can deal with these large numbers by abbreviating them. This concept is known as powers of ten.



For example 1.0 x 106. To convert from the abbreviated powers of ten to the full number, look at the smaller superscript value first. Then take the number value, in this case 1.0, and move the decimal point to the right the same number of spaces as the superscript value, filling in the new spaces with zeros. 1.0 x 106 is now equal to 1,000,000. If the superscript value happens to be negative (the same rules apply to tiny numbers), move the decimal place to the left. This latter example is commonly used to investigate and measure the microscopic world.

Examples are listed in the table below.

Abbreviation

Number

1.0 x 10-5

.00001

2.5 x 10-3

.0025

1.0 x 102

100

3.4 x 102

340

1.0 x 105

100,000

105

100,000

6.0 x 106

6,000,000

The diagram below is an interactive exercise that allows users to understand the concept of powers of ten and visualize what each superscript number represents.

Try clicking on any of the hyperlink superscript buttons to take your own journey into the fascinating universe in which we live.

                    25          14          3            -8

                    24          13          2            -9

                    23          12          1            -10

                    22          11          0            -11

                     21          10          -1           -12

                     20          9            -2           -13

                     19          8            -3           -14

                     18          7            -4           -15

                     17          6            -5           -16

                     16          5            -6           -17

                     15          4            -7           -18

This exercise was originally created for the Eames Office Powers of ten activity in 2004.