University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

Scientific notation is the answer

Red blood cellsThe average
diameter of a red
blood cell is
7 x 10-6 m. 

SunsetThe distance from
the Earth to the
Sun is 1.496 x 1011m

To use scientific notation successfully you need to remember that:

  • 102 = 100, 103 = 1000, 104 = 10,000 and so on - and also that:
  • 10-1 =1/10 = 0.1, 10-2 = 1/100= 0.01, 10-3 = 1/1000= 0.001 and so on.

A tip to remember is to count the places for zeroes.

  • In the speed of light example 3,00,000,000 there are eight between the leftmost number and the decimal point - 3 x 108m/s.

When counting places for zeroes with very small numbers you need to include the zero to the left of the decimal point too.

  • In the red blood cell example, diameter is 0.000007m  - 7 x 10-6 m.


 Significant Figures

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If you want to practise converting very small numbers to scientific notation try this website  AAA Math