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Homework Help: Sig fig question

  1. Mar 12, 2015 #1
    1. The problem statement, all variables and given/known data
    So basically, for a lab, I have to make a calculation abiding by the rules of sig figs, and it involves the subtraction of two numbers in scientific notation:

    1.00 x10^-3 - 4.35 x10^-5

    = 1.00 x10^-3 - 0.0435 x10^-3 ; therefore, we should round the final answer to two decimal places... which equals 9.57 x10^-4

    But, when I do it the long way, like 0.00100 - 0.0000435, I get 0.0009565, this means we should round to 5 digits after the decimal point (from 0.00100), therefore the answer should be 9.6 x 10^-4.

    So, both methods give me different values, where am I going wrong?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2015 #2


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    Homework Helper

    When you wrote it out in terms of the largest number, you were at 10^(-3), so round to 2 digits in that place--then adjust for scientific notation, and you will end up with the same result you found "the long way".
  4. Mar 13, 2015 #3


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    Staff: Mentor


    Last two digits you get after subtraction (65) make no sense - you know nothing about what 35 was subtracted from. Final answer can be - at best - of the
    0.000XX form.

    Don't worry too much about sigfigs, while they are better than nothing when it comes with reporting accuracy, they are not used anywhere outside of the school.
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