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Scientific notation is a way of expressing numbers that are too large or too small to be conveniently written in decimal form. It may be referred to as scientific form or standard index form, or standard form in the UK. This base ten notation is commonly used by scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, in part because it can simplify certain arithmetic operations. On scientific calculators it is usually known as "SCI" display mode.

In scientific notation, all numbers are written in the form

m × 10n

or m times ten raised to the power of n, where the exponent n is an integer, and the coefficient m is any real number. The integer n is called the order of magnitude and the real number m is called the significand or mantissa.[1] The term "mantissa" may cause confusion because it is the name of the fractional part of the common logarithm. If the significand is negative then a minus sign precedes m, as in ordinary decimal notation. In normalized notation, the exponent is chosen so that the absolute value (modulus) of the significand m is at least 1 but less than 10.

Decimal floating point is a computer arithmetic system closely related to scientific notation.

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A significant figure is a digit in a number that adds to its precision. This includes all nonzero numbers, zeroes between significant digits, and zeroes indicated to be significant. Leading and trailing zeroes are not significant because they exist only to show the scale of the number. Therefore, 1230400 usually has five significant figures: 1, 2, 3, 0, and 4; the final two zeroes serve only as placeholders and add no precision to the original number.

When a number is converted into normalized scientific notation, it is scaled down to a number between 1 and 10. All of the significant digits remain, but the place holding zeroes are no longer required. Thus 1230400 would become 1.23041230400 would become 1.2304×106. However, there is also the possibility that the number may be known to six or more significant figures, in which case the number would be shown as (for instance) 1.23040×106. Thus, an additional advantage of scientific notation is that the number of significant figures is clearer.

It is customary in scientific measurements to record all the definitely known digits from the measurements, and to estimate at least one additional digit if there is any information at all available to enable the observer to make an estimate. The resulting number contains more information than it would without that extra digit(s), and it (or they) may be considered a significant digit because it conveys some information leading to greater precision in measurements and in aggregations of measurements (adding them or multiplying them together).

Additional information about precision can be conveyed through additional notations. It is often useful to know how exact the final digit(s) are. For instance, the accepted value of the unit of elementary charge can properly be expressed as 1.6021766208<

Additional information about precision can be conveyed through additional notations. It is often useful to know how exact the final digit(s) are. For instance, the accepted value of the unit of elementary charge can properly be expressed as 1.6021766208(98)×10−19 C,[2] which is shorthand for (1.6021766208±0.0000000098)×10−19 C.

Most calculators and many computer programs present very large and very small results in scientific notation, typically invoked by a key labelled EXP (for exponent), EEX (for enter exponent), EE, EX, E, or ×10x depending on vendor and model. Because superscripted exponents like 107 cannot always be conveniently displayed, the letter E (or e) is often used to represent "times ten raised to the power of" (which would be written as "× 10n") and is followed by the value of the exponent; in other words, for any two real numbers m and n, the usage of "mEn" would indicate a value of m × 10n. In this usage the character e is not related to the mathematical constant e or the exponential function ex (a confusion that is unlikely if scientific notation is represented by a capital E). Although the E stands for exponent, the notation is usually referred to as (scientific) E notation rather than (scientific) exponential notation. The use of E notation facilitates data entry and readability in textual communication since it minimizes keystrokes, avoids reduced font sizes and provides a simpler and more concise display, but it is not encouraged in some publications.[3]

Examples and other notations