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Chemistry LibreTexts

3: Measuring Matter

  • Page ID
    78886
  • The natural sciences begin with observation, and this usually involves numerical measurements of quantities such as length, volume, density, and temperature. Most of these quantities have units of some kind associated with them, and these units must be retained when you use them in calculations. All measuring units can be defined in terms of a very small number of fundamental ones that, through "dimensional analysis", provide insight into their derivation and meaning, and must be understood when converting between different unit systems.

    • 3.1: Units and Dimensions
      The natural sciences begin with observation, and this usually involves numerical measurements of quantities such as length, volume, density, and temperature. Most of these quantities have units of some kind associated with them, and these units must be retained when you use them in calculations. All measuring units can be defined in terms of a very small number of fundamental ones that, through "dimensional analysis", provide insight into their derivation and meaning.
    • 3.2: The Meaning of Measure
      The "true value" of a measured quantity, if it exists at all, will always elude us; the best we can do is learn how to make meaningful use of the numbers we read off of our measuring devices. The other kind of numeric quantity that we encounter in the natural sciences is a measured value of something– the length or weight of an object, the volume of a fluid, or perhaps the reading on an instrument. Although we express these values numerically, it would be a mistake to regard them as the kind of
    • 3.3: Significant Figures and Rounding off
      The numerical values we deal with in science (and in many other aspects of life) represent measurements whose values are never known exactly. Our pocket-calculators or computers don't know this; they treat the numbers we punch into them as "pure" mathematical entities, with the result that the operations of arithmetic frequently yield answers that are physically ridiculous even though mathematically correct.
    • 3.4: Reliability of a measurement
      In this day of pervasive media, we are continually being bombarded with data of all kinds— public opinion polls, advertising hype, government reports etc. Often. the purveyors of this information are hoping to “sell” us on a product (known as “spin”.) In Science, we do not have this option: we collect data and make measurements in order to get closer to whatever “truth” we are seeking, but it's not really "science" until others can have confidence in the reliability of our measurements.
    • 3.5: Drawing Conclusions from Data
      This final lesson on measurement will examine these questions and introduce you to some of the methods of dealing with data. This stuff is important not only for scientists, but also for any intelligent citizen who wishes to independently evaluate the flood of numbers served up by advertisers, politicians, "experts", and yes— by other scientists.

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