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Chemistry LibreTexts

2: Measurement and Problem Solving

Chemistry, like all sciences, is quantitative. It deals with quantities, things that have amounts and units. Dealing with quantities is very important in chemistry, as is relating quantities to each other. In this chapter, we will discuss how we deal with numbers and units, including how they are combined and manipulated.

  • 2.1: Taking Measurements
    Chemists measure the properties of matter and express these measurements as quantities. A quantity is an amount of something and consists of a number and a unit. The number tells us how many (or how much), and the unit tells us what the scale of measurement is. For example, when a distance is reported as “5 kilometers,” we know that the quantity has been expressed in units of kilometers and that the number of kilometers is 5.
  • 2.2: Scientific Notation: Writing Large and Small Numbers
    Chemists often work with numbers that are exceedingly large or small. For example, entering the mass in grams of a hydrogen atom into a calculator requires a display with at least 24 decimal places. A system called scientific notation avoids much of the tedium and awkwardness of manipulating numbers with large or small magnitudes.
  • 2.3: Significant Figures: Writing Numbers to Reflect Precision
    Uncertainty exists in all measurements. The degree of uncertainty is affected in part by the quality of the measuring tool. Significant figures give an indication of the certainty of a measurement. Rules allow decisions to be made about how many digits to use in any given situation.
  • 2.4: Significant Figures in Calculations
    To round a number, first decide how many significant figures the number should have. Once you know that, round to that many digits, starting from the left. If the number immediately to the right of the last significant digit is less than 5, it is dropped and the value of the last significant digit remains the same. If the number immediately to the right of the last significant digit is greater than or equal to 5, the last significant digit is increased by 1.
  • 2.5: The Basic Units of Measurement
    Metric prefixes derive from Latin or Greek terms. The prefixes are used to make the units manageable. The SI system is based on multiples of ten. There are seven basic units in the SI system. Five of these units are commonly used in chemistry.
  • 2.6: Problem Solving and Unit Conversions
    During your studies of chemistry (and physics also), you will note that mathematical equations are used in a number of different applications. Many of these equations have a number of different variables with which you will need to work. You should also note that these equations will often require you to use measurements with their units. Algebra skills become very important here!
  • 2.7: Solving Multistep Conversion Problems
    Sometimes you will have to perform more than one conversion to obtain the desired unit.
  • 2.8: Units Raised to a Power
    Conversion factors for area and volume can also be produced by the dimensional analysis method. Just remember that if a quantity is raised to a power of 10 both the number and the unit must be raised to the same power of 10.
  • 2.9: Density
    Density is a physical property found by dividing the mass of an object by its volume. Regardless of the sample size, density is always constant.
  • 2.10: Numerical Problem-Solving Strategies and the Solution Map
  • 2.E: Measurement and Problem Solving (Exercises)
    Exercises for Chapter 2 of Tro's Introductory Chemistry textmap.