How to Use a Scientific Calculator for Chemistry?

There is most definitely a learning curve when it comes to scientific calculators. Especially when compared to regular ones that only carry out four different equations total. Some scientific calculators can carry out over 300 functions!

I was a lucky one because I had a lot of help and support from my science teachers during high school. These teachers were very inspirational to me and are the main reason why I still love chemistry to this day.

I still remember the exact moment that I realized that I had mastered how to use these magnificent devices. It was a special moment and now I would like to pay that support and knowledge forwards.

How to use a scientific calculator for chemistry?

The simplest and easiest way to use scientific calculators is to study the user guide that you will get in each package. This will go a long way to learning the key features. Set up is easy and is as simple as inserting the battery and powering up. It is crucial to learn the symbols and understand the abbreviations. The calculator can then be used to replace what would otherwise be very long very drawn out chemistry equations by pressing the corresponding buttons and entering calculations into it that will be displayed on the screen.

Scientific calculators allow chemists to translate the chemical formula into mathematical text and replaces the element symbols with their atomic weight. The element symbols in the formula must be in capitals.

Here is hydrogen as an example, a + sign must be used. (CuSO4 + 5*H2O). It is right to type the code without parenthesis so that 3*CO2 is the same as 3*(CO2). This is only one use of a scientific calculator, here are some others.

A breakdown of the main uses of a scientific calculator for chemistry

• For finding the pH value – The pH is a number to represent how acidic or alkali an element is. This number can be found by adding and the logarithmic value of numbers into the calculator. These magical devices have a function that lets you discover the log of a number. All you must do is dial in the number and press the ‘log’ button. The result will be the pH value.
• For conversions – More often than not the numbers in chemistry have multiple units that must be converted to get to the final values. Inside a scientific calculator is the ability to carry out around 40 conversions. This is a massive time saver and a big advantage in chemistry.
• For finding exponential values – You can find the exponential value of a number by using the exponential function on your scientific calculator. The buttons suited to this are the E button, x10x button, and the EX button. Depending on the brand, these may be different, but there is at least always one present for exponential values.
• For finding fractions and everything else – Scientific calculators allow you to enter fractions as well as decimal numbers. This is done by hitting the fraction button on the calculator. The usefulness of this is manyfold. It will aid you in finding atomic weight, normality, and the morality of any given compound or molecule.

How do I put my calculator into the scientific mode?

There will often be a button on the calculator labeled ‘mode’. This will change the function of the calculator between any modes it has available, including scientific mode. The scientific mode is most commonly displayed as ‘sci’. This guarantees that all your answers will be displayed in scientific notation.

What is scientific notation on a scientific calculator?

Scientific notation is simply a way to display science equations outside the regular addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. It allows you to display equations with specific scientific language and numerals that would otherwise be impossible.

Can I study chemistry without a scientific calculator?

In essence, yes but it will be much more of a struggle and you will be at a massive disadvantage when compared to the rest of your peers or classmates. Chemistry is full of complex and lengthy equations that would simply take too long if done by hand with a pen and paper.

Scientific calculators are such useful tools and are never expensive, so at the end of the day, there is no reason not to get one. There is simply no downside that we can think of. Yet it is still important to use them in combination with your own mind.

No tool should be relied upon completely, they often work as well as the person functioning them.

What are the main variations of scientific calculators?

The two main versions of scientific calculators are those that are programable and those that are not. This is important if you are considering taking a calculator into an exam with you.

Programmable calculators allow you to store precious equations in the memory and recall them when needed. Most exam boards do not allow programmable calculators in exams for this very reason and it is considered cheating.

If you are unsure please always check with your exam board what is on their list of acceptable exam devices. This list will be different in each state so always double-check.

Other variations include the battery type of the calculator. The two main types are replaceable and internal batteries. Replaceable ones can be changed when dead, but internal batteries are non-replaceable.

Some calculators even have solar panels on the front side in case the battery dies, which is neat. Another example is the total number of functions available on each calculator. Some have the ability to carry out over 300!

Scientific calculators have been around since they were invented in 1964 by a team of engineer scientists at Hewlett Packard. They are a vital and irreplaceable tool in chemistry still to this day and have maintained a very similar structure and style for many years.

They will most likely not change much in the future either because they are so perfectly good at what they do.  As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.