Do You Need a Scientific Calculator for Chemistry?

Do You Need a Scientific Calculator for Chemistry?

I have always loved chemistry because it challenges me to think outside the box. I have always responded well to challenges, it is in my very nature. In my high school days, my favorite teachers were always chemistry teachers.

Maybe that was just a coincidence, or maybe we shared a lot of common personality traits, the ones that made us scientifically inclined. I was searching through my old boxes in the garage the other day and I happened upon an old calculator that was given to me by my parents for my first day at high school.

It was very dusty but still worked perfectly. This discovery reminded me of how important scientist’s tools are to their work.

Do you need a scientific calculator for chemistry?

The simple answer is yes. Chemistry is such a complex and mathematically in-depth subject that a true and proper understanding of the subject could not be had if we did not use a scientific calculator when needed. There is absolutely no shame in this either. It shows great awareness to make the best use of all the tools available to us in the search for knowledge and understanding. Of course, the very basics of chemistry can be understood without a calculator, but if you want to go any deeper they are absolutely essential. 

By definition, scientific calculators are calculators that are designed to aid you to calculate science, engineering, and mathematical problems. They are a modern tool of wonder and vitally important to the learning and understanding process.

They were invented by Thomas M Whitney in 1967 when he worked for Hewlett Packard. He managed a team of engineers to design and implement the first handheld electronic scientific calculator called the HP 35.

The difference between regular and scientific calculators

Scientific calculators are different from regular ones in a number of ways. Firstly, they have a lot more buttons than the average one that only allows you to work with division, multiplication, subtraction, and addition. These extra buttons mean that you can approach more complex mathematical problems such as:

  • Trigonometry
  • Multiplication to the power of different numbers
  • Pi calculations
  • Logarithmic calculations
  • Probability calculations using factorial functions

They allow you to use your calculator to solve trigonometry problems that involve sine and cosine and the rest as well as degrees, radians, and grads. All of the above problems can be written by hand but will have very long-form equations.

A scientific calculator lets you input a long equation quickly and efficiently, getting an answer straight away.

Scientific calculators for chemistry

In relation specifically to chemistry, scientific calculators are used for many reasons. Chemistry is chock full of equations relating to molecular structures and formulas that would be almost impossible without one.  Here is a list of the main uses:

  • pH values – pH is calculated using logarithmic values so a calculator is needed. They have a neat function that finds the log number. You simply add the value and press ‘log’ to find the pH in any number.
  • Conversions – Numbers attaining to chemistry commonly have many units that have to be converted to get end values. Science calculators have as many as 40 unit conversions that will save you so much precious time.
  • Exponential values – The calculator will have a button for these values called the ‘E’ button.
  • Fractions – You can insert fraction values and solve fast and easily using the fraction function. In addition, there are other functions that help you find things like atomic weight, normality, and morality.

Are all scientific calculators the same?

Scientific calculators can differ quite massively from brand design to brand design. The most noticeable thing is that they come in a range of shapes, sizes, and colors. These differences are only superficial, so just choose the one you think looks the best.

As for the functions and buttons, most will have the key ones, while some will be suited for more advanced users and have extra features. Another key difference is the power source of the calculator. The main variation being solar-powered batteries and one use only batteries.

The screen on the calculators can also be quite different, with some being able to display more characters than others and some having a cool scrolling feature that allows you to revisit previous entries in the equation.

Also, the internal memory size varies between models. Internal memory allows for the storage of data, so the bigger the better.

Are scientific calculators for chemistry hard to use?

There is most definitely a steeper learning curve when using these calculators when compared to the more traditional ones. Not only is there a lot more functions, but it is also way easier to make a mistake.

But do not fret, there is a multitude of guides and manuals out there that can help you to start with them. Youtube videos are also a fantastic source of knowledge and are plentiful.

How long do scientific calculators last?

The lifespan of a scientific calculator can vary massively and is dependent on a few factors. The amount you use them is one of course, the more it is used the faster the battery will die.

The battery type is another important factor, the more modern calculators use lithium batteries, as opposed to pencil batteries, which increases their life. Also, some calculators have solar panels to power them in case your battery dies suddenly.

Another point to note is that some calculators have batteries that cannot be removed, so once they are all used up then they cannot be recharged why some have removable batteries that can be replaced cheaply and easily.

Are scientific calculators allowed in exams?

It depends on the exam and the location of the exam. In some states, yes they are, as long as it is the non-programmable type. But do please check with your local examining body before taking the exam.

It really does vary from body to body and we wouldn’t want you to fall foul of any exam rules. If still unsure, contact your school or college and ask the staff there about each specific exam.

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