A Clever Way to Estimate Enormous Numbers (Video)

A Clever Way to Estimate Enormous Numbers (Video)


This animated TED-Ed video shows a clever way of dealing with them.


Whether you like it or not, we use numbers every day. Some numbers, such as the speed of sound, are small and easy to work with while other numbers, such as the speed of light, are much larger and more troublesome to work with. We can use scientific notation to express these larger numbers in a much more manageable format. Through amusing animation this TED-Ed video shows easy ways to do that.

For example, have you ever tried to guess how many sweets there are in a jar? Or tackled a mindbender like: "How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?" Italian physicist Enrico Fermi was very good at problems like these. He is famous for making rapid estimations with what is at first sight little available data and rapid order of magnitude estimations. Enrico Fermi worked on the Manhattan Project and created the world's first nuclear reactor in 1945. He has been called the "architect of the nuclear age" and the "architect of the atomic bomb". He made significant contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics.

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In the video, speaker Michael Mitchell also talks about the so-called “Power of Ten”, which is the rapid estimation of large numbers using the Fermi method. In any Fermi problem it is assumed that the overestimates and underestimates balance each other out and produce an estimate which is usually within one order of magnitude of the actual answer. Pretty impressive, right? After watching the video, working with large numbers certainly looks much easier. And that’s all because of the “Power of Ten” method!

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