1.01 Basic numeracy for Science

An understanding of mathematics is essential for studying science and technology courses especially physics and engineering. Unfortunately some students rely on calculators to carry out even the most basic of mathematical tasks and as a result their mathematical skills tend to be poor. Although it is often convenient to use calculators there are three important reasons to regularly perform manual calculations.

  1. You need to be able to check the answers produced by a calculator even if it means just performing a rough estimate
  2. You need to practice the mathematical skills you have learned so that you can reliably produce correct answers
  3. The logical techniques that you develop doing mathematical problems are the same skills required to learn many scientific ideas

This section revises basic numeracy skills which are essential for many aspects in life not just learning science. Another section on mathematics for science will build on this section to prepare students for studying sciences up to A level or equivalent. (the only maths skills assumed for using this site are that ability to add and subtract)

The Mars Climate Orbiter a NASA space probe costing approximately 250 million dollars was destroyed in September 1999 when instead of orbiting Mars it crashed into the planets atmosphere. The cause was later attributed to design engineers using two different types of units – imperial and metric. A very basic mistake and a dramatic illustration of how costly it can be to get the numbers wrong in science and technology!