Associated Topics || Dr. Math Home || Search Dr. Math

### Understanding Large Numbers

```
Date: 01/14/98 at 03:25:24
From: Elizabeth Wynn
Subject: Making large numbers relevant

Dear Dr. Math,

I have a project for school where I need to make 30 billion
(U.S.) relevant to everyday life.  Do you have any suggestions?
```

```
Date: 01/15/98 at 16:01:36
From: Doctor Daniel
Subject: Re: Making large numbers relevant

Hi there,

Large numbers are a pain that way--it's even more of a pain to deal
with numbers like the number of atoms in the Earth (roughly 10^40, I
think) or the universe (10^60?), but even numbers like 30,000,000,000
can be somwhat hard.

I often try doing things like this: If it were U.S. Dollars, and I
divided the amount by all of the people in my town (or state, or
country, or on Earth), how much would we be able to buy?  So, for
example, I live in Ithaca, New York, which has roughly 50,000 people
in it. That would mean every person in the city would get \$600,000.
That's still a lot more than I've ever had; if I use the entire State
of New York (15 million people); then we each would get \$2000.

Another trick which can work reasonably well is to imagine a
moderately large number as a fraction of the number of cells in your
brain. Of course, I've forgotten how many brain cells the average
person has [maybe that says something about me...], but you could look
that up in an encyclopedia. Say it was 150 billion. Then 30 billion
brain cells would be 1/5 of your total brain.

Another trick I've used before is to figure out how many seconds there
are in a given amount of time; I believe 30,000,000,000 seconds is
roughly 1000 years!

Maybe these will help?  It's a fair question, but one that has no easy

-Doctor Daniel,  The Math Forum
Check out our web site!  http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
```
Associated Topics:
Elementary Large Numbers

Search the Dr. Math Library:

 Find items containing (put spaces between keywords):   Click only once for faster results: [ Choose "whole words" when searching for a word like age.] all keywords, in any order at least one, that exact phrase parts of words whole words

Submit your own question to Dr. Math
Math Forum Home || Math Library || Quick Reference || Math Forum Search