Chapter 1 The Nature of Science and Physics

1.5 Introduction to Measurement, Uncertainty and Precision

Data suggest that a male child will weigh 50% of his adult weight at about 11 years of age. However, he will reach 50% of his adult height at only 2 years of age. It is obvious, then, that people eventually stop growing up but continue to grow out. Data also suggest that the average human height has been increasing over time. In industrialized countries, the average height of people increased 5.5 inches from 1810 to 1984. Most scientists attribute this simple, basic measurement of the human body to better health and nutrition.

Stature Percentile
Figure 1. Stature-for-age percentiles: Boys, 2 to 20 years. Source: Chart courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

In 1983, an Air Canada airplane had to make an emergency landing because it unexpectedly ran out of fuel; ground personnel had filled the fuel tanks with a certain number of pounds of fuel, not kilograms of fuel. In 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft was lost attempting to orbit Mars because the thrusters were programmed in terms of English units, even though the engineers built the spacecraft using metric units. In 1993, a nurse mistakenly administered 23 units of morphine to a patient rather than the “2–3” units prescribed. (The patient ultimately survived.) These incidents occurred because people weren’t paying attention to quantities.

Physics and chemistry, like all sciences, are quantitative. they deals with quantities, things that have amounts and units. Dealing with quantities is very important in chemistry and physics, as is relating quantities to each other. In this chapter, we will discuss how we deal with numbers and units, including how they are combined and manipulated.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Douglas College Physics 1207 Copyright © August 22, 2016 by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.