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How to Use Google as a Calculator

What's the cube root of 29? The sine of 55 degrees? Or the value of π/4? Do you need to search for your trusty calculator or pull out your phone to find out? No—you can just ask Google. Keep on reading The Math Dude to find out how.

By
Jason Marshall, PhD,
Episode #211

Google Remembers Numbers

One of the handiest things that the Google calculator knows about are the values of mathematical and physical constants—one of which is π. If you type the word "pi" into the Google search bar you'll get a result showing the calculator with the number 3.14159265359 nicely entered on its screen.

Google assumes angles are measured in radians not degrees.

What other constants does Google know about? A lot.

In addition to other mathematical constants like "e" and "phi" (whose values you can find by typing "e^1" and "phi^1"), if you type the phrase "speed of sound" into Google, you'll see the answer 340.29 m/s. If you instead type "speed of sound in miles per hour," it will obligingly do the pesky unit conversion for you, and give you back an answer that's approximately equal to 761 miles per hour.

Want to know the mass of Earth? Just ask Google. If you do you'll find that Earth's mass is about 5.97 x 10^24 kg. If you ask for Avagodro's number, it tells you roughly 6 x 10^23.

And so on. The bottom line is that Google knows a lot about a lot of numbers—it's a very, very useful feature.

Google Knows Functions

In addition to knowing lots of mathematical and physical constants, the Google calculator also knows a lot about mathematical functions. Need to calculate the sine of some angle? Or the cosine? Or the tangent? No problem. If you type the phrase "sine of 30 degrees" into the Google search bar, you'll get the answer 0.5.

But be careful: if you instead type "sin(30)", you'll get an answer—but it probably won't be the one you're expecting. By default, Google assumes angles are measured in radians not degrees, so this query has actually asked for the sine of 30 radians. Of course, this could actually be handy if what you really want is the sine of some angle in radians—perhaps "sin(pi/4)".

In addition to the standard trigonometric functions, the Google calculator also knows about things like logarithms, natural logs, and exponentials. To find the base 10 log of a number, just enter something like "log(100)". To find the exponential of a number, just enter something like "exp(10)". And if you have no idea what these functions are, don't worry about it. But it's good to know they're there for you, if and when you do need them.

Wrap Up

OK, that's all the Googley goodness for today. But it's definitely not everything we have to say about the Google calculator—because I haven't even mentioned the most amazingly useful things it can do! So be sure to tune in next time to find out what I'm talking about.

In the meantime, please be sure to check out my book, The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. And remember to become a fan of The Math Dude on Facebook, where you’ll find lots of great math posted throughout the week. If you’re on Twitter, please follow me there, too.

Until next time, this is Jason Marshall with The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Make Math Easier. Thanks for reading, math fans!

Abacus image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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