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U1S4. Tools and Measurement. Tools, Measurement, and Safety. Objectives I Can: Give three examples of how life scientists use computers and technology. Describe three tools life scientists use to observe organisms.

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Tools and Measurement

Tools measurement and safety

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

  • Objectives

    I Can:

  • Give three examples of how life scientists use computers and technology.

  • Describe three tools life scientists use to observe organisms.

  • Explain the importance of the International System of Units, and give four examples of SI units.

Tools measurement and safety1

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

  • Would you use a hammer to tighten a bolt on a bicycle? You probably wouldn’t. To be successful in many tasks, you need the correct tools.

  • Life scientists use various tools to help them in their work. These tools are used to make observations and to gather, store, and analyze information. Choosing and using tools properly are important parts of scientific work.

    Computers and Technology

  • The application of science for practical purposes is called technology. By using technology, life scientists are able to find information and solve problems in new ways. New technology allows scientists to get information that wasn’t available previously.

Tools measurement and safety2

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

  • Since the first electronic computer was built in 1946, improvements in technology have made computers more powerful and easier to use. Computers can be used to create graphs, solve complex equations, and analyze data. Computers also help scientists share data and ideas with each other and publish reports about their research.



  • What do life scientists use tools for?

  • When was the first electronic computer built?

  • How do scientists use computers?

Tools measurement and safety3

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

Tools for Seeing

  • It’s difficult to make accurate observations of things that cannot be seen. When the first microscopes were invented, scientists were able to see into a whole new world. Today, the workings of tiny cells and organisms are well understood. New tools and technologies allow us to see inside organisms in new ways. For example, the images shown in Figure 1 were created by sending electro magnetic waves through human bodies.

Tools measurement and safety4

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

Figure 1 The image on the left is a computerized axial tomography scan (CAT scan). The image on the right was made with magnetic resonance imagery (MRI).

Tools measurement and safety5

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

Compound Light Microscope

  • The compound light microscope is a common tool in a life science laboratory. A compound light microscope is an instrument that magnifies small objects so that they can be seen easily. It has three main parts—a tube with two or more lenses, a stage, and a light. Items viewed through a compound microscope may be colored with special dyes to make them more visible. Items are placed on the stage so that the light passes through them. The lenses at each end of the tube magnify the image.

Tools measurement and safety6

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

Electron Microscopes

  • Not all microscopes use light. In electron microscopes, tiny particles called electrons are used to produce magnified images. The images produced are clearer and more detailed than those made by light microscopes. However, living things cannot be viewed with electron microscopes because the preparation process kills them. There are two kinds of electron microscopes used in life science—the transmission electron microscope (TEM) and the scanning electron microscope (SEM). Figure 2 shows each kind of microscope, describes the specialized purpose of each, and shows an example of the images each can produce.

Tools measurement and safety7

Tools, Measurement, and Safety



  • A scientist wants to look at a living cell. Should the scientist use a compound light microscope or electron microscope? Explain your answer.

Tools measurement and safety8

Tools, Measurement, and Safety


  • The ability to make reliable measurements is an important skill in science. But different standards of measurement have developed throughout the world. Ancient measurement units were based on parts of the body, such as the foot, or on objects, such as grains of wheat. Such systems were not very reliable. Even as better standards were developed, they varied from country to country.

Tools measurement and safety9

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

The International System of Units

  • In the late 1700s, the French Academy of Sciences began to form a global measurement system now known as the International System of Units (also called SI, or SystèmeInternational d’Unités). Today, most scientists and almost all countries use this system. One advantage of using SI measurements is that it helps scientists share and compare their observations and results.

  • Another advantage of SI units is that almost all units are based on the number 10, which makes conversions from one unit to another easier. Table 1 contains commonly used SI units for length, volume, mass, and temperature. Notice how the prefix of each SI unit relates to a base unit.



  • Galileo Dialog and Test

    • What is SI?

Tools measurement and safety10

Tools, Measurement, and Safety


  • How long is an ant? A life scientist would probably use millimeters (mm) to describe an ant’s length. If you divide 1 m into 1,000 parts, each part equals 1 mm. So, 1 mm is one-thousandth of a meter. Although millimeters seem small, some organisms and structures are so tiny that even smaller units—micrometers (µm) or nanometers (nm)—must be used.

Tools measurement and safety11

Tools, Measurement, and Safety


  • How much paper would you need to cover your desktop? To answer this question, you must find the area of the desk. Area is a measure of how much surface an object has. Area can be calculated from measurements such as length and width. Area is stated in square units, such as square meters (m2), square centimeters (cm2), and square kilometers (km2).

Tools measurement and safety12

Tools, Measurement, and Safety


  • How many books will fit into a backpack? The answer depends on the volume of the backpack and the volume of each book. Volume is a measure of the size of something in three-dimensional space.

  • The volume of a liquid is most often described in liters (L). Liters are based on the meter. A cubic meter (1 m3) is equal to 1,000 L. So 1,000 L will fit into a box measuring 1 m on each side. A milliliter (mL) will fit into a box that is 1 cm on each side. So, 1 mL = 1 cm3. Graduated cylinders are used to measure the volume of liquids, as shown in Figure 3.

Tools measurement and safety13

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

Figure 3 A rock added to a graduated cylinder raised the level of water from 70 mL to 80 mL of water. Because the rock displaced 10 mL of water and because 1 mL = 1 cm3, the volume of the rock is 10 cm3.

Tools measurement and safety14

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

  • The volume of a solid object is given in cubic units, such as cubic meters (m3), cubic centimeters (cm3), or cubic milli-meters (mm3). To find the volume of a box-shaped object, multiply the object’s length by its width and height. As Figure 3 shows, the volume of an irregularly shaped object is found by measuring the volume of liquid that the object displaces

Tools measurement and safety15

Tools, Measurement, and Safety


  • How much matter is in an apple? Mass is a measure of the amount of matter in an object. The kilogram (kg) is the basic unit for mass. The mass of a very large object is described in kilograms or metric tons. A metric ton equals 1,000 kg. The mass of a small object may be described in grams (g). A kilogram equals 1,000 g; therefore, a gram is one-thousandth of a kilogram. A medium-sized apple has a mass of about 100 g. Mass can be measured by using a balance.

Tools measurement and safety16

Tools, Measurement, and Safety


  • How much should food be heated to kill any bacteria in the food? To answer this question, a life scientist would measure the temperature at which bacteria die. Temperatureis a measure of how hot or cold something is. Temperature is actually an indication of the amount of energy within matter. You are probably used to describing temperature in degrees Fahrenheit (ºF). Scientists commonly use degrees Celsius (ºC), although the kelvin (K) is the official SI base unit for temperature. You will use degrees Celsius in this book. The thermometer in Figure 4 shows how two of these scales compare.

Tools measurement and safety17

Tools, Measurement, and Safety

Figure 4 Water freezes at 0ºC and boils at 100ºC. Your normal body temperature is 37ºC, which is equal to 98.6ºF.



  • What SI units are used for volume?

  • What are three different units for measuring temperature?

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Tools, Measurement, and Safety

  • Section Summary

  • Life scientists use computers to collect, store, organize, analyze, and share data.

  • Life scientists commonly use light microscopes and electron microscopes to make observations of things that are too small to be seen without help. Electromagnetic waves are also used in other ways to create images.

  • The International System of Units (SI) is a simple and reliable system of measurement that is used by most scientists.

  • Section Review

  • To answer questions online, click here.

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