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Make Your Own Slide Rule

Before the invention of the electronic calculator,
solutions to long multiplication or division
questions were tedious and error prone. John
Napier (1550–1617) invented common logarithms,
based on the exponent rules, as an aid to
calculation. Using logarithms, addition replaces
multiplication and subtraction replaces division,
making calculations much easier! William Oughtred
(1575–1660) invented a mechanical calculator
called a slide rule to speed up the work with
Napier’s logarithms.
In this task, you will make your own slide rule and demonstrate
how to use it to perform multiplication and division.

x log x 30 log x a) Copy and complete the table. Use a calculator and round to
1 0 0 two decimal places. The first two entries have been done for you.
2 0.30 9.03 b) Cut two strips of cardstock, 3 cm wide and 30 cm long. Label the left
3 end of each strip 1 and the right end of each strip 10.
5 c) Along the bottom edge of one strip, carefully measure the distances in
6 column three of your table, starting at the left edge each time. Label each
distance with the value of x from column one. The distance from 1 to
each value of x is now proportional to log x.
9.03 cm
10 1 2

d) Repeat step c) along the top edge of the other strip.

e) You are now ready to use your slide rule. Slide the first strip along the
second strip until the 1 on the first strip is above a number on the second
strip. Now read along the first strip to any whole number. What number
appears on the second strip below the whole number on the first strip?
Write an explanation in your notebook identifying what mathematical
operation you have performed, and why it worked.
f) Refine your slide rule by adding another logarithmic scale between the 1
and the 2 on each strip. Do the same between the 2 and the 3.
g) Explain in detail how to perform the operations of multiplication and
division using your slide rule. Include several worked examples.
h) Use the Internet to investigate how slide rules were used to find square
roots and cube roots. Explain your findings using the laws of logarithms.

412 MHR • Advanced Functions • Chapter 7