How Calculators Work

Impact of Calculator Technology

The calculator has had a profound impact on the world, making computations quicker and more exact. In the classroom, calculators have given many students the ability to learn about and put complex formulas and concepts into practice more easily. Especially in lower-grade mathematics courses, some instructors still don't allow their use to make sure students truly understand mathematical concepts and learn problem-solving techniques. But for many calculus and trigonometry courses in high school, for example, graphing calculators are a requirement.

However, there has been some controversy regarding the use of powerful calculators in class, because some believe that using the devices to do the work that people's brains once did can result in the loss of true mathematical ability. Recent research suggests that advanced physics students, for example, can often be hampered in their learning by an overreliance on mathematical aids [Source: Bing]. Graphing calculators have even been banned in some classes because of their high memory capability. Students can use their calculators' memory to cheat by storing other information -- like periodic tables or test answers -- in them.

Engineers continue to make advancements in calculator technology, and as they become more and more complex, the lines between personal computers and classic calculators may continue to blur. For their current models, some companies are exploring more ecologically sound components, including the development of more efficient and recyclable power sources, and even using materials like recycled cellular phones in their manufacturing.

Calculators have even moved online and have a number of practical applications. Here are some specific types of calculators you might find online:

  • Weight-loss calculators can measure body mass, caloric content and workout impact.
  • College loan and mortgage calculators that can help you determine the cost and length of a loan according to a wide array of variables.
  • Conversion calculators give you everything from measurements of volume and length to up-to-the-minute currency exchanges.
  • Carbon footprint calculators may help you get an idea of your impact on the environment.

These online versions all use the same principles as your hand-held calculator, but present information in easy-to-use ways with access to massive databases of related information. Pretty much anyone can use them, which just goes to show that calculators truly aren't just tools for the likes of engineers, scientists and accountants anymore.

For more information on calculator technology and related topics, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Behar, Richard. "Who Invented Microprocessors?" Time. June 14, 2001. (Accessed 2/3/10),9171,155487,00.html
  • Bing, Thomas J. and Redish, Edward F. "Symbolic Manipulators Affect Mathematical Mindsets." American Journal of Physics, 2008. (Accessed 12/21/09)
  • The Courier Mail (Australia). "'60s Tech." June 1, 2009 (Accessed 2/3/10)
  • Ifrah, Georges. "The Universal History of Numbers." Wiley Press, 2000.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Abacus." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2010. (Accessed 2/3/10)
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Calculator." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2010. (Accessed 2/3/10)
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Slide Rule." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2010. (Accessed 2/3/10)
  • Greenia, Mark W. "Computers and Computing: A Chronology of the Men and Machines that Made Computer History." Lexikon Services Publications, 1990.
  • Hamrick, Kathy B. "The History of the Hand-Held Electronic Calculator." Mathematical Association of America, 1996.
  • Intel Corporate Site. “About Intel.” (Accessed 2/3/2010)
  • Lewis, Leo. "The Eccentric Japanese Inventor." The Times (London). January, 31, 2004. (Accessed 2/3/10)
  • The Press. "Let's Get Inventin'." January 29, 2008. (Accessed 2/3/10)
  • Sharp Corporate Web site. "30th Anniversary of the Calculator." (Accessed 2/3/10)
  • Texas Instruments Corporate Web site. "History of Innovation." (Interactive Timeline) (Accessed 2/3/10)
  • Tout, Nigel. "The Calculator That Spawned The Microprocessor." Vintage Calculators Web Museum, 2009. (Accessed 12/21/09)
  • Vergano, Dan. "Nobels Recognize Information Age Pioneers; Physics, Chemistry Prizes Presented for Revolutionary Devices." USA Today. October 11, 2000. (Accessed 2/3/10)
  • Wright, Christine R. and Samuel A. Rebelsky. "A Tutorial on Binary Numbers." Grinnell College Math Department Web site.