Sections 3.3, 14.3

Logarithms

Introduction

In biochemistry logarithms play an important part in the more mathematical subject areas such as thermodynamics, acid and base equilibria, buffer design, and enzyme kinetics. For you to properly master these subjects, you will have to know what logarithms are and how to apply them to problems you might face in the biochemistry course. When you are finished with this review of logarithms, you will:

  • know how and when to take the logarithm or the inverse-logarithm of a number using a calculator

  • be able to estimate the logarithm of a number for a quick verification of your math results or comparison of possible answers (as in a multiple-choice problem).

  • understand the log-scale and why it is used on graphs.

Logarithms were invented independently by John Napier and Joost Burgi in the early 1600s. Believe it or not, their objective was to simplify mathematical calculation. Before calculators, logarithms greatly simplified multiplication, division, exponentials, or extracting the root of a number. Although none of us are familiar with the tables of logarithms and exponentials so common back then, logarithms still serve important functions in science, as you shall see. This review will give you the background knowledge needed to solve any of the math problems you can expect to see in your biochemistry class that involve logarithms.

Copyright 2002, John Wiley & Sons Publishers, Inc.