Section 7.3 Logarithms
In this section, we introduce a new mathematical tool called a logarithm, which will help us solve exponential equations.
Subsection 7.3.1 A Logarithm is an Exponent
Suppose that a colony of bacteria doubles in size every day. If the colony starts with 50 bacteria, how long will it be before there are 800 bacteria? We answer questions of this type by writing and solving an exponential equation. The function
gives the number of bacteria present on day \(t\text{,}\) so we must solve the equation
We are looking for an unknown exponent on base 2. Dividing both sides by 50 yields
This equation asks the question:
To what power must we raise \(2\) in order to get \(16\text{?}\)
Because \(2^4 = 16\text{,}\) we see that the solution of the equation is 4. You can check that\(t=4\) solves the original problem:
The unknown exponent that solves the equation \(16=2^t\) is called the base \(2\) logarithm of \(16\text{.}\) The exponent in this case is \(4\text{,}\) and we write this fact as
So, we solve an exponential equation by computing a logarithm. We make the following definition.
Definition 7.3.1. Definition of Logarithm.
(logarithm)For \(b\gt 0, b\ne 1\text{,}\) the base \(b\) logarithm of \(x\), written \(\log_{b} x\text{,}\) is the exponent to which \(b\) must be raised in order to yield \(x\text{.}\)
Example 7.3.2.
Compute the logarithms.
\(\log_3 9 = 2\) because \(3^2=9\)
\(\log_5 125 = 3\) because \(5^3=125\)
\(\log_4 \dfrac{1}{16} = 2\) because \(4^{2}=\dfrac{1}{16}\)
\(\log_5 \sqrt{5} = \dfrac{1}{2}\) because \(5^{1/2} = \sqrt{5}\)
The positive constant \(b\) is called the base of the exponential function.
Checkpoint 7.3.3. Practice 1.
From the definition of a logarithm and the examples above, we see that the following two statements are equivalent.
Logarithms and Exponents: Conversion Equations.
If \(b \gt 0\text{,}\) \(b\ne 1\text{,}\) and \(x \gt 0\text{,}\)
This equivalence tells us that the logarithm, \(y\text{,}\) is the same as the exponent in \(x = b^y\text{.}\) We see again that a logarithm is an exponent; it is the exponent to which \(b\) must be raised to yield \(x\text{.}\)
The conversion equations allow us to convert from logarithmic to exponential form, or vice versa. You should memorize the conversion equations, because we will use them frequently.
As special cases of the equivalence above, we can compute the following useful logarithms.
For any base \(b \gt 0, b\ne 1\text{,}\)
Some Useful Logarithms.
For any base \(b \gt 0, b\ne 1\text{,}\)
Example 7.3.4.
\(\displaystyle \log_{2}{2} = 1\)
\(\displaystyle \log_{5}{1} = 0\)
\(\displaystyle \log_{3}{3^4} = 4\)
Checkpoint 7.3.5. QuickCheck 1.
Subsection 7.3.2 Logs and Exponential Equations
We use logarithms to solve exponential equations, just as we use square roots to solve quadratic equations. Consider the two equations
We solve the first equation by taking a square root, and we solve the second equation by computing a logarithm:
The operation of taking a base \(b\) logarithm is the inverse operation for raising the base \(b\) to a power, just as extracting square roots is the inverse of squaring a number.
Every exponential equation can be rewritten in logarithmic form by using the conversion equations. Thus,
are equivalent statements, just as
are equivalent statements. Rewriting an equation in logarithmic form is a basic strategy for finding its solution.
Example 7.3.6.
Rewrite each equation in logarithmic form.
\(\displaystyle 2^{1} = \dfrac{1}{2}\)
\(\displaystyle a^{1/5} = 2.8\)
\(\displaystyle 6^{1.5} = T\)
\(\displaystyle M^v = 3K\)
First identify the base \(b\text{,}\) and then the exponent or logarithm \(y\text{.}\) Use the conversion equations to rewrite \(b^y = x\) in the form \(\log_{b}{x} = y\text{.}\)
The base is \(2\) and the exponent is \(1\text{.}\) Thus, \(\log_{2}{\dfrac{1}{2}}= 1\text{.}\)
The base is \(a\) and the exponent is \(\dfrac{1}{5}\text{.}\) Thus, \(\log_{a}{2.8} = \dfrac{1}{5}\text{.}\)
The base is \(6\) and the exponent is \(1.5\text{.}\) Thus, \(\log_{6}{T} = 1.5\text{.}\)
The base is \(M\) and the exponent is \(v\text{.}\) Thus, \(\log_{M}{3K} = v\text{.}\)
Checkpoint 7.3.7. Practice 2.
Rewrite each equation in logarithmic form.

\(8^{1/3} = \dfrac{1}{2}\)
The given equation is equivalent to one of the form \(\log_{b}m=n\text{,}\) where
\(b=\)
\(m=\), and
\(n=\)

\(5^x = 46\)
The given equation is equivalent to one of the form \(\log_{b}m=n\text{,}\) where
\(b=\)
\(m=\), and
\(n=\)
Checkpoint 7.3.8. QuickCheck 2.
What is the inverse operation for squaring a number?
Taking a logarithm.
Taking a square root.
Dividing by the number.
Subtracting the number.
What is the inverse operation for raising to a power?
Taking a logarithm.
Taking a square root.
Dividing by the number.
Subtracting the number.
Every exponential equation can be rewritten in logarithmic form by using the
reciprocals
slope
conversion equations
A logarithm is an unknown
quotient
product
exponent
base
Subsection 7.3.3 Approximating Logarithms
Now let's consider computing logarithms that are not obvious by inspection. Suppose we would like to solve the equation
The solution of this equation is \(x = \log_{2}{26}\text{,}\) but can we find a decimal approximation for this value? There is no integer power of 2 that equals 26, because
So \(\log_{2}{26}\) must be between 4 and 5. We can use trial and error to find the value of \(\log_{2}{26}\) to the nearest tenth. Use your calculator to make a table of values for \(y = 2^x\text{,}\) starting with \(x = 4\) and using increments of 0.1.
\(x\)  \(2^x\)  \(x\)  \(2^x\)  
\(4\)  \(2^4=16\)  \(4.5\)  \(2^{4.5}=22.627\)  
\(4.1\)  \(2^{4.1}=17.148\)  \(4.6\)  \(2^{4.6}=24.251\)  
\(4.2\)  \(2^{4.2}=18.379\)  \(\alert{4.7}\)  \(2^{\alert{4.7}}=25.992\)  
\(4.3\)  \(2^{4.3}=19.698\)  \(\alert{4.8}\)  \(2^{\alert{4.8}}=27.858\)  
\(4.4\)  \(2^{4.4}=21.112\)  \(4.9\)  \(2^{4.9}=29.857\) 
From the table we see that 26 is between \(2^{4.7}\) and \(2^{4.8}\text{,}\) and is closer to \(2^{4.7}\text{.}\) To the nearest tenth, \(\log_{2}{26} \approx 4.7\text{.}\)
Trial and error can be a timeconsuming process. In the Example below, we illustrate a graphical method for estimating the value of a logarithm.
Example 7.3.9.
Approximate \(\log_{3}{7}\) to the nearest hundredth.
If \(\log_{3}{7}=x\text{,}\) then \(3^x = 7\text{.}\) We will use the graph of \(y = 3^x\) to approximate a solution to \(3^x = 7\text{.}\)
We graph \(Y_1 =3\)^ X and \(Y_2 = 7\) in the standard window (ZOOM 6) to obtain the graph shown below. Next we activate the intersect feature to find that the two graphs intersect at the point \((1.7712437, 7)\text{.}\) Because this point lies on the graph of \(y = 3^x\) , we know that
To the nearest hundredth, \(\log_{3}{7} \approx 1.77\text{.}\)
Checkpoint 7.3.10. Practice 3.

Rewrite the equation \(3^x = 90\) in logarithmic form.
The given equation is equivalent to one of the form \(\log_{b}m=n\text{,}\) where
\(b=\)
\(m=\), and
\(n=\)

Use a graph to approximate the solution to the equation in part (a). Round your answer to three decimal places.
\(x\approx\)
Subsection 7.3.4 Base 10 Logarithms
Some logarithms are used so frequently in applications that their values are programmed into scientific and graphing calculators. These are the base 10 logarithms, such as
Base 10 logarithms are called common logarithms, and the subscript 10 is often omitted, so that \(\log x\) is understood to mean \(\log_{10}{x}\text{.}\)
Checkpoint 7.3.11. QuickCheck 3.
To evaluate a base 10 logarithm, we use the LOG key on a calculator. Many logarithms are irrational numbers, and the calculator gives as many digits as its display allows. We can then round off to the desired accuracy.
Example 7.3.12.
Approximate the following logarithms to 2 decimal places.
\(\displaystyle \log{6.5}\)
\(\displaystyle \log{256}\)

The keying sequence LOG \(6.5\) )ENTER produces the display
\(\log {(6.5)}\) \(\) \(\) \(\) \(\) \(.812913566\) so \(\log {6.5}\approx 0.81\text{.}\)
The keying sequence LOG \(256\) ) ENTER yields \(2.408239965\text{,}\) so \(\log {256} \approx 2.41\text{.}\)
Note 7.3.13.
We can check the approximations found in Exampleย 7.3.12 with our conversion equations. Remember that a logarithm is an exponent, and in this example the base is 10. We find that
so our approximations are reasonable, although you can see that rounding a logarithm to 2 decimal places does lose some accuracy.
For this reason, rounding logarithms to 4 decimal places is customary.
Checkpoint 7.3.14. Practice 4.
Checkpoint 7.3.15. QuickCheck 4.
True or False.
The LOG key on a calculator computes logarithms base 2.
True
False
\(\log_5 {100}\) is a number between 2 and 3.
True
False
Rounding a logarithm to two decimal places gives very accurate results.
True
False
The value of \(\log_4 {392}\) is also the solution of \(4^x = 392\text{.}\)
True
False
Subsection 7.3.5 Solving Exponential Equations
We can now solve any exponential equation with base 10.
Example 7.3.16.
Solve the equation \(~~38 = 95  15 \cdot 10^{0.4x}\)
First, we isolate the power of 10: We subtract 95 from both sides of the equation and divide by \(15\) to obtain
Next, we convert the equation to logarithmic form as
Solving for \(x\) yields
We can evaluate this expression on the calculator by entering
LOG \(3.8\) ) รท \(0.4\) ENTER
which yields \(1.449458992\text{.}\) Thus, to four decimal places, \(x \approx 1.4495\text{.}\)
Caution 7.3.17.
Do not omit the parenthesis when entering the expression in Example 5. Without the parenthesis, you are calculating \(\log_{10}{\dfrac{3.8}{0.4}}\text{.}\) You can check that this is not the same as \(\dfrac{\log_{10}{3.8}}{0.4}\text{.}\)
To solve exponential equations involving powers of 10, we can use the following steps.
Steps for Solving Exponential Equations.
Isolate the power on one side of the equation.
Rewrite the equation in logarithmic form.
Use a calculator, if necessary, to evaluate the logarithm.
Solve for the variable.
Checkpoint 7.3.18. QuickCheck 5.
Checkpoint 7.3.19. Practice 5.
Subsection 7.3.6 Application to Exponential Models
We have seen that exponential functions are used to describe some applications of growth and decay, \(P(t) = P_0b^t\text{.}\) There are two common questions that arise in connection with exponential models:
Given a value of \(t\text{,}\) what is the corresponding value of \(P(t)\text{?}\)
Given a value of \(P(t)\text{,}\) what is find the corresponding value of \(t\text{?}\)
To answer the first question, we evaluate the function \(P(t)\) at the appropriate value. To answer the second question, we must solve an exponential equation, and this usually involves logarithms.
Example 7.3.20.
The value of a large tractor originally worth $30,000 depreciates exponentially according to the formula
where \(t\) is in years. When will the tractor be worth half its original value?
We want to find the value of \(t\) for which \(V(t) = 15,000\text{.}\) That is, we want to solve the equation
Once we have isolated the power, we convert the equation to logarithmic form.
To evaluate this expression, we key in
LOG \(0.5\) ) รท () \(0.04\) ENTER
to find \(t \approx 7.525749892\text{.}\) The tractor will be worth $15,000 in approximately \(7\frac{1}{2}\) years.
Checkpoint 7.3.21. QuickCheck 6.
True or False.
The first step in solving an exponential equation is to convert to logarithmic form.
True
False
To solve the equation \(10^x = 19\text{,}\) we divide both sides by 10.
True
False
\(\dfrac{\log{15}}{6}\) is the same as \(\log{\dfrac{15}{6}}\text{.}\)
True
False
Logarithms are used in the study of exponential growth and decay.
True
False
Checkpoint 7.3.22. Practice 6.
The percentage of American homes with computers grew exponentially from 1994 to 1999. For \(t = 0\) in 1994, the growth law was
[Source: Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1999]

What percent of American homes had computers in 1994?
Answer: %

If the percentage of homes with computers continued to grow at the same rate, when did 90% of American homes have a computer?
Answer: \(t\approx\), which was the year
2004
2005

Do you think that the function \(P(t)\) will continue to model the percentage of American homes with computers? Why or why not?
Yes: The percentage will continue increasing, faster and faster.
No: the percent of homes with computers cannot exceed 100%.
At this stage, it seems we will only be able to solve exponential equations in which the base is 10. However, we will see in future sections how the properties of logarithms enable us to solve exponential equations with any base.
Exercises 7.3.7 Problem Set 7.3
Warm Up
1.
There were 300 lizards on a small island in 2000, and since then the population has been growing by 15% each year.
Write a formula for the size of the lizard population \(t\) years after 2000.
Write an equation to calculate how long it will take the lizard population to reach 500.
Use trial and error to estimate the solution to the equation.
\(\displaystyle P(t)=300(1.15)^t\)
\(\displaystyle 500=300(1.15)^t\)
\(\displaystyle t \approx 3.65 \)
2.
Complete each table. Then use the tables to approximate each logarithm between two integers.

\(2^{5}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^{4}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^{3}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^{2}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^{1}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^0\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^1\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^2\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^3\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^4\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2^5\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \begin{gather*} \fillinmath{XXX} \lt \log_2{12} \lt \fillinmath{XXX}\\ \fillinmath{XXX} \lt \log_2{\dfrac{1}{6}} \lt \fillinmath{XXX}\\ \fillinmath{XXX} \lt \log_2{0.02} \lt \fillinmath{XXX} \end{gather*} 
\(10^{5}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^{4}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^{3}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^{2}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^{1}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^0\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^1\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^2\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^3\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^4\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(10^5\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \begin{gather*} \fillinmath{XXX} \lt \log_{10}{296} \lt \fillinmath{XXX}\\ \fillinmath{XXX} \lt \log_{10}{0.095} \lt \fillinmath{XXX}\vphantom{\dfrac{1}{6}}\\ \fillinmath{XXX} \lt \log_{10}{3.8} \lt \fillinmath{XXX} \end{gather*}
Skills Practice
Exercise Group.
For Problems 38, use the definition to find each logarithm without using a calculator.
3.
\(\displaystyle \log_7{49}\)
\(\displaystyle \log_5{625} \)
\(\displaystyle 2\)
\(\displaystyle 4\)
4.
\(\displaystyle \log_4{4}\)
\(\displaystyle \log_6{1} \)
5.
\(\displaystyle \log_3{\sqrt{3}}\)
\(\displaystyle \log_3{\dfrac{1}{3}}\)
\(\displaystyle \dfrac{1}{2}\)
\(\displaystyle 1\)
6.
\(\displaystyle \log_9{9^{6}}\)
\(\displaystyle \log_8{8^5}\)
7.
\(\displaystyle \log_{10}{0.1}\)
\(\displaystyle \log_{10}{10,000}\)
\(\displaystyle 1\)
\(\displaystyle 4\)
8.
\(\displaystyle \log_{10}{0.001}\)
\(\displaystyle \log_{10}{1000}\)
Exercise Group.
For Problems 9 and 10, without using a calculator, estimate the log between two integers.
9.
\(\displaystyle x=\log_{10}{5678}\)
\(\displaystyle y=\log_{10}{0.25}\)
\(\displaystyle 3 \lt x \lt 4\)
\(\displaystyle 1 \lt y \lt 0\)
10.
\(\displaystyle \log_{10}{137,624}\)
\(\displaystyle \log_{10}{0.009}\)
Exercise Group.
For Problems 11โ16, solve. Round your answers to hundredths.
Exercise Group.
For Problems 17 and 18, rewrite each equation in logarithmic form.
17.
\(\displaystyle t^{3/2} = 16\)
\(\displaystyle 0.8^{1.2} = M\)
\(\displaystyle \log_t {16} = \dfrac{3}{2}\)
\(\displaystyle \log_{0.8}{M} = 1.2\)
18.
\(\displaystyle 3.7^{2.5} = Q\)
\(\displaystyle 3^{0.2t} = 2N_0\)
Exercise Group.
For Problems 19 and 20, rewrite each equation in exponential form.
19.
\(\displaystyle \log_{16}{256} = w\)
\(\displaystyle \log_b{9} = 2\)
\(\displaystyle 16^w = 256\)
b^{2} = 9
20.
\(\displaystyle \log_{10}{a} = 2.3\)
\(\displaystyle \log_4 {36} = 2q1\)
21.
Solve each equation, writing your answer as a logarithm. Then use trial and error to approximate the logarithm to tenths.
\(\displaystyle 4^x = 2.5\)
\(\displaystyle 2^x = 0.2\)
\(\displaystyle x=\log_4{2.5} \approx 2.7\)
\(\displaystyle x=\log_2{0.2} \approx 2.3\)
Exercise Group.
For Problems 22โ24, use a graph to approximate each logarithm to the nearest hundredth. (Hint: Graph an appropriate function \(y=b^x\text{.}\))
Applications
25.
In 2015, Summit City used 4.2 million kilowatthours of electricity, and the demand for electricity has increased every year according to the formula
When will Summit City need 10 million kilowatthours annually?
What is the annual growth rate in the demand for electricity?
2030
6.2%
26.
Radium, a radioactive element, was used to paint watches and instrument dials until its serious health effects were discovered in the 1920's. Radium226 is the most stable isotope of radium and decays according to the formula
where \(t\) is in years.
How long will it take for one gram of radium226 to decay to onehalf gram?
What is the annual decay rate for radium226?
Exercise Group.
The atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude above the surface of the Earth, according to the function
where \(h\) is altitude given in miles, and \(P\) is atmospheric pressure in inches of mercury. Graph this function in the window
Solve Problems 27 and 28 algebraically, then verify with your graph.
27.

The elevation of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, is 29,028 feet. What is the atmospheric pressure at the top?
Hint: 1 mile = 5280 feet
The atmospheric pressure at the top of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in the United States, is 13.51 inches of mercury. Estimate the elevation of Mount McKinley.
9.60 in
3.85 mi
28.
What is the atmospheric pressure at sea level (\(h=0\))?
Find the height above sea level at which the atmospheric pressure is equal to onehalf the pressure at sea level.
29.
From 1950 to 2000, the population of the state of Nevada increased according to the formula
where \(t\) is measured in years since 1950.
What was the population in 2000?
What was the annual percent growth rate from 1950 to 2000?
According to this model, when would the population of Nevada reach 3,000,000? (In fact the population of Nevada was 3,139,658 in 2020.)
2,018,436
5.17%
2008
30.
From 1970 to 1990, the population of the state of California increased according to the formula
where \(t\) is measured in years since 1970.
What was the population in 1990?
What was the annual percent growth rate from 1970 to 1990?
According to this model, when would the population of California reach 40,000,000? (In fact the population of California was 39,747,267 in 2020.)
Exercise Group.
Equations Practice: For Problems 31 and 32, solve the equation and check your solutions.
31.
\(\displaystyle x^2=16 \)
\(\displaystyle 2^x = 16\)
\(\displaystyle x^{2/3}=16 \)
\(\displaystyle x^3 = 16\)
\(\displaystyle 4\)
\(\displaystyle 4\)
\(\displaystyle 64\)
\(\displaystyle \sqrt[3]{16} \approx 2.52\)
32.
\(\displaystyle 2^{3x2}=16 \)
\(\displaystyle (3x2)^2 = 16\)
\(\displaystyle x^26x = 16 \)
\(\displaystyle x^23x = 16\)
33.

Complete the table.
\(x\) \(x^2\) \(\log_{10}{x}\) \(\log_{10}{x^2}\) \(1\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(3\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(4\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(5\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(6\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) Do you notice a relationship between \(\log_{10}{x}\) and \(\log_{10}{x^2}\text{?}\) State the relationship as an equation.
34.

Complete the table.
\(x\) \(\dfrac{1}{x}\) \(\log_{10}{x}\) \(\log_{10}{\dfrac{1}{x}}\) \(1\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(2\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(3\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(4\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(5\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(6\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) \(\hphantom{0000}\) Do you notice a relationship between \(\log_{10}{x}\) and \(\log_{10}{\dfrac{1}{x}}\text{?}\) State the relationship as an equation.