Big numbers.

English: Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A nine-year-old came up with the name googol when his mathematician uncle, Edward Kasner, asked for help in naming this new number. The name was introduced in Kasner’s 1940 book, “Mathematics and the Imagination.”

The search engine company, Google, took its name as a play on the name for the number, googol, because they were designing a search engine that would organize a very large amount of information.

How big is a googol?


• Paper
• Tape
• Pencil, pen or crayon


• Have your grandchild write down a 1
• After the number 1, to the right, have them write out 100 zeros. They may have to use several lines or tape pieces of paper together to have enough room
• Optional: have your grandchild put a comma after every third zero, starting from the right
• Optional: have your grandchild make an abacus with 101 bars to represent the number they’ve just written (see “Make Your Own Abacus with Popsicle Sticks”)

What Should Happen?

Your grandchild will start to see how big numbers can be.

There are even bigger numbers, like googolplex, which is a googol followed by a googol number of zeros. You could not write this number down if you went out to the farthest star.

Your grandchildren will also start to see the difference between numbers that can still be counted, called finite, like googol and googolplex and numbers where you can never reach the end of counting, like infinity.

Why Is This Useful?

A one with 80 zeros after it, one-fifth less than a googol, is the number of known particles in the universe.

The number of ways you can arrange 70 different objects in a row is about one-fifth more than a googol.

For those of you interested in a shorter way to represent these numbers, a googol is 10100 or 10 to the power of 100. A googolplex is 10googol, or 10 to the power of (10 to the power of 100.)

To give you a range of big numbers:
• Number of nerve cells in the brain: 1011
Google uses about 20 petabytes of data a day: 20×1015
• Number of grains of sand in the Sahara desert: 8×1027
• Number of ways you could shuffle a deck of 52 cards: 1067
• Number of particles in the universe: 1080
• Number of ways 70 objects can be arranged in a row: 1.98×10100
• Number of ways 450 objects can be arranged in a row: 1.73×101,000

To give you the names of big numbers:

  • Vigintillion 1063
  • Googol 10100
  • Centillion 10303
  • Googolplex 10googol

Thanks to for the definition of a googol and other big numbers.
Thanks to for the suggested activity of drawing zeros.

 This post was first published on

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru
Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”

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