Posted by on May 21, 2020 in Tell Me Why |

# What Is a Calculator and How Does It Work?

An electronic calculator is typically a portable electronic device used to perform calculations, ranging from basic arithmetic to complex mathematics. A device which can add, subtract and do other calculations. The abacus was the first calculator. It has colored beads which can be moved along wires to add and subtract. The first calculating machine was invented by Blaise Pascal in 1642. This used toothed wheels to count. Today many people use electronic calculators. These can do complicated calculations almost instantly. Many can also store information.

The first solid-state electronic calculator was created in the early 1960s. Pocket-sized devices became available in the 1970s, especially after the Intel 4004, the first microprocessor, was developed by Intel for the Japanese calculator company Busicom. They later became used commonly within the petroleum industry (oil and gas). By the 1980s, calculators had become affordable enough to become commonplace in many schools. Most calculator displays use inexpensive technologies common today, such as liquid crystal displays (LCD) or light-emitting diodes (LED).

So how do these devices work? Most calculators rely on integrated circuits more commonly known as chips. Integrated circuits contain transistors that can be turned on and off with electricity to perform mathematical calculations. The most basic calculations are addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The more transistors an integrated circuit has, the more advanced mathematical functions it can perform. Today’s scientific calculators, for example, can perform incredibly advanced mathematical calculations.

Like all other electronic devices, calculators work by processing information in binary form. We’re used to thinking of numbers in our normal base-ten system, in which there are ten digits to work with: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. The binary number system is a base-two system, which means there are only two digits to work with: 0 and 1. Thus, when you input numbers into a calculator, the integrated circuit converts those numbers to binary strings of 0s and 1s.

The integrated circuits then use those strings of 0s and 1s to turn transistors on and off with electricity to perform the desired calculations. Since there are only two options in a binary system (0 or 1), these can easily be represented by turning transistors on and off, since on and off easily represent the binary options (on = 0 and off = 1 or vice versa). Once a calculation has been completed, the answer in binary form is then converted back to our normal base-ten system and displayed on the calculator’s display screen.

Content for this question contributed by Rex Young, resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA