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The area of a square is determined by s^2 where s is the side length. Therefore we need to get the square root of 16cm^2. Notice that 16 is a square number so we can express it as 4^2.
s= \sqrt{4^2cm^2} =4cm

Since we have an exponent of 2 and we are looking for the square root which is equivalent to the exponent  \frac{1}{2} , we cancel both. Therefore the side length is 4 cm.
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