Why Are Scientific Models Necessary?
When you hear the word model, you probably think of a toy-like car or airplane that is a smaller version of the real thing. Scientific models are representations of objects, systems or events and are used as tools for understanding the natural world. Models use familiar objects to represent unfamiliar things.
Models can help you visualize, or picture in your mind, something that is difficult to see or understand. Models can help scientists communicate their ideas, understand processes, and make predictions. The chart below shows examples of what models can represent.
|Models can represent . . .||Example|
|objects that are too small to see||Model of an atom or a cell|
|objects that are too big to see||Model of the planets|
|objects that no longer exist||Model of a dinosaur|
|objects that have not yet been invented||Prototype models such as a model of a robot|
|events that occur too slowly to see||Model of mountain formation|
|events that occur too fast to see||Model to predict an earthquake|
|events that have yet to happen||Models of weather systems|
Types of Models
There are three types of models. Click on the boxes below to learn more about each type of model.
Advantages and Limitations of Models
There are many advantages to using scientific models. Click on the icons below to learn more about the advantages of using models.
Models are very helpful, but they also have limitations.
Details—Models cannot include all the details of the objects that they represent. For example, maps cannot include all the details of the features of the earth such as mountains, valleys, etc.
Approximations—Most models include some approximations as a convenient way to describe something that happens in nature. These approximations are not exact, so predictions based on them tend to be a little bit different from what you actually observe. Models do not behave exactly like the things they represent.
Accuracy—In order to make models simplistic enough to communicate ideas some accuracy is lost. For example, ball and stick models of atoms do not show all the details that scientists know about the structure of the atom.