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Why Scientists Use Models & Simulations

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  • 0:00 The Job of a Scientist
  • 1:07 Simulations and Models
  • 2:32 Examples
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

What is a model? What is a simulation? And why do scientists use them? Learn how scientists analyze the past and predict the future. Then take a quiz to test your new knowledge.

The Job of a Scientist

Scientists help us understand the world. They look at the phenomena around us, collect data about the things they see, and analyze that data to come up with laws and rules about how the world works. If you want to play a game well, knowing the rules is pretty important. In the same way, if you know the world's rules, you can do a better job of living in it. You can predict the results of your actions, build things, and make the world a better place to live.

Science is the study of the structure and behavior of the universe by making observations and doing experiments using a systematic process. The word 'process' is important because science needs to investigate the world consistently. By doing something consistently, scientists are less likely to make mistakes and more likely to understand their observations and the results of their experiments.

The more tools scientists have to investigate the world, the better their conclusions will be and the more we will be able to do with their discoveries, like cure diseases, create amazing technologies, and make life easier and more pleasant. Some of the most important tools modern scientists use are simulations and models. Today we're going to talk about what they are and how they are used.

Simulations and Models

Models and simulations save time and money, and allow us to do things that would be impossible in real life. If you want to test a new drug, you can't just feed it to your friend. And if you want to figure out how the universe began, you can't jump in a time machine and see it for yourself. So simulations and models are super helpful.

A simulation is a way of imitating a process or change in the real world to predict what will happen or explain what did happen and why. These days, simulations are often run on computers. Scientists use simulations to answer questions, see how complex systems work, test ideas, and make predictions. Before you can run a simulation, the computer needs to know how the world works. Otherwise there's no way for it to predict what will happen next. The rules that explain how the universe works, the laws of physics, have to be imported into the computer. This information is called a model.

A model is a way of representing a system or part of the world and how it works. A model has two parts. The first part is a graphical image or 3D construction of what the thing you're modeling looks like. This is like when people build a model aircraft, except that these days it's usually done on a computer. But a model also includes the math equations (laws of physics) that explain how the object works, such as how it's constructed and what rules the object follows. If you drop it, how will it fall? If you turn on the aircraft engine, what will happen? Models are used by scientists to make the world easier to understand and visualize.

Examples

There are endless examples of how scientists use models and simulations. They use them to understand processes that happened millions of years ago, like the formation of the universe, and to develop medicines to cure disease. They're used to predict the weather and design nuclear power plants. Anything that needs scientific knowledge to be successful probably involves a model or simulation.

One important example of computer simulation is called molecular modeling. Scientists can use it to test or discover new drugs that might help treat diseases. This method allows scientists to predict what will happen when they introduce a molecule, such as a new medicine, into the human body.

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