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Basic Science Concepts & Terminology

Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

You don't have to dedicate your life to the study of science to be a scientist. All you need to do is notice basic science concepts like systems, cycles, constancy and change. Read on to learn more about these essential scientific concepts.

You, Too, Can Be a Scientist

Anyone can be a scientist! The role of a scientist is to observe the world around us and come up with possible explanations for why things are the way they are. That's not as complicated as you may think. Some of the very first things you will probably notice are that things work together in systems, many events tend to cycle or repeat, and some things remain constant while other things change. So let's head outside and start finding examples of these basic science concepts - systems, cycles, constancy and change!

Systems Defined

A system is a collection of parts that work together and influence one another. As their names suggest, the solar system, an organ system and an ecosystem are examples of systems.

In our solar system, the gravity of the sun, planets and moons all affect each other. The gravitational pull of our moon, for example, affects the intensity of the tides here on Earth. In an organ system, the cells, tissues and organs of a creature work together for a specific purpose. Finally, an ecosystem is all the living and non-living things that interact in a particular area. A fish tank is an example of an ecosystem in your home. If there isn't enough light or nutrients in the ground, any plants will die. If the fish are relying on those plants for oxygen or food, the fish will die, as well.

Ecosystems and our solar system are both examples of systems.
Pictures of a frog in a pond and the solar system.

Cycles: A Series of Events

A cycle is a series of connected events that repeats. A life cycle, the water cycle, and your circadian rhythm are examples of cycles.

All living creatures have a life cycle. An adult butterfly, for example, lays an egg. The larva, or caterpillar, hatches from that egg. When the caterpillar is ready, it builds a chrysalis around itself. An adult butterfly eventually emerges from the chrysalis, ready to lay eggs and start the process over again.

The life cycle of the Harlequin butterfly.
Pictures of stages in the life cycle of a butterfly.

The water cycle describes how the water on our planet is continually recycled. The water in lakes, streams and oceans evaporates into the atmosphere and condenses into clouds. Once there is more water vapor in the air than the atmosphere can hold, the water falls back to the Earth as rain. The rain refills the lakes, streams and oceans and the cycle begins again.

A third example of a cycle is your circadian rhythm, or your internal clock than regulates your sleepiness and wakefulness. Your circadian rhythm follows a natural 24-hour rotation that corresponds to periods of daylight and nighttime.

Constancy and Change

Constancy refers to states that do not change. Equilibrium, homeostasis and steady states are examples of constancy. When a system is in equilibrium, all the forces acting on it are in balance. Think of a rock tumbling down a hill. It will finally come to a rest and reach equilibrium when the friction acting on it is enough to equal and counteract the force of gravity.

These fallen rocks rest in equilibrium.
A photograph of fallen rocks.

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