Back To CourseEarth Science: Middle School
12 chapters | 101 lessons
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Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.
Countless sleepless nights and years of dedication in the laboratory have finally paid off - it seems you've made your big discovery! Now, before you start thinking about what to say at your Nobel Prize acceptance speech, you should step back and make sure that what you've found can be shared. Shared? Yes, shared. After all, while you can patent your invention and make a fortune, the ability to recreate an experiment is one of the most important parts of the written report about your experiment.
Yes, you have to write a report. However, it doesn't have to be long. One of the most famous reports in scientific history, the paper in which Watson and Crick explain DNA, is only a few pages long. However, when writing your paper, you should be sure to focus on the ultimate goals of an experiment - namely your hypothesis, your procedure, and your data.
Before we get to explaining the importance of each of those parts, let's make sure you've got the right order down for what to include in your report. Again, this doesn't have to be very long, but it does all have to be there. First, you should include your purpose and a hypothesis. Even mad scientists in the movies had a purpose in what they were doing, and you should be no different. The hypothesis helps to give an answer to whatever question your purpose suggests. Following those sections should come your materials and your procedure.
Have you ever tried to follow a recipe and suddenly an ingredient is introduced that you didn't plan on using? In that case, you know how frustrating it is not to have everything spelled out at the top.
Finally, your results and conclusion come at the end. If you've ever tried to just scribble a math answer on a test, chances are your teacher wrote in big letters to 'show your work.' Data profiles are the scientific way of showing your work, while the conclusion is the equivalent of circling your final answer. Now that we know the proper order, let's look at what makes each part so important.
Just as you have a procedure and plan in place performing your experiment, it is very helpful to know when and how you're going to write the report. First things first, before anything else, you should write the purpose of your experiment. Second, write what you think will happen, or the hypothesis.
Now, stop and think about your experiment. If you're lucky, you will have already thought out how you're going to test your hypothesis. In fact, if you're doing this in a classroom lab, it may have already been provided to you. That is just your procedure. Write your procedure before you do anything else. Just before performing your experiment, make any relevant data tables so that you can quickly enter information. You may want to print one to scribble on while you get results and then type in the information once you are done.
Now, run your experiment. As your experiment plays out, write down the important data from the procedure. Make a note of any errors that may have occurred along the way as well. While you may not think that accidentally dropping ten milliliters extra of an acid into a test tube was a big deal, it could have changed your experiment's outcome. Once you have completed the experiment, analyze the data you have received in order to figure out your conclusion. Finally, write that down along with the data as your results.
We've all read examples of times where great scientific discoveries were made completely by accident. Teflon, for example, was produced on accident in trying to come up with a good rubber replacement. However, before you blindly start mixing chemicals together, you should remember the dangers involved in doing that. Trust me, a face full of chlorine gas will ruin your day faster than just about anything.
Instead, scientists should always have a hypothesis in mind. This is an educated guess about what the experiment will prove. Don't worry; no one is going to count you wrong if your hypothesis is completely proven false. The important thing is to have an end goal in mind that gives your work some level of focus. Without focus, you're just messing around, and that's not good science.
Still, more important than the hypothesis is the procedure. Let's say that you said you had finally found a way to create gold from lead. Obviously, a lot of people are going to be interested in your work! However, is it really science if no one else can do it? No! The importance of labs is learning the basic techniques and becoming comfortable with them, but after enough training, any biology student can recreate the work of Watson and Crick. Therefore, the procedure, or making sure that an experiment can be repeated, is vital.
However, it's not just to prove that you weren't trying to be deceitful. Remember, good science tests one variable at a time. If you control for everything else, then you should get the same result no matter what. If you conduct an experiment and don't get the same response, that means that there is something else that is acting as a variable. That's nothing to be terrified of, but it should be a cause of concern to at least find out what the reason for the variation is. If it's something relatively easy, it could just be added to the experiment. If it's something sneakier, it could be an important part of your discovery just waiting for you to realize it's there!
So, you turned lead into gold. There's still a lot of questions there. How much gold? Was it really worth all the work to just get a few grains of gold? What kind of gold? After all, there's a big difference between 10 karat gold and 24 karat gold. In short, the results of an experiment can help other scientists figure out if the work is really worth it.
Here's an example - we know that if we took a piece of charcoal and heated it up enough and pressed it together, we'd get a diamond. Both are carbon, but the structure of the diamond is very different than raw charcoal. Many scientists have identified ways to do this, and their procedures can be easily repeated. However, were the results commercially worth it? If a 2-carat diamond costs around $15,000 from a mine, is it really worth paying $20,000 to get one from a lab? However, if those numbers were reversed, then you may very well be getting a call from some industry representatives.
In this lesson, we looked at the importance of being able to write a good scientific report after an experiment. We started by looking at the importance of stating our purpose, often phrased as an informed question and a guess known as a hypothesis. We also saw the importance of the procedure, or being able to repeat an experiment, acknowledging that the work of Watson and Crick could be repeated by many biology students. Finally, we saw that the results part of a scientific experiment not only gave us some indication on the outcome, but also helped to determine if it was a truly world-changing discovery or just something that was of a more pure scientific interest.
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Back To CourseEarth Science: Middle School
12 chapters | 101 lessons