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Lesson 2-06 Models of Science

Page history last edited by Julie McShea 11 years, 9 months ago

Opened 10/22-due 10/23



LESSON 2.06 – Models of Science

Standard:  IE1.g




In this lesson you will learn what a model is and how it’s used in a scientific setting.

Definition:  model

1.    A standard or example for imitation or comparison.



2.    A representation, generally in miniature, to show the construction or appearance of something.



3.    An image in clay, wax, or the like, to be reproduced in more durable material.



4.    A person or thing that serves as a subject for an artist, sculptor, writer, etc.



5.    A person whose profession is posing for artists or photographers.



6.    A person employed to wear clothing or pose with a product for purposes of display and advertising.



7.    A style or design of a particular product: His car is last year's model.



8.    A simplified representation of a system or phenomenon, as in the sciences or economics, with any hypotheses required to describe the system or explain the phenomenon, often mathematically.


 Read the following:


Purpose for having models

Models have many different functions. You will mainly be accustomed to models being used to explain difficult concepts and to make concepts more tangible.  Scientists use models for explanatory purposes too, but they often use models (e.g. mathematical and computer models) to make and test predictions.


Level of abstraction

Some models are scaled-up (physical model of a virus particle) or scaled-down (model of the solar system) representations of reality. Other models are much more abstract. They may consist of a series of equations or many lines of computer code. The goal of the computer code may not be to create a simulation, but rather to evaluate a possibility (e.g. how big would a star need to be to give rise to a black hole.)



Alternative models

It is quite common for there to be different models to explain the same phenomenon. For example, there are physical models that show where protein synthesis occurs within a cell. There are also computer simulations of processes within a cell (such as the synthesis of protein) and there are mathematical models (such as to calculate the rate of protein synthesis under certain conditions). Sometimes older, “less accurate” models still figure into scientists’ thinking (e.g. different models of the atom) when they are more practical for making sense of a particular phenomenon. Of course, scientists take the caveats of the model into consideration. 



Caveats of Models

Although models can be powerful, they can also misleading. This is especially a problem for analogical models, for example gas atoms as bouncing balls or electricity as flowing water. Even when models are meant to represent reality they can be deceiving. For instance if a computer model is successful at predicting the behavior of a system, this might appear to suggest that the computer program is representing reality.  However, the computer model could be reaching the same endpoint via a very different path than in the real situation it is supposed to be representing.



Models and scientific progress

Models can only be as accurate as the current state of scientific knowledge about the phenomenon they describe. Like anything in science, models come under scrutiny and change over time. The most familiar example of a historical progression of models is probably the models of the atom (e.g. Thomson, Rutherford, Bohr, Schrödinger). Sometimes old models are “cast aside,” but some older models retain explanatory power and are still useful. For example, the Bohr model of the atom is handy for calculating how much energy will be released or absorbed when an electron moves between orbitals, even though scientists do not think the Bohr model accurately represents the atom.



Examples of Models:

Model of the solar system


Model student


Weather/Climate model

Model of a cell

Model of the Human Skeleton




  1. Create a Cornell notes document:  2.06-Notes-yourlastname.doc
  2. Take notes on what you have read above.
  3. Turn-in your notes to the drop-box for this course.




Take the 2.06-Quiz

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