Definition of a scientific model

Scientific models are simpler representations of systems that are used for explaining or visualising scientific processes and natural phenomena, as well as for making predictions. Models show the key features of the system being represented and they demonstrate how these features connect with each other. Models must be consistent with observations and experimental results. Useful scientific models will have the following properties:

  • Explanatory power – the model is able to explain an idea or process.
  • Predictive power – the model makes predictions that can be tested by experimentation.
  • Consistency – the model does not contradict other scientific models.

Scientific models are important as they help us to understand the world around us. They help to picture something that we cannot see or is hard to understand. A good model has little to no assumptions and agrees with data and evidence gained from scientific experiments.

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Types of scientific models

There are lots of different types of scientific models. They can be split up into five main categories.

Representational modelsA model that describes a system through shapes and/or analogies.
Descriptive modelsA model that uses words to describe a system.
Spatial modelsA model that represents a system through spatial relationships in three dimensions.
Mathematical modelsA model that uses known mathematical relationships to make predictions.
Computational modelsA mathematical model that requires a computer to carry out complex calculations.

Scientific models can also be split up into three other categories: physicalconceptual and mathematical models. Physical models consist of physical objects that you can touch, such as a globe. Physical models often represent systems that are too large or too small to see directly.


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On the other hand, conceptual models use known concepts to help you visualise systems that could be impossible to see or difficult for a human mind to comprehend. An example of this is the Bohr model of the atom, which shows electrons orbiting around the nucleus just like how the planets orbit around the sun. This allows us to picture what is happening at the atomic scale.