by Tas Walker

The power of models

Models are powerful tools that help us understand and control our world. They give us insight into problems that concern us. You may not realize it, but you often use models in your life.

If you have drawn a plan for a new house, you have worked with a model. The plan represents something physical, a reality that you intended to bring into existence. You could easily change the rooms around, and imagine what layout you would like best.

A plan is symbolic because the lines on the paper represent parts of the house. Sometimes a model can be physical. I was once involved in an engineering project to build a weir on a river. We made a model of the weir and tested it by pumping real water over it. The model allowed us to check what would happen at different flood levels, and solve problems before the dam was built.

Sometimes a model can be a computer calculation. Accountants use computer models to understand company finance. What young person has not used a computer model these days? They can choose from thousands of popular games including war games, space themes and flight simulators.

A model is a simple representation of reality

Scientists regularly invent models because they want to understand and control the world. We should not think that scientific models are difficult or mysterious, because we use models ourselves.

Scientists have models for almost everything. These include models of atoms and molecules, models of gases and liquids, and models of the sun and the planets.

Anyone who has made a model knows that it takes imagination. Scientific models are no different. Because imagination is so important, scientists who develop successful models are honoured for their creative insights….

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