Examples of Physical Models
Relative Size of ModelLarger than Actual Same as Actual Smaller than Actual
A c c u r a c y o f R e p r e s e n t a t i o n
TrueOversized exhibitionmodels for industrialtrade showsCadavers used inmedical schoolsAnt FarmsApproximateAnatomical modelsused in colleges andmedical schoolsNASA flight simulatorsArmy Corps of Engineers models of waterwaysSimplifiedMolecular models usedin educationResusiAnnie (dummies)used for CPRinstructionArchitectural models
Humans, in particular, are modeled all the time because of our complexity. Children play withdolls as models of playmates. Mannequins are simplified models of fashion models, who in turn,
are models of people who might wear a fashion designer’s wares. Posing models provide
reference points for artists. Crash test dummies reveal how the human body might react in anautomobile accident. Medical researchers use laboratory animals in place of humans for basicresearch. Medical schools use donated cadavers as models, very good ones as it turns out, of thehuman anatomy. So, there should be nothing unfamiliar or intimidating about models.Whether it is a physical scale-model of a hydroelectric dam or a mathematical model of weatherpatterns, a model is nothing more than a tool used to stimulate the imagination by simulating anobject or phenomenon. The model airplane takes its young pilot looping through the blue skies of asummer day. Globes teach geography and orreries teach planetary motion. The mannequin showsthe bride-to-
be how beautiful she’ll look in the gown at her wedding. The concept car unveiled
today gives consumers an idea of what they may be driving in a few years. The National HurricaneCenter uses over a dozen mathematical models to forecast the intensities and paths of tropicalstorms and to help understand the complex dynamics of hurricanes.It should come as no surprise, then, that scientists, engineers, and mathematicians use models,especially virtual models, all the time. It may be surprising, though, that virtual models are alsoused extensively in business, economics, politics, and many other fields. Nevertheless, there is amystique associated with modeling, especially the mathematical variety. Some believe that modelsare infallible and unchanging. Some believe that models are impossibly complex and necessarilyunfathomable. Some believe that models are sophisticated delusions for obfuscating real data. Inreality, none of these opinions is correct, at least entirely.
A Medley of Numbers
Mathematical models can be either theoretical (i.e., derived mathematically from scientificprinciples) or empirical
(i.e., based on experimental observations). For example, celestialmovements and radioactive decay are phenomena that can be evaluated using theory-basedmodels. To calibrate a theoretical model, the form of the model (i.e., the equation) is fixed and theinputs are adjusted so that the calculated results adequately represent actual observations.