3. Scientific models



Scientific models are developed as a means of helping people understand scientific concepts and representing them in a visual medium. Models are used to make predictions. They may include physical and digital models, which can be refined over time by the inclusion of new scientific knowledge.

Students recognise that many scientific models have limitations and are modified as further evidence comes to light. For this reason, scientific models are continually evaluated for accuracy and applicability by the global scientific community through the process of peer review. Students construct and assess their own models, which are generated through practical investigation.

Models to Inform Understanding

Inquiry question 1: What is a scientific model?

Examine the types of models that may be used in science, including:

  • diagrams
  • physical replicas
  • mathematical representations
  • analogies
  • computer simulations

Some introductory links

Inquiry question 2: What makes scientific models useful?

There are many different types of models used in science. Most models, however, have certain things that are in common. These include;

  • help us understand a scientific process or phenomena 
  • based on observations, both quantitative and qualitative
  • explain relationships between parts in the model
  • help in creating a prediction related to an unknown aspect of the process or phenomena represented.

A great article from the Science learning hub introduces the scientific model.


  • examine the use of scientific models, including but not limited to:

1. Epidemic models

2. Models of the Universe

3. Atomic models

4. Climate models

For each above;

  • outline how models have been used to illustrate, simplify and represent scientific concepts and processes
  • explain how scientific models are used to make predictions that are difficult to analyse in the real world due to time frames, size and cost.
  • assess the effectiveness of models at facilitating the understanding of scientific processes, structures and mathematical relationships through the use of:
    • diagrams
    • physical replicas
    • mathematical representations
    • analogies
    • computer simulations
  • evaluate how scientific models draw on a growing body of data from a wide range of disciplines and technologies to refine predictions and test new hypotheses


  • dark-energy-head-640x353
    A model of the universe

Types of Models

Inquiry question 3: When should a particular model be used?

Explain why new evidence can challenge the use of existing scientific models and may result in those models being contested and refined or replaced, including but not limited to the development of;

  • epidemic models
  • models of the Universe
  • atomic models
  • climate models

See information above related to each type.

Evaluating the effectiveness of a model

Models use different “tools” to make them more accessible and often simplify complex phenomena. These include;

  • diagrams

    A model diagram simplifying energy transfers on Earth.
  • physical replicas


John Stevens locomotive, 1928 replica of 1825 original – Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)



  • mathematical representations

    The force applied to a body produces a proportional acceleration – Newton second law
  • analogies


An analogy showing a plant cell compared to a circus


  • computer simulations


File: CSIRO ScienceImage 11431 Computer model image of a rogue wave smashing into a semisubmersible


More model examples 

The Role of Models in a Science activity 

Constructing a Model

Inquiry question 4: How can a model be constructed to simplify understanding of a scientific concept?

Constructing a Model: This may form a depth study task

What should be considered when constructing a model?

Students will be investigating a scientific concept or process that can be represented using a model, by:

  • planning a model with reference to the scientific literature
    writing an annotated bibliography   and Harvard reference generator ( see working scientifically section for more information on how to cite your references)
  • constructing a model using appropriate resources to represent the selected scientific concept
  • demonstrating how the model could be used to make a prediction
  • presenting and evaluating the model through peer feedback

Intro to scientific modelling

Some examples of working scientific models made by senior students

Amazing technology-based projects

Computer simulation examples

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