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Model

A physical model of the solar system is a way to demonstrate how the planets orbit the sun, while a mathematical model is a set of equations that represents a system.

Fuse/Thinkstock

When you use the word model in your day-to-day conversation, chances are you're referring to fashion, a toy airplane or an exemplar of good behavior ("a model student"). The term business model is sometimes used to explain the way a company plans to make money ("Sounds interesting, but what's their business model?") But scientifically speaking, a model is a tool that helps researchers predict how a system is likely to behave.

The word model can mean different things in different branches of science. In the behavioral sciences, for example, a model might refer to a set of conditions required for behavioral change to take place. And a physical model of the solar system is a simple way to demonstrate how the planets orbit the sun, while a mathematical model is a set of equations that represents a system. Economic models and climate models are both mathematical models, although they seek to predict and understand very different things. In scientific use, a model can be used to support a hypothesis if it generates the expected behavior. Often in modeling, some real-life factors are left out so as to isolate certain aspects [source: University of California Museum of Paleontology].

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