Super Simple Physics: The Ultimate Bitesize Study Guide
The scientific method
As scientists, we want to explain how and why things happen—such as what happens when a current flows through a wire or when stars or planets form. We do this by thinking logically in a step-by-step process. The steps on this page are used in all fields of science.
1. Ask a scientific question Scientists are curious and often ask questions about how things work. For instance, why does a tea kettle sometimes take longer to boil? A scientific question is one that can be answered by collecting data (information). A question such as “Which kind of hot drink is nicest?” is not a scientific question.
2. Make a hypothesis
The next step is to come up with a possible explanation that can be tested. This is called a hypothesis. We can often write a hypothesis using the words “depends on.” For instance, our hypothesis might be: the length of time the tea kettle takes to boil depends on how much water is in it.
Some scientific questions can’t be tested by experiments. Astronomers can’t experiment with planets and stars, for instance. However, they can still make hypotheses and predictions and then test the predictions by making observations to collect data.
3. Make a prediction
To test a hypothesis, we use it to make a prediction. A prediction can often be written as “If … then ….” For example: I predict that if I double the amount of water, it will take twice as long to boil.
4. Collect data
Hypotheses are usually tested by experiments. In this case, we might heat measured volumes of water and time how long each volume takes to boil. An experiment must be a fair test, which means the only variable we change is the one we’re investigating (the volume of water, in this case). The information we collect in an experiment is called data
5. Analysis and conclusion
After collecting data, we analyze it carefully to check for errors and look for patterns. We use the analysis to decide whether the experiment supports the hypothesis. This forms our conclusion.
6. Peer review
After a successful experiment, a scientist may write a report (called a paper) so that other scientists can find out about the experiment and check the details. The paper may be published in a scientific journal for all scientists to read.
If the hypothesis is tested many times and never fails, it might eventually become accepted as a scientific theory
Refine hypothesis or experiment If the prediction was wrong, the hypothesis might be wrong, too, or the experiment might not have worked properly. Failed experiments are not a waste of time—they sometimes lead to new discoveries.
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