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Scientific Method Physics

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Scientific Method Physics

Is Earth spherical, or is it really flat? This discussion has been going on for years, and there are many explanations and arguments supporting both sides. Then, how can we know the truth? Now more than ever, with the spreading of technology, we can have much information within our reach. However, we cannot simply take every claim we encounter as valid! The internet is an excellent example of this. Anyone can publish and share statements and claims that have no basis but still spread like wildfire. So, how can we know what information to trust?

We can use the scientific method to decide which results and explanations can be accepted to be scientifically correct. The scientific method is a set of steps scientists take when exploring their research topics and answering questions they have about them, validating statements and claims, and, ultimately, confirming truth. In this article, we will explore these steps and learn how we can design good experiments to put our ideas to the test and find a good explanation for a specific phenomenon.

Scientific Method Physics definition

Earlier, we briefly described what the scientific method is. Let us discuss it in a bit more detail and have a look at its definition.

The scientific method is an ordered series of steps to acquire knowledge based on experimental evidence.

The knowledge acquired using this method is always backed up and tested using carefully designed experiments. Because of this, we say that this method is based on empirical evidence.

When we use this method, the goal is to add to scientific knowledge, confirm or disprove elements of a scientific theory or a scientific theory as a whole, or settle any answers or doubts.

All the steps that comprise the scientific method are important. We should not skip steps as it could result in incorrect results or conclusions.

Scientific Method Steps

The steps of the scientific method are:
  1. Ask a question about something you observe
  2. Do background research to learn what is already known about the topic
  3. Construct a hypothesis
  4. Experiment to test your hypothesis
  5. Analyze the data from the experiment
  6. Draw conclusions.

The research process starts when scientists observe a phenomenon and make questions about it. Formulating questions is vital. Good questions can guide scientists through their research.

After a question is formulated, scientists must then do background research on the topic. Appropriate research needs to consult relevant sources such as books and scientific articles that have been already validated by other experts in the area or even scientific institutions. Once scientists are done with research, they can formulate a hypothesis.

A hypothesis is an assumption we make to explain our observations that is capable of being proven to be wrong by an experiment.

The type of hypothesis that the scientific method requires needs to be able to be proven false by experimentation, and it is known as a falsifiable hypothesis. It does not mean that it is wrong, but rather that if it is wrong, we can find out by observing a carefully designed experiment. Hypotheses that are inherently impossible to be proven false, either because of technical limitations or subjectivity, are known as non-falsifiable hypotheses.

"Dreams are heavier than thoughts" is a non-falsifiable hypothesis. There is no way to weigh a dream or a thought so it is not only impossible to know which is heavier. On the other hand the hypothesis "all oranges are heavier than apples" is falsifiable. It is enough to find an apple that weighs more than an orange to prove it wrong!

Experiments must be carefully designed in order to trust the data we receive and therefore analyse it properly. This analysis is what allows us to draw proper conclusions from the data, knowing if our hypothesis is correct or not. After this is done, we are able to report our results to the scientific community.

Scientific Method Physics Diagram showing the steps of the scientific method StudySmarterFig. 1 - Scientific method.

Scientific Method Experiments

We know that scientists conduct experiments to check their hypotheses. But how do they come up with these experiments?

In an experiment, measurements must be done, either directly or indirectly, to obtain the data for further calculations. Thinking of a way to measure a quantity in a precise way is part of designing our experiment.

The Scientific Method illustration of two scientist performing experiments StudySmarterFig. 2 - Scientists must design experiments carefully to obtain precise results

Therefore, experiments have to be designed carefully. Another important thing to consider is how to control our experiments. This means that we need to design our experiment in such a way that we keep our experiment conditions isolated from the effect of variables that could hinder our measurements, leading to wrong interpretations of our results. You need to be able to change the variable you are testing and leave the others unchanged.

Imagine that you are trying to research how to increase sleep quality. You formulate a hypothesis that "sleeping in a dark room improves sleep quality" and you plan to prove by qualifying how rested you feel after sleeping for a couple of days with lights on and some with lights off. However, after those two days, you sleep with the lights off, but you also exercise before bedtime and you find that you slept much better. This experiment is not controlled. You cannot know if sleep quality improved because of having the lights off, the exercise, or both!

In order for an experiment to be valid, it must be reproducible under the same conditions. This means that other scientists can replicate it and get the same results. Getting drastically different results in two experiments with the same conditions means that there was a mistake in one of the versions, and thus we can not trust the results.

An incorrect experiment can lead to erroneous results and conclusions, where false data is mistakenly backed up.

A good example of what can go wrong in an improperly designed experiment was when a group of physicists concluded that neutrinos, a kind of subatomic particle, move faster than the speed of light. This was a massive breakthrough, as up until then, nothing had ever been seen as moving faster than light! However, this turned out to be an error. The result of a bad connection between a GPS unit and a computer led to this misleading conclusion.

Examples of Scientific Method in Physics

Let us discuss an example to overview the scientific method. Imagine you are travelling around the world, visiting different places. You enjoy having tea and you frequently boil water wherever you go. As you notice that the boiling point of water is different sometimes, you decide to use the scientific method to find out what is going on.

Observation: the water boiled at a lower temperature when I was visiting the mountains than when I was in other cities with low altitudes.

Question: Why does my water boil at different temperatures?

Research: In a chemistry book, you read that the boiling temperature of a substance depends on the strength of the molecular bonds of a substance and the pressure.

Hypothesis: Since the atmospheric pressure changes with altitude, the boiling temperature of water is different at different altitudes.

Experiment: You decide to heat water at different altitudes and record the boiling temperature.

Analysis:


Altitude \( \text{m} \)
Boiling point of water \( \text{C}^\circ \)
0
100
150
99.5
305
99
610
98
1524
95

Your measurements indicate that as the height increases, the boiling temperature of water decreases!

Conclusion: The original hypothesis was correct. The boiling temperature of water changes with altitude following an approximately linear relationship: per every \( 300 \; \mathrm{m} \) the boiling temperature decreases approximately by one degree Celcius.

You are ready to tell your friends about your findings!

Scientific Method Physics - Key takeaways

  • The scientific method is an ordered series of steps to acquire knowledge based on experimental evidence.
  • The steps of the scientific method are:
    1. Ask a question about something you observe.
    2. Do background research to learn what is already known about the topic.
    3. Construct a hypothesis.
    4. Experiment to test your hypothesis.
    5. Analyze the data from the experiment.
    6. Draw conclusions.
  • A hypothesis is an assumption we make to explain our observations.
  • The type of hypothesis that the scientific method requires needs to be able to be proven false by experimentation, and it is known as a falsifiable hypothesis.
  • A good experiment needs to be precise, controlled, and reproducible under the same conditions.

References

  1. Fig. 1 - The Scientific Method (simple).png (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scientific_Method_(simple).png) by Thebiologyprimer is licensed by CC0 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 2 - Image by Freepik

Frequently Asked Questions about Scientific Method Physics

The 7 scientific method steps are as follows:


  1. Ask a question about something you observe.
  2. Do background research to learn what is already known about the topic.
  3. Construct a hypothesis.
  4. Experiment to test your hypothesis.
  5. Analyze the data from the experiment. 
  6. Draw conclusions.

The main features of the scientific method are acquiring knowledge based on evidence, and experimentation to gain that evidence.

The purpose of the scientific method is to gain knowledge, validate or disprove scientific theories, and answer any questions or doubts these theories and hypotheses bring up. 

The scientific method is important because it allows us to gain knowledge, validate or disprove scientific theories, and answer any questions or doubts these theories and hypotheses bring up.

The advantage of the scientific method is that the experiments that have been started by someone can be conducted again by anyone else in the world making the method one of the most trustworthy methods out there. This is especially the case when the same outcomes occur from a variety of different experiments. 

Final Scientific Method Physics Quiz

Question

What does a physics equation do?

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Answer

A physics equation describes a relation between physical quantities.

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Question

Why do we assign symbols to quantities instead of simply writing them out?

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Answer

It makes the equations look clearer, and in practice it is no problem to remember which quantity corresponds to which symbol.

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Question

What is the step-by-step plan to answering a physics question?

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Answer

1. Write down all quantities that are mentioned (with units).
2. Write down the relevant physics equation.
3. Solve the equation (including units).
4. Answer the question fully and with correct units.

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Question

Why do we use equations in physics?

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Answer

A lot of physics/nature questions involve quantities and numbers, and answers to these questions are often found by relating quantities to other quantities through equations.

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Question

What is wrong with this answer to a physics question?
"3 hours."

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Answer

It is not a complete sentence.

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Question

While reading a physics question, should you write down quantities that you expect to be useless in answering the question?

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Answer

Yes, who knows if they are/become useful somehow!

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Question

Can you rewrite physics equations just like you can rewrite mathematical equations?

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Answer

Yes, no magic going on here, but we make sure to treat units the same as variables in our operations.

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Question

What is a unit?

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Answer

A unit is a standard which we use to measure and compare a physical quantity. 

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Question

What is the SI unit for distance?

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Answer

Meter

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Question

What is the SI unit for mass?

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Answer

Kg

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Question

The SI system is the metric system.

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Answer

True.

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Question

The imperial system measures length in ...


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Answer

Inch.

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Question

What is the purpose of data collection? 

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Answer

The purpose of any data collecting is to collect high-quality evidence that can be analysed to come up with convincing and trustworthy responses to the questions posed or to test a hypothesis. 

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Question

What are the two types of data that we can collect? 

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Answer

Quantitative and Qualitative data. Quantitative data is usually numerical and exists on a defined range. Qualitative data is descriptive and open-ended, without any defined range.

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Question

Is numerical data quantitative or qualitative? 


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Answer

Quantitative

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Question

What collecting methods are used for quantitative data? 

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Answer

Measuring and counting. This may be done manually or using techniques such as a questionnaire or sensors.

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Question

Is the data recorded using sensors in the lab quantitative or qualitative? 

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Answer

Quantitative, as data collected by sensors is always numerical.

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Question

Is statistical analysis used to analyse quantitative or qualitative data? 

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Answer

Quantitative. If qualitative data is to be analysed statistically, it first needs to be grouped or categorised. to allow it to be handled numerically.

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Question

Are case studies used to collect qualitative or quantitative data? 

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Answer

Primarily case studies are used to collect qualitative data.

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Question

Will the answers to the following questions: "How many?" "How often?" and "How much?"  provide qualitative or quantitative data? 

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Answer

Quantitative data, as the answers will be numerical values.

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Question

Does science rely on qualitative on quantitative data? 

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Answer

Scientific analysis can use both qualitative and quantitative data, however, to statistically analyse the qualitative data responses must first be grouped into categories to allow them to be defined numerically.

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Question

The data collected by a sensor during an experiment is mainly qualitative. Is this true or false? 

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Answer

False, sensors record data numerically so it is quantitative

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Question

Can derived data be obtained by direct observation? 

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Answer

No, Derived data is created by transforming existing data points, which are typically from disparate data sources, into new data using mathematical formulas. 

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Question

Are the the letter grades of students in a classroom qualitative or quantitative data? 

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Answer

The letter grades themselves are qualitative. However, a dataset recording how many students received each grade would be quantitative. 

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Question

By using a humidity sensor to measure the change of humidity in a plant's environment, are we collecting primary data in this case? 


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Answer

Yes, we are collecting primary data as we are running the experiment. 

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Question

Can derived data be used to find the original dataset used to create it?

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Answer

No - it is usually very hard to obtain the original set of data from a derived dataset. For example, if we have derived data of the average height of the population, it is impossible to use this to find the original heights of each individual measured without some additional information.

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Question

After taking all the measurements of his backyard, Mark calculated its area. What is the data type for the calculated area? 

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Answer

The area is derived data. The initial measurements would have been primary data, however, it's impossible to determine them from the area alone.

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Question

How can we define the phrase "drawing a conclusion"? 

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Answer

We can define the drawing of a conclusion as the insight gained from experimenting. All that is learned during an investigation can be summarised in a concluding statement.


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Is the conclusion linked to the hypothesis? 

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Answer

Yes. Ideally, the conclusion of an investigation should prove or disprove the hypothesis.

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Question

Drawing conclusions is the last step of the scientific method.

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Answer

True.

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Question

A conclusion for a scientific experiment can be drawn without collecting data or conducting research.

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Answer

False.

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On what part of the experiment should the conclusion be based? 

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Answer

Your conclusion should be purely based on your findings.

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How do you support your conclusion of an experiment? 

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Answer

It should be supported with particular facts and proof from the experiment.

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Question

What is an inference? 

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Answer

An inference is a fact that is assumed based on the information that is provided. Simply, an inference is an assumed fact based on other facts.

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Question

Why is inference important in science? 

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Answer

Inferences are important because scientists can often pose and answer questions about things that are not immediately apparent.

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Question

Scientists discover crushed bones in the fossils of dinosaur droppings. They decide that the dinosaur had eaten other dinosaurs. In this case, did the scientists provide a conclusion or inference?   

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Answer

Inference.

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Question

You notice a classmate crying on the day that the examination results were released. You decide that they must be sad because they obtained poor results. Is this an example of a conclusion or inference?

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Answer

Inference.

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Question

Which of these is not a step of the scientific method?

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Answer

Ask a question and formulate a hypothesis.

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Question

If the conclusion was not aligned with your initial hypothesis, then the experiment was not successful. Is this statement true or false? 

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Answer

False. Whether a theory is accepted or disproved is not a measure of success or failure, because both outcomes contribute to scientific knowledge. 

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Question

Can data representation aid the process of drawing conclusions? 

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Answer

Yes, since if data is well-represented, valid conclusions can be drawn more easily by analysing the data representation. 

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Question

A conclusion refers to an explanation or interpretation of an observation. It is the next step in the information process and comes after critical thought and logical reasoning.

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Answer

True.

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Question

After repeating the experiment 10 times, we were able to validate the initial hypothesis, and confirming that the distilled water boils at 100 degree Celsius. Is this statement a conclusion or an interference? 

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Answer

Conclusion.

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Question

Should you take anomalies into account when drawing a line of best fit for a graph?

 

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Answer

No.

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Question

Does a line graph represent continuous or discrete data?

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Answer

Continuous data.

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Question

Are discrete data and continuous data both types of qualitative or quantitative data?

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Answer

Quantitative data.

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Qualitative data is described by language. Is this statement true or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

Which type of data can be counted and measured, quantitative or qualitative data?

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Answer

Quantitative data.

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Discrete can take any value within a range. Is this statement true or false?

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Answer

False.

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Question

Does a histogram or a bar chart represent continuous data?

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Answer

A histogram.

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Question

What is a data point that deviates from the pattern of the rest of the data points called?

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Answer

An anomaly.

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