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Oregon Family Magazine

We Love Science!

02/01/2020 11:08AM ● By Sandy Kauten
Here’s a big question: How do we know what we know? Scientists answer this question using something called the scientific method—a technique used for more than 400 years to learn about everything from the tiniest subatomic particle to the most gargantuan galaxy.

So, what is it, exactly? The scientific method is actually quite simple, and you can learn to use it right now. Just follow these 5 steps and you’ll be conducting science experiments of your own in no time!

Step 1: Come up with a question. Think of something you want to discover, and make sure it’s measurable. Your question might be something like “What kind of liquid freezes the fastest?” or “How much air can our lungs hold?” or “Does water temperature affect the rate at which sugar dissolves?” You get the picture.

So, what do you want to know?

Step 2: Come up with a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a guess about what you think the answer will be. For example, “I hypothesize that sugar will dissolve the fastest in hot water.” You might come up with your guess through observation or background research about your topic.

Step 3: Test your hypothesis with experiments. For our example, we might use three glasses filled with water at three different temperatures (let’s say, 100 degrees, 70 degrees, and 50 degrees Fahrenheit), and drop a sugar cube in each.

Step 4: Make observations. For our experiment, we’ll measure the time it takes for each sugar cube to dissolve in each glass, and write down the results. These results are our data. We might want to do the same experiment several times, to make sure we get the same results each time.

What are your observations for your own experiment? Make sure to keep careful notes.

Step 5: Conclusion. At this point, we analyze our data. Our original hypothesis was that sugar would dissolve the fastest in hot water. If it did, then we can confirm that our hypothesis was correct. If it didn’t, then we can reject our hypothesis, and report on what actually happened. This is the exciting part of the scientific method: Even if your guess wasn’t right, you’ll learn something about your question anyway, and you may be very surprised along the way!

Using the scientific method, anyone can be a scientist and carry on the great tradition of scientific curiosity. Bring your curiosity to the Museum of Natural and Cultural History this month! At our Second Saturday event on February 8, you can try some experiments and make a valentine for your favorite scientist. We’re also celebrating Charles Darwin’s birthday on February 12 with birthday cupcakes and science-focused Walk & Talks throughout the afternoon. Preschoolers can be scientists, too, at our monthly Little Wonders event on February 21, where we’ll learn all about the science of rain, clouds, and rainbows. Learn more at mnch.uoregon.edu.

by Andrea Willingham, Museum of Natural and Cultural History