Understanding Constants In An Experiment

Understand what are constants in an experiment, why they are important, characteristics of constant and how to use constants in experiments.

Constants In An Experiment

The term ‘constant’ is used to refer to a particular quantity which is not intended to alter or change.

What are Constants?

Amongst the other fields, constants are also used in during various situations of an experiment. Such constants which are implemented in experiments are referred to as experimental constants.

Like other constants, experimental constants are also measurable. However, they cannot be changed in the due course of the experiment or in-between them.

There are various values which are considered as constants during experiments.

Constituents of natural forces such as the speed of light or the atomic weight of gold are considered as experimental constants.

Additionally, there are various properties which are considered to be experimental constants. The prime example of this is the boiling point of water.

The boiling point of water depends may alter depending on the altitude and the decrease in acceleration due to gravity.

However, experiments involving water in a single location consider its boiling point as constants.

The Need for Constants

There are various reasons why we need to implement constants within our experiments. However, they all stem out from the same characteristic, that is duplication of results or consistency in results.

Whenever we perform any experiment, we do so carefully ensuring that the process can be duplicated again as required.

If we involved a plethora of variables it would that we would receive a ton of variable results as well. This would completely defeat the purpose of experimenting.

Factors Considered as Constant in an Experiment

When we are on a lookout for constants, we essentially look for such factors which are considered to be similar in all states or conditions.

Irrespective of the time or the nature of this aforementioned factor, it will never change its state.

This stems out from the fact that a constant never changes its state in the duration of an experiment.

Understanding a constant becomes easier when one contrasts the constant factor with a mathematical constant.

In the field of mathematics, a constant refers to a particular factor which has a fixed numerical value.

In the same way, a constant in an experiment does not change its state and is universally equal all-around.

The only situation in which a mathematical constant and an experimental constant differ is that a mathematical constant does not involve any physical measurement.

Examples of Constants in Experiments

When you consider the factors used for determining an experimental constant, there are various constants that you might come across.

A few good examples of experimental constants include:

  • The acceleration due to gravity
  • Gravitational constant
  • Avogadro’s constant
  • The Gas constant
  • Boltzmann’s constant
  • The Stefan-Boltzmann constant
  • Elementary charge
  • Electron rest mass
  • Proton rest mass
  • Unified atomic mass unit
  • Solar constant, and much more.

Apart from these constants, there are various other factors which are also considered as constants like Planck’s constant, the permittivity of free space, etc.

In essence, if you want to determine whether or not a particular factor is considered as a constant, you might want to think about such factors which contain a form of measurement that is universal.  

Constants In A Scientific Method

The term scientific method refers to an approach seeking a particular form of knowledge involving the formulation of a hypothesis or testing for proving its validity.

More often than not, scientific methods require intense experimentation for proving their validity. And such experiments often involve constants.

You might ask the purpose of constants in scientific methods. Here’s why we need them.

Whenever you need to perform experiments, you need to test through various factors which often involve a lot of measurable change.

These changes occur due to the presence of the dependent variable. As a result, the changes occurring allude to the dependent variable.

To understand such changes, the experimenters often introduce an independent variable for creating changes in the dependent variables.

However, there should always be only a single independent variable in such experiments.

Even other factors such as the presence of other variables are included in the form of controlled variables. And this is known as a constant in a scientific method.

Controls or Controlled Variables

Now, when you encounter the term ‘variable’, you might refer to such factors which are constantly found to be changing during an experiment. And you are right as well.

For the definition of a variable, states that any factor, trait, or condition which is found to exist in different amounts or types is a variable.

As a result, it would be correct to not refer to them as constants, right? Well, not exactly.

There are various situations in which variables are considered as constants. There are certain experiments in which a person performing the experiments considers certain variables in a constant state.

Such variables are referred to as controlled variables. As a result of this, the experimenter can attain more clarity in isolating the relationship between the independent variables and the dependent variables.

Moreover, by considering certain variables as constants, experimenters are also able to achieve constants results whenever they experiment.

The Prime Example of Controlled Variables

In the due course of an experiment, there are various variables which an experimenter considers to be constant.

The prime example of such controlled variables is the boiling point of water.

As aforementioned in the introductory paragraph, the boiling point of water variably changes when factors such as altitude and the acceleration due to gravity are involved in the experiment.

In spite of this, the temperature is considered constant as it allows the experimenter to derive constant results for a particular location or space.

Other Examples of Controlled Variables

Apart from the boiling point of water, there are various other examples which beautifully explain the concept of controlled variables within experiments.

A few of these include:

  • The amount of fertilizer which a plant uses for the crop outgrowth.
  • The type of soil is used for planting a particular type of plant.
  • The amount of time which is spent by children in trying to learn a new concept.
  • The amount of sunlight which a plant uses for its growth.

In spite of these examples, there are cases in which you might feel confused regarding controlled variables.

In simple terms, a controlled variable is referred to as determiners which greatly influence the result.

Usually, experimenters are more focused on understanding whether or not control variables have any significant effects on results.

With the help of control variables, they can do the same while achieving the desired results or outcomes in a particular experiment.

The Control Group

The term ‘control group’ essentially refers to a particular standard used for making comparisons in a particular experiment.

Whenever an experimenter stages an experiment, he or she designs it, particularly to include a control group and one or more experimental groups.

In an ideal sense, both the experimental groups and the control groups are similar.

However, the dissimilarity arises between these groups when the experimental group is subjected to various treatments which are believed to affect the outcome of the treatment.

Conversely, the control group isn’t subjected to any form of treatment or intervention which could affect the outcomes arising from the treatment.  

The Need For A Control Group

When you think about the involvement of a control group within the confinements of an experiment, you might think about the need which gives birth to such a need.

The primary reason why we need a control group is for the experimenters to easily be able to conclude a particular study.

It is only with the help of a control group that experimenters can determine whether or not a particular experiment can have a significant effect on the experimental group that can be recorded.

Moreover, the inclusion of a constant group within an experiment also ensures that the possibilities of making errors during the derivation of results are vastly minimized.

The Differences Between Constants and Controls

People often get confused with the different concepts that are involved with constants and controlled variables.

This is not only because they both begin with the same alphabet and that they sound the same, but it is also due to the similarity in their definitions.

However, you can be assured that these concepts don’t define the same things.

When we talk about constants, we essentially talk about the factors that are non-varying.

These factors are universally fixed and defined so that they are unable to start any changes that occur at the time of the results.

However, the purpose of control or a controlled variable isn’t the same.

Unlike a constant, a control or controlled variable is set aside to ignore the occurrence of any changes in the result that rise from the independent variable.

This ensures that the experimenter can view the experiment from an objective point of view.

When experimenters implement an experimental method, they do so understandingly which variables are controls and which of them are constants.

It is only by differentiating the controls and the constants that they can understand the changes occurring in the dependent variable.

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