Experimentation on Analogue Models

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S. G. Sterrett
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preprint description
Analogue models are actual physical setups used to model something else. They are especially useful when what we wish to investigate is difficult to observe or experiment upon due to size or distance in space or time: for example, if the thing we wish to investigate is too large, too far away, takes place on a time scale that is too long, does not yet exist or has ceased to exist. The range and variety of analogue models is too extensive to attempt a survey. In this article, I describe and discuss several different analogue model experiments, the results of those model experiments, and the basis for constructing them and interpreting their results. Examples of analogue models for surface waves in lakes, for earthquakes and volcanoes in geophysics, and for black holes in general relativity, are described, with a focus on examining the bases for claims that these analogues are appropriate analogues of what they are used to investigate. A table showing three different kinds of bases for reasoning using analogue models is provided. Finally, it is shown how the examples in this article counter three common misconceptions about the use of analogue models in physics.

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