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### What is Mathematical Modeling?

```Date: 11/08/2002 at 10:10:49
From: Joy McCarnan
Subject: Math modeling vs. calculations

Hello, Dr. Math.

I work for a software corporation that sells engineering software that
helps designers in various industries, particularly due to its
capability for backsolving. I came across your Web site while
searching the Internet for information on mathematical modeling - what
it is, its uses, examples, etc. I am looking specifically for
documentation that would describe the difference between calculations
and mathematical modeling.

I have found quite a bit of information about mathematical modeling,
but not really a solid yet simple source of consistent facts and
examples. Often math modeling is described in terms of a means to an
end, such as a way to make computer animations or simulate atomic
fission. Yours was one of the more helpful sites I came across, but I
am mathematically challenged to some extent and perhaps did not catch
all that I should have. In addition to that problem, I am also seeking
to pack this information into an vocabulary understanding level of
middle-school age.

If you could send any more concise and reliable resource links, or if
you have easily accessible information to share, it would be very much
appreciated.

Best regards,
- Joy
```

```
Date: 11/08/2002 at 12:15:00
From: Doctor Ian
Subject: Re: Math modeling vs. calculations

Hi Joy,

'models' when you regard their results as having some meaning in the
world. This applies even to something as simple as balancing your
checkbook, or trying to figure out if you should stop for gas.

Objects and situations in the real world are complicated, with lots of
details. Numbers, on the other hand, are very simple. With a few
exceptions (zero, one, pi, e), when you've seen one, you've seen them
all. The same operations work on large and small numbers, on positive
and negative numbers, on rational and irrational numbers.

So if you can reduce a situation to a description that uses only
numbers (and sometimes variables to represent numbers whose values you
haven't figured out yet), you can forget about the details, and
concentrate on the part of the problem that interests you. And you get
to use the same set of tools on a wide variety of problems.

There's another very important aspect of numbers that makes them
tremendously valuable: Unlike objects in the real world, they're free.
You can make up all the numbers you want, and do whatever you want to
them, and the only cost to you is for pen and paper, or a calculator
or computer, or whatever you use to keep track of them.

There is a very funny _Calvin and Hobbes_ in which Calvin asks his
father how you figure out the load limit on a bridge. His father
replies that you build the bridge, and then drive heavier and heavier
trucks over it until it breaks. Then you weigh the last truck that
made it safely, and rebuild the bridge.

He's kidding, of course but (as is so often the case in _Calvin and
Hobbes_) he's also making an important point. To go out and try things
in the real world can be difficult and expensive. If we can get the
same answers by simulating a world and then using that simulated world
as a place to try out our ideas, we can save time, money, effort...
and even lives.  Before a commercial pilot gets to fly a real
airliner, he spends thousands of hours 'flying' it in a simulator. And
if he accidentally 'lands' the plane in San Francisco Bay, no one gets
hurt.

How do we build these simulated worlds? We build them using numbers.
Not every mathematical calculation is as complicated as trying to
predict what happens when you move some gizmo in the cockpit of a
Boeing 747, but the ones that qualify as 'models' share this same
general idea, i.e., that you can use numbers to represent objects in
the world, and operations on numbers to represent possible actions
taken on or by those objects. Maybe the problem you're solving
involves choosing the best shape for a garden, or figuring out how
many pens and pencils can be purchased for a certain amount of money.
You could solve the problems by building (and re-building, and re-
building) the garden, or by getting some pens and pencils and trying
out all the different combinations... but it's much easier to use
numbers to simulate the objects, and play with the numbers instead.

In the end, that's all that 'mathematical modeling' is: simulating
objects and actions by using numbers, so that you can solve problems
of solving them in days or months or years, at great expense, and with
great effort.

We tend to think of it as something very complicated, but there's
really no lower bound on complexity that has to be met in order to
qualify as a 'model'.  If I have 6 boxes, each of which has a volume
of 12 cubic feet, can I fit them in my car, which has a cargo space of
65 cubic feet? I let the numbers represent actual physical space, and
I compare numbers instead of comparing spaces directly. Guess what?
That's a model.

Does this help?

- Doctor Ian, The Math Forum
http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
```

```
Date: 11/08/2002 at 13:51:58
From: Joy McCarnan
Subject: Thank you (Math modeling vs. calculations)

Thank you, Dr. Ian. I shared your explanation with the company
president. He and I are in the process of compiling some material on
math modeling in order to convey it to some contacts at our subsidiary
office in India. The clarity and universal nature of your answer has
helped me understand the concepts better, and it's given the president
some presentation ideas. We both really enjoyed and benefited from the

Joy McCarnan
Universal Technical Systems, Inc.
Rockford, IL
```
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