Simulate Something

If you want to see how a model’s behavior changes over time, you can run a simulation. Simulations can be done using models in real life, but often computers are used to run simulations in the virtual world.

Computer simulations can be very simple, running on a single computer in a matter of seconds. Or they can be very complex, requiring a room full of networked computers working over several days.

Crash Test Dummy / Pong

(left) The tennis simulator Pong was developed in 1972. (right) Crash tests are an example of real-life simulation models.

Powerful Computers Can Run Complex Simulations

Blue Horizon

This image shows the visible matter inside a cube representing 248 million light-years. This was the world's most complex scientific simulation of the evolution of the universe ever performed. Michael Norman, a cosmologist from the University of California, San Diego, ran the simulation for more than 130 hours on 512 processors of the Blue Horizon supercomputer.

This simulation required tracking more than a billion particles and performing calculations in more than a billion cells for more than 3 billion years of simulated time.

Image Credit: Michael Norman, Pascal Paschos, UCSD; Robert Harkness, SDSC

Computer Simulations Record Change Over Time

Like individual pages in a flip book, computer simulations preserve snapshots of calculations over time. Each snapshot shows the output of a calculation using a slightly different input value. By putting the snapshots together, the simulation presents an animated view of change over time.


Mathematical Models: the Backbone of Simulations

Mathematical models provide the equations and rules that define a process. Because mathematical models use numerical inputs and outputs, they allow you to see very specifically how a system evolves over time.

When you gather the numerical values as the simulation progresses, you are left with a comprehensive set of data showing values at every step of the process.

  • Astrophysicists have created simulations of Earth’s first 500 years of existence.
    Video credit: Simone Marchi

  • Water Simulation

    Water resource managers use simulations to analyze how changes in water use impact supply.
    Image credit: GoldSim

  • Geographers have used computer simulations to characterize the motion of an avalanche as it flows down a mountain.
    Video credit: WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF

  • In factories, computer simulations can help optimize processes used to manufacture products.
    Image credit: Siemens PLM, DELMIA, S-Pridis, ICAM Technologies

  • Finanace Simulation

    Financial analysts use computer simulations to see how changes in the global economy could impact financial assets.
    Image credit: Goddard Consulting

  • Climate scientists simulate Earth’s atmosphere to study how global fossil fuel emissions influence air temperature over time.​
    Image credit: Met Office Hadley Centre

  • When threat of a disease epidemic arises, health researchers use computer simulations to track the disease and predict how it might spread.
    Video credit:

  • Engineers create computer simulations to test traffic flow on proposed roads.
    Image credit: The Traffic Group, Inc., Braidwood Associates, SimWalk, City of Salem

APA format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. (2015, March 15) Simulate Something. Retrieved February 28, 2024, from

CSE format:

Simulate Something [Internet]. Salt Lake City (UT): Genetic Science Learning Center; 2015 [cited 2024 Feb 28] Available from

Chicago format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. "Simulate Something." Learn.Genetics. March 15, 2015. Accessed February 28, 2024.