Gaussian (Normal) Distributions In Science

The Gaussian – also known as “Normal” – distribution is used and abused in many domains. In Manufacturing, this includes quality assurance, supply-chain management,  and human resources. This is the first in a series of posts aimed at understanding the range of applicability of this tool. 

Googling uses of the normal distribution produces nearly 1 million results. Yet the top ones all ignore science, even when you narrow the query to physics, and this post attempts to remedy this. For example, the Gaussian distribution plays a central role in modeling Brownian motion, diffusion processes, heat transfer by conduction, the measurement of star positions, and the theory of gases.

These matter not just because the models are useful but also because they anchor this abstraction in physical phenomena that we can experience with no more equipment than is used in a Middle School science project. This post will not help you solve a shop floor problem by the end of the day, but I hope you will find it nonetheless enlightening. 

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