In class this semester, we learned about two different types of variables. Variables may be continuous or counted. Counted variables are, perhaps obviously, things we can count. They are represented by ordinal numbers. Let’s look at these two types of variables in a real life example: the Publix marathon. The Publix marathon took place in Atlanta a few weeks ago. There were 1,378 participants. There were 909 male participants. The number of people is a counted variable. What continuous variables are there in the Publix marathon? Time is a continuous variable.
You might think time isn’t a continuous variable because you can count it. You can tell me what time it is: “It’s 12:30”. Looking at the difference between second and third place overall winners (which can be found here), minutes are specific enough to separate them. There are 13 minutes separating these two runners. Sometimes though, time needs to be more specific than just hours and minutes. The 9th and 10th place finishers overall, Jacob and Jeffery Law are separated by 1 second. These two, who appear to be brothers, ran the whole race together with the same pace of 6:46 per mile but in the end one of them had to finish before the other. Since time is continuous, Jacob, the older brother, gets to brag about beating his brother in a marathon.
Still, we all learned that a second is “one Mississippi” in kindergarten. We can find things that are measured in less than a second by turning away from an everyday example and back towards science. In my lab, to determine enzyme kinetics we use a rapid flow quench machine.
This machine allows for a minimal reaction time of 2.5 milliseconds! An example of the data generated from this machine can be seen below where one student in our lab collected five data points in 0.5 seconds.
Whether you are trying to win a marathon or determine the kinetics of your favorite enzyme, the fact that time is a continuous variable is a good for you.