Analogies form part of a family of creative devices – including similes, metaphors and models – used by scientists and teachers to convey explanations, arguments and questions about science. The basis of the analogy is that it enables unfamiliar concepts to be understood by comparing them with familiar objects. It is this feature which makes analogy central to the understanding of science and understanding in science. As Robert Oppenheimer (1956) observed:

Analogy is indeed an indispensable and inevitable tool for scientific progress. … We come to new things in science with what equipment we have, which is how we have learned to think, and above all, how we have learned to think about the relatedness of things. We cannot, coming into something new, deal with it except on the basis of the familiar and the old fashioned.