Natural science is a branch of science that seeks to understand natural phenomena, i.e. the processes we see in nature. This is distinct from theoretical sciences (such as mathematics or philosophy) which aim to come up with theories that can explain these natural phenomena.
Natural science is a very broad subject composed of five main branches. These are:
- Earth sciences
Branches of Natural Sciences
Natural science can be broadly divided into two main branches; these are life science and physical science. Life science is also known as biology, which is the study of living things. Physical science has four subdivisions, which are:
- Astronomy (the study of space)
- Chemistry (the study of substances)
- Earth sciences (the study of our planet)
- Physics (the study of matter and energy).
What is Biology?
The word ‘biology’ comes from the Greek words ‘bios’ (meaning life) and ‘logos’ (meaning study). So biology (AKA life science) is the study of living things and what they do. Biology is a highly diverse subject with many different areas of study.
These include morphology (the study of life structures), botany (the study of plants), zoology (the study of animals), genetics (the study of genes), microbiology (the study of microorganisms), and many, many more.
What is Astronomy?
Astronomy is the study of celestial objects and space in general; basically, everything beyond Earth’s atmosphere. The word ‘astronomy’ is composed of two Greek words: ‘astron’ (meaning star) and ‘omos’ (meaning arranging).
Astronomers study celestial bodies that can be seen from Earth (like the moon, the sun, the stars, and some planets), but also faraway galaxies that can only be observed using powerful telescopes. Astronomy also involves the study of phenomena such as black holes, and theories about dark matter and dark energy.
What is Chemistry?
Chemistry is the study of substances, or matter (i.e. all the ‘stuff’ that makes up the physical world). The purpose of chemistry is to understand the composition, structure, and properties of substances (defined as elements and compounds), and the changes they undergo when reacting with other substances.
Chemistry also involves the study of how energy is released or absorbed during those reactions.
There are several different branches of chemistry, some of which overlap with physics and biology. The five main branches of chemistry are:
- Organic chemistry
- Inorganic chemistry
- Physical chemistry
- Analytical chemistry
What is Earth Science?
Earth science (AKA geoscience) is the study of planet Earth and everything that goes on here. This includes the study of the solid Earth, its oceans, and its atmosphere, as well as the origin and evolution of the planet. There are four major branches of Earth science; these are geology, meteorology, astronomy, and oceanography.
Geology is the study of the origin, history, and structure of the geosphere, i.e. the solid Earth. This includes the study of different rock types, the movement of the Earth’s crust, volcanoes, and earthquakes, among other things. Meteorology is the study of the Earth’s weather and climate, astronomy is the study of space, and oceanography is the study of the oceans and their tides, composition, and ecosystems.
What is Physics?
Physics is thought to be one of the oldest academic disciplines on Earth and involves the study of matter, energy, forces, mass and charge. The word ‘physics’ comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘physis,’ meaning nature. Ultimately, physics seeks to make sense of the universe and the laws that govern it.
Physics can be broadly divided into two main branches. These are classical physics (involving theories that predate the 1900s) and modern physics (post-1900 physics that makes use of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity).
Natural Science Museums
Natural history and natural science museums are dedicated to improving our understanding of the natural world. They contain natural history collections that showcase records of natural phenomena and may contain specimens of animals, plants, fossils, rocks, and minerals.
Studying Natural Science
Natural science is a diverse and fascinating topic, and many people choose to study it in-depth at college or university. The multidisciplinary nature of natural science appeals to people with a broad interest in the natural world, though many courses allow students to specialize in an area of their choice.