The Natural Sciences aim to understand, describe and predict naturally occurring phenomena that are considered to be part of the natural world; i.e. the life sciences and the physical sciences.
Scientific fields that aim to understand, describe and predict naturally occurring phenomena are considered to be part of the natural sciences. The data collected is based on both observation and experimentation, which collects empirical evidence to identify consistent patterns and verify theories as truths.
Defining Natural Sciences
Typically, the natural sciences fall into one of two central branches. The first branch is life sciences, which revolve around biological studies. Physical sciences comprise the second branch. This branch contains astronomy, chemistry, earth science and physics.
Natural Sciences of Living Organisms
As a branch, life science is biological science. These terms are interchangeable; however, the various subdivisions within the branch include focuses on different living organisms. Fields within this category tend to focus on specific organisms, their functions, their compositions and their interaction with the world around them (e.g., botany focuses on plants, ecology focuses on ecosystems). Moreover, studies in this area often enhance the quality of life for animals, plants, ecosystems and humans alike.
Animals, plants, microorganisms and humans are all types of living things studied within biological sciences. Biology is in and of itself the study of life. Work in this area seeks to describe and understand living organisms from their physical structure, chemical processes and molecular interactions to their development, evolution and ecological interactions.
While there is a lot of complexity within this branch of natural science, it is a unified approach to interpreting the world of living organisms. To start, biology identifies cells as the most basic unit of life. Anything comprised of cells, therefore, are living organisms. Secondly, genes are seen as the source of heredity. Lastly, evolution is the premise for both the creation and extinction of all species. It is through the ability to adapt and transform that a species either thrives or becomes extinct.
Of note, biology contains two central fields: theoretical and experimental. In the former area of research, biologists use mathematical means to create abstract, quantitative models of living organisms. This allows researchers to clearly identify and quantify governing structures of living organisms, as well as the behavior and development of those systems. Experimental biology, on the other hand, conducts physical experiments designed to prove theories.
As a natural science, the branch of biology has broad applications. Studies within the field frequently inform the industries of agriculture, food science, medicine, pharmaceutical sciences and veterinary sciences.
Natural Sciences of Non-living Organisms
Physical sciences are those that seek to explain natural phenomena through experimentation and confirmation of hypotheses. Moreover, this field aims to predict how and when phenomena will occur based on analyzing trends in empirical data. Because these phenomena are not linked to living beings, the classification of study is unique from life science.
Chemistry is ultimately the study of matter, which is contingent on atomic particles coming together to form various bonds. In looking at atomic matter composed of chemical elements, we begin to enter studies in this field. This area of natural science takes interest in chemical behavior, composition, properties, structure and reactions. More so, the field looks at how these elements change in relation to chemical reactions.
Chemists primarily focus on how atoms interact with one another to create chemical bonds. These bonds form chemical compounds that can be further tested and analyzed. As such, analysis of these elements and their microscopic components make the field broadly applicable to other fields and within applied sciences.
As a large base of knowledge for numerous fields within the life sciences, other physical sciences and applied sciences, chemistry seems to be the glue holding together much of our understanding of the world. The processes analyzed and the discoveries made through chemical experimentation have made it generally invaluable to a well-rounded education in science.
Planet Earth is the foundation for all studies and interests as humans work to better understand their home. Earth sciences, or geosciences, literally study the planet through several fields focused on unique aspects of it.
As a branch of natural science within the physical sciences, Earth science can be broken down further into several fields. These are atmospheric sciences, geology, geography, oceanography and planetary science. Within each of these fields are specific areas of scientific study that focus on unique natural phenomena. Below is a quick definitional breakdown of the broader categories within geoscience and a couple of examples of studies within them.
- Atmospheric sciences investigate properties and processes of the atmosphere. Climate studies are important within this field and include investigating basic principles, chemical properties and unique natural phenomena.
- Geology studies Earth’s components. Some geological studies also study the history of these components to better understand their development. From the study of prehistoric life (paleontology) to the study of modern environmental problems (environmental geology), geology encompasses a large body of knowledge to discern numerous aspects about Earth itself.
- Geography is the study of the terrestrial surface, including how it forms, what landscapes exist, and how animals and humans populate and use it. Within this field are numerous forms of applied science and social science, making it highly interdisciplinary.
- Oceanography is the study of the ocean’s physical and biological properties. Whether oceanographers participate in mapping the ocean floor in a geological capacity or study the ocean holistically from a biological perspective to understand the interactions of organisms, they all participate in contributing to this field.
- Planetary science investigates planetary systems, including planets themselves and their moons. This field continues to grow with space exploration and the frequent discovery of new space elements.
Matter, motion, space, time, energy, force — these components create the foundation for the field of physics. This branch of natural science aims to understand how the universe behaves through a broad analysis of nature. Because of its unique area of study, the field holds its own nomenclature in order to better identify phenomena it analyzes.
Through the use of the scientific method, physicists are able to identify the so-called rules of nature. They are able to investigate the elements that interact to create and change energy and force. Moreover, the field consistently updates our understanding of non-living organisms through experimentation and analysis.
Interestingly, physics is a highly applicable science, informing engineering and applied mathematics. Without a strong understanding of the principles within this discipline, innovations would be far more limited.
Although space science is typically referred to simply as astronomy, it is actually a large discipline involving space exploration, the study of natural phenomena in space, the study of planets and other physical bodies and more. Ultimately, this natural science focuses on understanding the universe and breaking down the unknown into compartmentalized concepts.
Within the space sciences are astronomy, aerospace engineering, astrobiology, astrobotany, cosmochemistry, cosmology, planetary science, micro-g environment research, forensic astronomy, space archaeology, space medicine, space architecture and archaeoastronomy. Of these, astronomy and aerospace engineering are perhaps the most famous.
Briefly, astronomy aims to understand celestial entities through various means, including observation and mathematical modelling. Beyond those “basics,” there is a large amount of theorizing about the universe. Aerospace engineering, however, involves the movement of humans and objects into space. Namely, within this discipline, there are astronauts and engineers seeking to understand the universe through more physical encounters.