The natural sciences are branches of science that explore the complexity of the natural world.
Some of the biggest discoveries and fascinating research that you read about in the news from scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson or the late Stephen Hawking are in the natural sciences. For instance, you probably saw the first image of a black hole floating all over the internet recently. Or maybe you like to keep up with the constant discoveries about dinosaurs and the fossil record. You might also be keeping up with the news on climate change science—I know I am!
All of these things fall into the realm of the natural sciences. The field aims 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. Areas within these two branches include biology, chemistry, Earth sciences, physics, and space sciences. The methods used to study these areas focus on gathering empirical evidence from experiments and observation.
The natural sciences materials that I present to you here will help you understand the methods, goals, and trends in the field. I hope you can use them to satisfy your curiosity or to move up in a natural science career.
What are the Natural Sciences?
Scientific fields that aim to understand, describe, and predict naturally occurring phenomena are considered to be part of the natural sciences. This includes areas such as physics, biology, chemistry, and Earth and space sciences. Studying these topics helps us understand the world we live in. This then allows us to adapt and improve our way of life.
Thus, the natural sciences are becoming a big part of modern life, as I am sure you know. Not only are they part of much of the technology, medicine, and other modern marvels of the world, but they also play into our everyday lives. Many people need the natural sciences for their jobs. Many go to school to get degrees in natural sciences. Scientists can even be celebrities and role models on social media. Figures like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and Bill Nye are often household names, even for those who aren’t big into science. And natural science books are read both for education and out of pure curiosity by the public. In fact, that’s the whole reason you and I are both here—to get more involved!
This is great news, showing that taking a close look at the world around us is “cool“. And more importantly than being in style, it’s also possible for more people. By that I mean you don’t need to attend advanced classes in biology to learn about evolution. And I don’t need to work in a lab to know about climate change. Natural sciences books and other materials such as the ones I show you in this article make learning about these topics a possibility for everyone.
Science vs Natural Science
Science itself is more of a method than a body of knowledge. It consists of data collection based on both observation and experimentation. This lets scientists collects empirical evidence to identify consistent patterns and verify theories as truths.
This is called the scientific method, and I am going to emphasize its crucial role in science as a whole. It’s one of the first things students learn as young as elementary school, and one of the foundations of the field. I cover natural sciences topics here that reinforce the ideas of the scientific method as well as guide you through actually using it.
But within science as a whole exists various areas of focus. The natural sciences are one of these areas. Others include the formals sciences and social sciences. There isn’t really a set way that the sub-fields of science have to be split, so there are overlaps between the different types. But generally speaking, the natural sciences comprise one area in which science is used to study the natural physical world.
What is the Difference Between Natural and Formal Science?
One of the other branches of science that I mention above is formal science. I know that many people are not familiar with the specifics of formal science, so it gives a good example of the differences between different kinds of science.
Whereas natural sciences observe natural phenomena and gather data, formal science help to categorize and communicate that data. They provide languages like math, logic, and even computer programs that deal with the data. Once formal science is done with a set of data, an observer will be able to understand and analyze it for deeper meaning.
Which Subjects Are Included in the Natural Sciences?
Overall, 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.
Thus, I cover five main categories of material here: biology, chemistry, Earth sciences, physics, and space sciences. In each category you will find different styles of materials for different readers’ needs, although they often overlap with each other. Some have a focus on technical details for students and professionals. These often start with basics and include ways to practice knowledge in the form of example problems. Others provide reading material for anyone, aiming to educate on certain topics without getting too technical. Take a look to see what piques your interest. I recommend books and articles for very thorough material on specific topics, and online courses for active learning that helps you participate as you learn.
What Does a Degree in the Natural Sciences Entail?
Because of the range of topics in the natural sciences, a degree in one can vary greatly from a degree in another. However, they do usually share some key characteristics. They are usually interdisciplinary, at least to some degree. This means they will cover multiple sciences at the same time due to their overlapping and related nature. For example, biology has a lot to do with the chemistry of molecules within living things. And how objects behave in space has a lot to due with the physics of matter. So be prepared to take a variety of classes in multiple natural sciences topics, even if you only major in one.
I also think it’s important to consider that all of these classes will require large amounts of math and science skills. These include being very comfortable with mathematical equations, solid logic, the scientific method, and technical reading. And many of these skills will really be put to the test in hands-on scenarios. Lab work and field projects are common and very important in the field, so being comfortable working in various environments is crucial. And towards the end of a degree, you will likely conduct a capstone or research project that synthesizes everything you have learned.
What Can I Do With a Degree in the Natural Sciences?
Because of the dramatic rise of science and technology in the last couple centuries, degrees in the natural sciences are highly useful. The most common application is in research of any given field. But degrees in natural sciences can also be used as springboards for careers in other fields. For example, a bachelor’s in physics can easily lead to work in engineering, especially if it is combined with a minor or higher degree in an engineering field.
Other highly accessible occupations with a natural sciences degree include doctor, teacher or professor, surveyor, chemist, material scientist, biologist, physicist, geologist, and more. Due to the highly demanding nature of most of these positions, they usually pay quite well. To give you an idea, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that professors make a median pay of 78,470 dollars per year. And engineers make a median of 91,010 dollars, while geoscientists make a median of 91,1300 dollars per year. Each of these fields is also growing steadily, so now is the time to join their ranks.
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 that I introduce in this category tend to focus on specific organisms, their functions, their compositions, and their interaction with the world around them. For example, botany focuses on plants and ecology focuses on ecosystems. Moreover, studies in this area often enhance the quality of life for animals, plants, ecosystems, and humans alike.
Biology and the Living World
Animals, plants, microorganisms, and humans are all types of living things studied within biological sciences. 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.
The articles I link to on this subject include a wide range of topics. You can read a rundown of a number of them here, or check out individual articles that go more in-depth for particular topics. 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.
While I am sure you will find that there is a lot of complexity within this branch of natural science, I also hope to show that it is a unified approach to interpreting the world of living organisms. To start, biology identifies cells as the most basic unit of life. All things 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.
Further Investigation and Reading Materials
I think this area has always been somewhat mysterious, but we come closer to understanding it every day. It is the study of the physical structure, processes, and interactions of life, from the simplest single-celled creatures to the most intelligent primate on the planet. The natural sciences books I include here cover helpful basics such as Concepts of Biology. In this book, non-biology-major students and others can grasp fundamentals in the field.
This makes it great for those who need to take biology courses as part of their “core” classes in school, but don’t find the area to be their forte. It starts off by looking at cells and genetics, moving on to molecular biology, evolution, and ecology. It also includes how these areas are applicable to technology and other practical areas. I also recommend other books such as Cell and Molecular Biology if you’re new to the field. This book focuses on narrower areas, but still covers basic groundwork first. It ensures you understand concepts like cells and genetics before getting into the more advanced material.
Highly Rated Books and Courses on Biology
Below are a few more books that not only I recommend, but so do many people around the world. One of the most classic texts in biology is Richard Dawkin’s Selfish Gene. It has sold over a million copies, and for good reason. It showcases unique insights of Neo-Darwinism and galvanized the community in biology at the time. Although forty years have passed since its original publishing, you will find that it is as popular and relevant as ever.
Another older book I recommend is Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. It details the revolutionary conquest of mapping the human genome in the year 2000. But I don’t want to stop at humans; animals offer some great study as well. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? is a fascinating read into the world of what differentiates humans from animals.
Taking a step away from books, I have a few courses to recommend as well. Courses like Introductory Biology, Biology 101, and General Biology I are particularly helpful for students in the field. Through them, you can learn about basic biology of humans, plants, and other animals.
Natural Sciences of Non-living Organisms
Physical sciences are those that seek to explain physical 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 necessarily linked to living beings, the classification of study is unique from life science. It includes physics, chemistry, and Earth and space science, each of which I will cover in detail during the remainder of the article.
For a brief summary, physics can be thought of as the base study of matter and atoms. Then, chemistry expands on it by focusing on certain qualities and interactions of atoms. The Earth and space sciences zoom out further until you notice atoms less and materials more. At this point you can sometimes forget that the vastness of the planet and space come from such small origins! But as you read articles I provide here, you will continuously see the connections between these various natural sciences.
Chemistry and Reactions of Matter
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, I think of chemistry as 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.
Further Reading on Chemistry Topics
You will see that the material I provide in the area of chemistry shifts the focus away from life, at least for the most part. It looks at the matter itself which comprises both life and all other things that exist. But the focus is on the bonds between the matter and how these bonds make the matter behave and interact in terms of chemical behavior, properties, composition, and reactions.
As an introduction to the topic, I suggest books like General Chemistry: Principles, Patterns, and Applications. Students just starting out in the field can gain strong foundations through the fresh examples and comprehensive introduction it offers. For more intermediate students, I think books such as Chemistry 2e might be the right choice. It still reviews intro material, but also extends into new topics. This includes example problems that connect to real-world problems, as well as useful reference tools about various chemical properties and conversions. This book would be a great guide to help students through second-semester chemistry courses.
Highly Rated Books and Courses on Chemistry
Because the base unit for chemistry is the molecule, I suggest adding the book Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything to your reading journey. It goes over in detail how the periodic table elements combine into molecules that make up everything.
I then recommend Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide if you are in the midst of academic studying. It will help you brush up on fundamentals of chemistry in a fresh new approach. And for those wanting to focus on specific topics, something like Organic Chemistry As a Second Language is a great choice. You will find everything you need for the first semester of your O-Chem class, and more.
But if the book isn’t enough, you can get even deeper into organic chemistry with online courses such as Organic Chemistry Demystified. With over twelve hours of videos and real problem-solving exercises, you will master the nomenclature and other important parts of the topic.
Some other courses I recommend are Complete General Chemistry and Chemistry Exam: Electron configuration, Mass & Atomic Number. The first will give you a solid foundation in important topics and methods of solving problems. The second will help you apply that knowledge to exams.
Earth Sciences and the Planet
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, I will further break down Earth science articles into several fields for discussion. These fields 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.
The Four Main Sub-Fields
Atmospheric sciences investigate properties and processes of the atmosphere. Climate studies are important within this field and include investigating basic principles and chemical properties of the outermost layer of the Earth’s ecosystem.
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. Due to this interdisciplinary nature, you may want to broaden your scope by reading articles outside of the natural sciences. For example, you could check out the humanities material that I cover in another definitive guide.
Next, 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.
Further Reading in Earth Science
In the Earth sciences, I will cover various topics that weave together to form the systems that comprise the Earth. One of the most popular natural science topics within the Earth sciences is geology, which I provide various materials on. Geology is the science that allows us to see into the past of the planet. The rocks that form the Earth’s crust as well as the interior all give us clues about this past, and can also reveal other secrets.
For example, through geology we discover and extract valuable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels. I recommend the Laboratory Manual for Introductory Geology as it takes a hands-on approach to this topic. It can serve as a great resource for professors creating their lesson plan and students working on intro geology courses.
Apart from academic texts, I also hope that the natural sciences materials here provide some practical street knowledge as well. For instance, one of the geological events that regularly affects people is earthquakes. Because of this, I think Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest is an invaluable resource for anyone living in earthquake-prone zones looking to keep themselves safe. Other important Earth sciences topics that I try to cover thoroughly in these natural sciences materials include climate change, minerals, and water.
Highly Rated Books and Courses on Earth Sciences
If you want something exciting and thrilling, I suggest trying out Green Earth by Kim Robinson. Although fiction, it presents realistic possibilities for consequences of climate catastrophe on society. It uses real research to back up the narrative, bringing home just how real the danger is. The Weather Machine by Andrew Blum also takes a look at climate, but on the local scale of weather and in a different light that I would call less menacing. He chronicles the science behind predicting and reporting weather in the modern age of supercomputer models and calculations.
For a more academic read, I suggest the Foundations of Earth Science. It’s ideal for undergraduate students that have little to no background in the subject. In it you will find many visual displays and non-technical learning devices on various Earth science topics. Online courses can also provide this kind of introductory material, as well as more advanced programs. Introduction to Geology and Physical Geology are both good courses for getting strong foundations. And for a little something extra, I recommend Introduction to Geology & GIS. This is a powerful combination that I know is in demand in various companies.
Physics and Matter
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.
In the natural sciences articles and other material I provide here, you will see how physicists are able to identify the rules of nature through the use of the scientific method. 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.
I would argue that physics is the mother of all physical sciences since looks at all things relating to matter. This includes motion, time, space, force, and energy. It studies everything from tiny subatomic particles to entire galaxies and the universe itself. This all involves a great deal of calculations that many people find challenging, but the materials I cover here go to great effort to provide extra assistance.
Materials for Further Reading and Discovery
University Physics Volume 1, for example, specifically works to give a solid foundation for beginner students. Two of the more challenging yet relevant areas of physics are those of Quantum Mechanics and Special Relativity. Students won’t typically deal with these topics in-depth in first year classes, but will start to learn about their basics. Books on these calculation-heavy topics typically include thorough explanations and engaging examples all at a pace ideal for students.
Physics also plays a big role in other areas such as space sciences. Introductory natural sciences books like Astronomy will include a bit of physics in with other basics about gravity, planets, stars, and more. The solar system gets a spot in the limelight, but you will be able to explore the depths of space as well in the materials I discuss here.
Highly Rated Books and Courses on Physics
One of the biggest issues of our time in physics is the exploration of the quantum nature of space. You can get a good idea of the importance of the topic by reading Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity. Reviews say the author “makes physics sexy” by putting complicated topics into “elegant and accessible” terms.
Popular physics writers actually have a knack for such eloquence due to their persistent passion in their fields, as you can also see in For the Love of Physics. In fact, due to the nature of physics, many experts in the field are heavily involved in more creative fields like art and even philosophy. You’ll see what I mean if you check out The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.
To gain some practical skills, I suggest courses like Quantum Physics and Physics 100. They both go over the foundations like quantum physics, torque, and equilibrium. Courses like Game Physics can also show you how physics applies to other fields and potential careers.
Space Sciences Beyond Our Planet
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, I cover subtopics of 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.
Highly Rated Books and Courses on Space Sciences
If you’re into interdisciplinary titles, The Big Picture by Sean Carroll has hundreds of rave reviews online. It not only talks about space and the universe, but also out place in it and how we can attribute meaning to our lives. But for more pure space science, Turn Left at Orion offers the perfect guide for finding objects in the night sky. Welcome to the Universe, on the other hand, goes more into understanding the variety of objects that you will find there.
To get into the math of space science, online courses like Physics of Astronomy provide thorough means of practicing important concepts. And you can combine space science with engineering in courses like Rocket Engineering and Interstellar Space Propulsion or Astronautics and Space Technology for Future Human Missions.
Natural Sciences Frequency Asked Questions
For some quick answers, check out the short and sweet information I provide below. If something piques your interest, I also cover each of these topics in more detail in the material above.
What subjects are included in the natural sciences?
The natural sciences look at all parts of the natural world and its physical phenomena. Thus, the primary subjects are biology, chemistry, physics, Earth science, and space science.
What does a degree in the natural sciences entail?
Degree programs in the natural sciences will be rigorous in math and science. Core classes will include classes in the various branches (as well as courses outside of the natural sciences). Classes later in the degree gain a more narrow focus, and may start to focus more on research field projects.
What is the difference between natural science and formal science?
Natural science uses the scientific method to make observations and gather evidence about phenomena in the natural world. The formal sciences use math and logic to convert this gathered information into measurements and statements about nature.
What jobs can you do with a degree in a natural science?
The career paths in the natural sciences are varied and popular, and usually provide high pay. Some examples include biologist, chemist, physicist, or geologist. Areas of work might be as a technician, teacher, researcher, consultant, or engineer.
I hope the above information has made it clear how diverse and rich the field of natural science is. Of course, there’s so much to cover in the field that I couldn’t get anywhere close to exploring it all in detail. But it is my goal that you will have found something that encourages you to dig deeper into the fascinating wealth of information on the subject. If there is something you haven’t tried before, give it a go. Maybe you’re familiar biology, but have never tried and online course on it. Or maybe physics interests you, but you always found the math too intimidating to give it it a try.
Well, now is your chance! By getting involved in one of the natural sciences, you will open the door to a myriad of opportunities.
Degrees in the field lead to fascinating jobs that put you on track to make a difference in society. And if you already have a degree, there is always room to hone your skills further to move up the ladder or even change the direction you want to go.
Which of the natural sciences do you think is most critical for modern society? Which do you think has the highest potential to make the biggest impact in the future?