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The Main Branches and Sub-Branches of Physical Science

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  • 1:00 Physics
  • 2:08 Chemistry
  • 3:10 Geology
  • 4:29 Meteorology
  • 5:20 Astronomy
  • 6:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The physical sciences study non-living things. That is a lot of stuff! In the physical sciences, you might study the Earth, air or space. Learn about the two main branches, physics and chemistry, as well as sub-branches, like geology and meteorology.

Physical Science

Are you fascinated by explosions or reactions that cause substances to pop, fizz or go poof? Do you wonder how race cars go so fast? Do you look at the sky and Earth and find your mind filled with questions? Then maybe you should consider a career in physical science.

Physical science is the study of non-living things, like matter, energy, space and time. As you can see, this is a big topic. In fact, you could say that whenever you question any non-living aspect of Earth, Earth's atmosphere or space, you are investigating the field of physical science.

Because physical science is such a broad topic, we can break it into branches. In this lesson, we will learn about the two main branches of physical science, namely physics and chemistry, as well as a few sub-branches.

Physics

Let's start with physics, since it's really where the whole story of physical science gets started. Physics is the branch of physical science that studies matter and energy.

When you were about one-year-old, you learned how to walk. Learning how to walk involves falling, which, believe it or not, was one of your first lessons in physics. In that case, you were the matter and the energy that made you fall came from the force of gravity applying itself to your diapered bottom.

Physics is a huge topic. Those in the discipline are curious about the many different ways energy and forces affect matter. A physicist has many areas in which to explore, including the study of motion, electricity or waves. When you ask yourself questions like, how can I make a pinewood derby car move faster down the track?, how does my light turn on when I plug it into the outlet?, and how do waves form in the ocean to make surfing fun?, you are exploring the world of physics.

Chemistry

If you ever found yourself wondering what chemicals get mixed together to make the detergent you use to get your clothes clean, or what makes dry ice bubble and brew when you splash it with water, then you have a natural interest in chemistry. Chemistry is the branch of physical science that studies the substances that make up matter and how matter changes.

Since we know that matter is everything you touch, see, feel and smell, you can see that chemistry, like physics, is a big topic. Matter is made up of microscopic atoms, which are made up of even smaller subatomic particles, called protons, neutrons, and electrons. So, part of a chemist's job is to sort through matter and determine what it is made of. But, don't start thinking chemistry is boring and tedious. Without chemistry, we wouldn't have the excitement of fireworks, which are really just controlled chemical reactions.

Geology

We owe a lot of gratitude to the early scientists that studied their environment and gave us the disciplines of physics and chemistry. Their hard work allowed sub-branches of physical science to be born.

One of those sub-branches is geology, which is the study of planet Earth. A geologist is someone who thinks about what the Earth is made of, how it formed and how it changes over time.

When a geologist looks out over a valley or a rocky cliff, he or she sees clues that help answer questions about the past history of the area. Geologists study things like the minerals in rocks or soil, fossils and erosion patterns caused by wind and water. The interpretation of these things tells the story of the Earth's past. Thanks to the study of geology, we have a better understanding of natural events, like volcanoes and earthquakes.

We also can credit geology with the understanding of how to use natural resources. For example, geology helps farmers find the right soil composition for growing crops, helps energy companies find fossil fuels and even helps your jeweler find the perfect diamond to place in your wedding ring.

Meteorology

If you don't want to have your nose in the ground but still want to study a sub-branch of physical science, then meteorology might be more your speed. Meteorology is the study of the atmosphere. If you watch the evening news, you will likely see a meteorologist in action as he or she describes the weather forecast.

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