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Three Branches of Natural Science: Physical, Earth & Life

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  • 0:00 What is Science?
  • 0:56 The Three Branches of Science
  • 2:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to explain what science is. You will be able to distinguish between the three branches of natural science: physical, Earth and life science.

What Is Science?

Science is a set of tools and systematic methods for studying the natural world through observation and experimentation. Or more simply, science is a way of exploring and understanding the physical world.

We humans love to find patterns, and we've been looking for patterns in the world as long as we've existed. Our brains, however, are not very reliable when it comes to identifying and explaining those patterns. In fact, we can be pretty terrible at it. We get sick, and we assume it was the last thing we ate, even though it almost never is. We see a cold winter and call climate change a hoax. So, many of our instincts are objectively wrong.

Science is a way of avoiding that by using a systematic method called the scientific method: identify the problem, gather data, create a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, does the new data agree with the hypothesis?

The Scientific Method Simplified
The Scientific Method Simplified

The Three Branches of Science

There are three main branches of science: physical science, Earth science and life science. Let's talk about each branch and the areas of study within each branch.

Physics is Part of Physical Science
Physics is Part of Physical Science

Physical science is the study of inanimate natural objects and the laws that govern them. It includes physics, chemistry, and astronomy. In physics, we try to break down the whole universe into a set of fundamental, mathematical laws that explain the smallest things in the universe and the largest. In chemistry, we study the composition, structure, changes and properties of matter: focusing on the scale of chemical bonds and reactions. And in astronomy, we study celestial objects, including the origin of the planet on which we live.

Physical Science Also Includes Chemistry
Physical Science Also Includes Chemistry

Earth science is the study of the Earth and the physical components that make it up: the constitution of the atmosphere, the seas, the land, and how those things are tied together. It includes geology, oceanography, meteorology and paleontology. Paleontology, the study of life that lived in prehistoric and geologic periods, has some overlap with the life sciences. And other parts of Earth science have a lot of overlap with physical science.

Earth Science Includes Volcanoes, Earthquakes, the Atmosphere, the Core of the Planet, and Much More
Earth Science Includes Volcanoes, Earthquakes, the Atmosphere, the Core of the Planet, and Much More

Life science is the study of living organisms, including microorganisms, plants, animals and human beings. It explains how they work, and why they are the way they are: evolution and genetics. It even comprises more philosophical considerations, like bioethics. The life sciences include biology, botany, zoology, ecology, genetics and medicine, among many more. Life is such a major part of the world around us that there are literally dozens of fields in life science.

Life Sciences Include These Topics and More
Life Sciences Include These Topics and More

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