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The Different Types of Chemistry

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Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

Expert Contributor
Dawn Mills

Dawn has taught chemistry and forensic courses at the college level for 9 years. She has a PhD in Chemistry and is an author of peer reviewed publications in chemistry.

Explore the five main types of chemistry and what each field studies regarding matter and the changes in matter. Discover the difference between physical chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry. Updated: 12/13/2021

The Types of Chemistry

When we think about chemistry we often think about combining chemicals and watching them explode. This is certainly a part of it, but did you know that there are many different types of chemistry?

Chemistry is the study of matter and how matter changes. When chemists watch chemicals explode they are actually studying how those chemicals change, into light, sound, and heat specifically, when they are combined.

There are five main types of chemistry: physical, analytical, biochemical, organic, and inorganic. The different types focus on different aspects of matter. Let's take a closer look at each one.

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  • 0:00 The Types of Chemistry
  • 0:43 Physical Chemistry
  • 1:45 Analytical Chemistry
  • 2:20 Biochemistry
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Physical Chemistry

Physical chemistry is the study of how matter behaves and its physical arrangement. This includes rates of reactions, or what causes a reaction to occur quickly or slowly. For example, when we mix baking soda and vinegar we almost immediately see intense foaming. This has a quick rate of reaction. And yet, if we subject iron to air and water, it has a much slower rate of reaction and may take years to rust.

Physical chemistry can also study how light interacts with matter. This is important for spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is a method that we use to determine what type of chemicals are in a substance. Since different types of matter will interact with light differently, we can identify it based on how it interacts with light. This has helped us know what faraway planets are made of. Other examples includes studying the shape of a molecule, and how stable a substance is. In general, physical chemistry studies matter on an atomic level.

Analytical Chemistry

Analytical chemistry focuses on identifying and quantifying matter. It asks 'What is this? How much is there is in this substance? It may use some of the techniques from physical chemistry, among others, in order to determine this.

There are many methods to identify and quantify matter. This may be as simple as measuring the ionic concentration to determine how much salt is in a material, or as complex as seeing how much a specific microbe grows to determine the amount of folate is in a material. Both of these methods identify and quantify matter.


Biochemistry looks at chemical principles in biology. For example, in the human body, oxygen attaches to hemoglobin when we breathe, which is then transported to the blood. This oxygen is then used to react with other substances, allowing us to survive. Another example is the different reactions that occur when sunlight hits a plant, which is then converted to energy.

Biochemistry is an important aspect in the medical world. It helps us to know what nutrients we need in our body, or diagnose mysterious symptoms. By knowing how the body is supposed to work we can figure out how to fix it when it doesn't.

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Additional Activities

Chemistry Types

Consider the scenarios below and determine which area(s) of chemistry are applicable or represented in each circumstance. Oftentimes multiple areas of chemistry may be combined within a business or job.

Scenario 1

You were offered an internship during school with a local company that involves chemistry. In this position, you are required to analyze unknown samples using a variety of chemical instruments. These instruments are able to determine the composition of the samples (i.e. identity). You are also taught methods to quantify the different chemicals present in each sample.

Scenario 2

You start a position with a pharmaceutical company after completing your degree in chemistry. Over the years you stay with the company as your role changes. In the beginning, you synthesized new medicines in the laboratory using a variety of solvents and reactants. After synthesizing the chemicals you purified them to ensure there were no trace contaminants. A couple of years later you decide to change positions within the company. At this time you are studying how the new medicines affect human subjects and if there are any adverse effects. In order to do this, you collect samples from the participants, such as blood and urine, while recording all observations.

Scenario 3

You start working with a company that focuses on environmental cleanup. In this position, you collect soil samples in the field and bring them back to the laboratory for analysis. You determine the metals present in the samples, such as lead and iron. You also try to determine other molecules that may be contaminating the soil, such as pesticides. In addition to identifying these contaminants, you will use additional instrumentation and procedures to quantify them.


1. Analytical chemistry - this involves separating components in mixtures using instrumentation and quantification.

2. Organic chemistry - synthesis of compounds; biochemistry - studying effects of medicines on the body.

3. Inorganic chemistry - analyzing inorganic compounds such as metals; analytical chemistry - analyzing organic compounds using instrumentation.

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