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
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.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

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

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Additional Activities

Careers in Science

In this research activity, students will learn about different careers in each of the three branches of science. Students will use academic sources, such as from professional societies like the American Astronomical Society, from colleges and universities or news outlets. For example, students might fill in the table for an astronomer as shown below:

Branch of ScienceCareerDescriptionSalaryRequired EducationSources
PhysicalAstronomerAstronomers study the planets, stars, and outer space through conducting research. Many of them also teach at universitiesAbout $100,000A Ph.D. or Master's degree in astronomy or physicsAmerican Astronomical Society

Student Instructions

In this activity, you'll be learning more about the possible career choices in each of the three branches of natural science. For each branch, fill in the table below with a particular career in that branch, a description of what that person does and the source you used to find the information. Make sure to use credible sources, such as those from scientists, news outlets, or professional associations. Then, answer the questions below.

Branch of ScienceCareerDescriptionSalarySources

Reflection Questions

  • Did you research any careers you might be interested in pursuing? Why or why not?
  • What kind of education was needed for most careers in natural science?

Expected Results

Students may or may not be interested in any of the careers explained in the lesson. Try to help students understand that there are many different careers in natural sciences and some may be more interesting than others. Most careers in the natural sciences require at least a Bachelor's degree if not a higher degree.

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