What is the Difference Between Chemistry & Physics?

What is the Difference Between Chemistry & Physics?
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  • 0:00 Comparing the Sciences
  • 1:07 The Field of Physics
  • 2:01 The Field of Chemistry
  • 2:25 Major Differences
  • 3:32 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.

Chemistry and physics are both physical sciences and are both interested in the structure of matter. However, they also have a great deal of differences. In this lesson, we'll compare and contrast the fields of chemistry and physics.

Comparing the Sciences

Science is the systematic study of the universe around us through a process of observation and experimentation. Its primary feature is the scientific method, by which knowledge is gained and tested. Therefore, science is less a body of knowledge, and more a philosophy and methodology. However, we do, nevertheless, split the various areas of knowledge that people focus on into scientific fields. These fields include physical sciences like chemistry, physics, earth sciences, and space sciences, as well as life sciences like biology, social sciences like anthropology and psychology, and applied sciences like engineering.

Chemistry and physics are two fields that have a lot in common with one another. They're both physical sciences, and both study the structure and properties of matter. In this sense they are both rather abstract and focus on the very tiny (though physics also focuses on the very large). Let's look at what these two sciences are about, and how they are different.

The Field of Physics

The goal of physics is to understand the entire universe in a fundamental way. Physicists collect data about the world and use it to derive basic, mathematical laws that explain how everything in the universe functions. The holy grail of physics would be to discover a theory of everything that unifies all the mathematical laws physicists have discovered thus far. Physics explains everything from the tiniest particles known to exist (like neutrinos and the quarks that make up protons and neutrons), all the way up to the largest things in existence, such as studying the origin and expansion of the universe itself.

By explaining the very tiny and the gigantic, physics hopes to explain everything else in between by connection. Physics involves a great deal of mathematical rigor and tends to focus on simplified situations that enable basic natural laws to be defined.

The Field of Chemistry

Chemistry, on the other hand, focuses on the state, composition, structure, and properties of matter. Chemistry looks at how matter is structured, and how matter changes over time and through events like chemical reactions. Chemistry focuses on a particular scale - the scale of atoms, molecules, and mixtures. It looks at chemical changes that occur in all types of matter.

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