Physical science

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Physical science is an encompassing term for the branches of natural science, and science (generally), that study non-living systems, in contrast to the biological sciences. However, the term "physical" creates an unintended, somewhat arbitary distinction, since many branches of physical science also study biological phenomena.

Mathematics is not a natural or physical science, which are studies of this particular natural universe. Rather, mathematics is the search for fundamental truths in pattern, quantity, and change. For more on the relationship between mathematics and science, refer to the article on science.

The physical sciences are also distinct from engineering, which is the practice and method of applying scientific and empirical knowledge to service of humanity.


The physical sciences include:

  • Astronomy, the study of the universe beyond the atmosphere of the Earth.
  • Chemistry, the science dealing with the composition of substances, their interactions with energy and each other.
  • Many of the earth sciences, including:
    • Geography, the broad study of physical, ecological and political variations across the Earth's surface.
    • Geology, the study of the planetary structure of Earth and the physical processes which shape it.
    • Hydrology, the study of the movement and distribution of water across the Earth's surface.
    • Meteorology, the study of weather patterns and other atmospheric phenomena.
  • Physics, the quantitative science dealing with matter and energy.

Basic principles

The foundations of the physical sciences rests upon key concepts and theories, each of which explains and/or models a particular aspect of the behavior of nature. As in other sciences, these key concepts and theories came to discovery using the scientific method.

Natural sciences generally, and physical sciences particularly, tend to be more reductionist sciences, in contrast to the more holistic social sciences; i.e., physical science tends to explain the whole system from the system's fundamental parts, whereas social science tends to explain the whole system as more than the mere sum of its fundamental parts.

The key concepts and theories of physical science are taught from early childhood and provide the grounding for our common-sensical understanding of the universe.


Astronomy is the science of celestial bodies and their interactions in space. Its studies includes the following:

(Note: Astronomy should not be confused with astrology, which assumes that people's destiny and human affairs in general are correlated to the apparent positions of astronomical objects in the sky -- although the two fields share a common origin, they are quite different; astronomers embrace the scientific method, while astrologers do not.)


Chemistry is the science of matter mainly at the micro-level. Its studies include the following:

Earth science

Earth science is the science of the planet Earth, the only known life-bearing planet. Its studies include the following:


Physics is the science of nature in the broadest sense, dealing with the fundamentals of matter, energy, and the forces of nature governing the interactions between particles. Physics is sometimes said to be the "fundamental science" because the other natural sciences (biology, chemistry, geology, etc.) deal with particular systems that obey the laws of physics. For example, chemistry, the science of chemicals, is accurately described by principles of physics, such as quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism.

Notable physical scientists

For a more comprehensive list of scientists, see the list of scientists, especially the following:
List of astronomers
List of chemists
List of geologists
List of meteorologists, and
List of physicists.

  • Einstein, Albert, a theoretical physicist, is widely regarded as the greatest scientist of the 20th century. He proposed the theory of relativity and was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics, among other accomplishments.
  • Hutton, James, a Scottish geologist, is considered to be the "father of modern geology," for his formulation of uniformitarianism, that the same geological processes operating today operated in the distant past. Based upon that assumption, he maintained that the age of the earth must be much older than a few thousand years.

See also

External links


Tillery, B.W. (2005), Physical Science, 6/e, New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0072509783 (Hardcover) ISBN 0072922079 (Paperback)

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