Natural science is an umbrella term used to describe several subareas in science, including any that concern matter, energy and how these react and transform with each other. In colleges across the United States, natural science departments are often structured in an interdisciplinary format, drawing from numerous areas of science and sometimes even math. However, natural science can generally be broken down into three main categories: biology, chemistry and physics. Each of these is a discipline of study in its own right, but there are also several subareas within each.
Biology focuses on life in all its forms -- humans, animals, plants and other organisms. Biology can also be subdivided into separate areas of interest, such as molecular and cell biology, human biology, ecology and evolutionary biology, developmental biology, microbiology and immunology. These subareas provide a more narrow approach for students to focus their skills and studies, though most colleges have a core requirement that is necessary for all biology majors to complete. This core will include biology courses, as well as classes in chemistry and physics to round out the science program.
Chemistry is another major area within the natural sciences, and like biology, there are a few notable subcategories. Organic, analytical and physical chemistry are three of these areas. In addition to core degree requirements, chemistry majors will be immersed in classes like quantitative chemistry, inorganic chemistry, cellular biochemistry and instrumental analysis, which deals with theories and uses of chemical instruments. Major learning outcomes in the study of chemistry include solving and explaining problems, demonstrating laboratory skills, presenting results and understanding chemical theories and practices.
Physics is concerned with the laws of nature and the properties of different types of matter. This area of natural sciences covers a wide range of subtopics, including electronics, optics and waves, magnetism, thermodynamics and quantum physics. Students in a physics program will explore all of these, and will also participate in research projects to gain hands-on experience in the discipline. Physics also draws heavily from math, and calculus plays a particularly big role.
In addition to biology, chemistry and physics, the natural sciences also include areas of study in biochemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics and psychology. These sub-fields are frequently represented at colleges with a natural science department, as they also involve the study of matter, energy and other elements of the natural world. As part of a collective group, these disciplines often overlap, with students drawing from several areas to complete their courses of study. For instance, biochemistry students will find themselves taking several math classes, and psychology students will often take courses in biology sub-fields, such as anatomy and physiology.
- Merriam-Webster: Natural Science
- Ohlone College: Natural Science Curriculum Guide
- Fordham University: Natural Sciences Department
- UC Merced: Biological Sciences Major
- Western New Mexico University: Chemistry Courses
- Pepperdine University: Natural Science Division
- Colorado State University: Physics Undergraduate Program
- University of Michigan-Dearborn: Physics Program
About the Author
Suzy Kerr graduated from Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia. She completed her Master's degree in Nutrition Sciences, also at the University of Georgia. Suzy has been a successful health, fitness and nutrition writer for more than 10 years, and has been published in various print and online publications.
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