Science and mathematics go hand in hand. Mathematics can be considered a type of language. Specifically, it is a quantitative language that allows scientists to describe relationships and phenomena objectively.
All branches of science make use of math to varying degrees. Algebra and trigonometry allows for working with simple relationships between quantities. Calculus and differential equations allow for the understanding of how systems change incrementally with time. Exponential and logarithmic functions are used extensively in the understanding of quantities whose growth or decline depends on their current state. And statistics is incredibly useful in determining if and how changing something in a system affects something else.
In general, even for introductory level courses, you should be comfortable working with numbers, entering them into formulas, using appropriate order of operations, and handling scientific notation. You should also have a calculator and know how to use it correctly.
Math in Physics
Physics has a reputation for being the branch of science most tied to mathematics. This is no surprise since it begins with the study of motion, described by kinematic equations, and only builds from there.
If you are taking a high school physics class or a general physics class in college, then a strong foundation in algebra will be useful. When studying motion, forces and beyond, you need to be able to solve equations and systems of equations with one or more variables.
If you are taking engineering physics or more advanced physics, you will want to be familiar with calculus. That will allow you to tackle the derivation of equations as well as find solutions to more complex problems such as those related to Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism.
Anyone pursuing more advanced study of physics, such as a minor or a major in the subject, will take even more advanced mathematics to support their learning, like linear algebra and differential equations.
Math in Biology
Compared to physics, biology is often seen as the least math-intensive science; however, there many applications of mathematics in this field as well.
While a basic high school course or an non-majors college course might have little more than the occasional simple formula, an understanding of some biological concepts such as population growth require proficiency with exponential functions, and when you learn about scientific studies and how to interpret them, a background in statistics is also required.
Anyone majoring in biology will likely need to complete college level calculus and statistics during their course of study. Often, biology majors end up working in the medical field, where an understanding of percentages and proportions as well as functions and half-lives are relevant. In some areas of biology research, even more math is needed as there are people who specialize in mathematical models describing biological systems.
Math in Chemistry
Chemistry tends to be more math intensive than biology. You will want a strong foundation in algebra when approaching an advanced high school or college level chemistry class.
Also important in chemistry is the study of statistics, particularly if you plan on majoring in chemistry or working in a career that involves chemistry. Trigonometry and calculus will also be relevant, but to a smaller extent.
Just as mathematical biology is a field of study, so too is mathematical chemistry, which requires knowledge of advanced calculus, differential equations and modeling techniques.
Math in Astronomy
Many students are lured into an astronomy class with the false belief that it won’t involve any math. But astronomy is really a branch of physics. You can think of it as physics applied to space.
While a non-majors introductory astronomy course might not use much math beyond beginning algebra and an understanding of scientific notation, you should be proficient in both to be successful.
In more advanced astronomy courses you can expect to make use of the same math used in physics courses, including advanced calculus and differential equations, among other topics.
Math in Geology
To study geology, you will also want a strong foundation in basic algebra before you begin. Geology also makes use of exponential and logarithmic functions, particularly when discussing how to determine ages of specimens.
Those who study geology beyond the introductory level will need to take calculus and statistics as well. Much of geology is statistics-heavy, but there are also fields that deal with other advanced mathematics concepts such as geometry and topology.
Math in Nature
In nature, math appears everywhere if you know where to look, from population modeling to growth patterns in plants.
In fact, some mathematicians spend their lives studying the fractals and special mathematical ratios such as the golden mean and how they appear in nature.
A large part of studying nature is understanding ecology and the relationships between predators and prey and other lifeforms in an ecosystem. To study these things in detail requires mathematical models that often include exponential functions and even differential equations.
So while a basic nature class may mention very little math, a deeper understanding of natural processes can require math up through calculus, statistics and beyond.
About the Author
Gayle Towell is a freelance writer and editor living in Oregon. She earned masters degrees in both mathematics and physics from the University of Oregon after completing a double major at Smith College, and has spent over a decade teaching these subjects to college students. Also a prolific writer of fiction, and founder of Microfiction Monday Magazine, you can learn more about Gayle at gtowell.com.