What are the Natural Sciences?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Natural sciences are one of the three major divisions of science, the other two being the social sciences and the formal sciences. Chemistry, biology, earth science, astronomy, and physics are all part of natural sciences. There are also cross-disciplines, such as biophysics, which integrate different aspects of multiple subjects. Prior to the 17th century, these disciplines were often referred to as "natural philosophy" and lacked the types of experiments and procedures used today.

Chemistry is one of the natural sciences.
Chemistry is one of the natural sciences.


Much of what defines modern civilization comes from advances in knowledge and technology caused by investigations in the natural sciences and chemistry. For instance, the modern production of food can be traced back to the Haber-Bosch process which was developed during World War I. This chemical process allows the creation of fertilizer nitrates from atmospheric nitrogen, rather than relying on biologically fixed sources of nitrogen such as cow dung, significantly increasing the amount of food various countries produce.

Geology, which includes the study of rocks, is one of the natural sciences.
Geology, which includes the study of rocks, is one of the natural sciences.

Biology and Medicine

Thanks to developments in biology, especially those in the 20th Century, doctors can use advanced medicines to cure or treat many diseases that were previously fatal. Through research in biology and medicine, scourges of the 19th century and before, such as plague and smallpox, have come largely under control. Perhaps more importantly, mortality rates for infants and mothers in industrialized nations have drastically decreased. The biological subfield of genetics has even allowed scientists to understand the very code of life itself, and recognize the way it expresses itself within each person.

The study of medicines used in treating patients can fall within the category of natural science.
The study of medicines used in treating patients can fall within the category of natural science.

Earth Sciences

Advances in earth science have allowed mankind to extract huge amounts of minerals and petroleum from the Earth’s crust, powering the engines of modern civilization and industry. Paleontology, a subfield of earth science, provides a window into the Earth’s distant past, long before humans even existed. Through discoveries in geology and similar fields within the natural sciences, scientists are better able to understand the history of the planet and predict changes it may go through in the future.

Astronomy is a natural science.
Astronomy is a natural science.

Astronomy and Physics

Physics is, in many respects, the science that underlies all other natural sciences, and offered some of the most unexpected revelations of the 20th century. Among the most notable of these was the discovery that matter and energy are constant, and merely transfer from one state to the other. Through astronomy, scientists have discovered an enormous amount of information about the universe. In previous centuries, it was thought that the entire universe was just the Milky Way galaxy, until a series of debates and observations in the 20th Century revealed that the universe is literally millions of times bigger than previously imagined.

Different Types of Science

The establishment of the scientific method in the 1600s, and the ensuing scientific revolution, helped create modern science. Natural sciences are often referred to as “hard science” because of the heavy use of objective data and quantitative methods that rely on numbers and mathematics. In contrast, the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology and anthropology, rely more on qualitative, or non-numeric, evaluations and tend to have less-certain conclusions. The formal sciences, including mathematics and statistics, are heavily quantitative in nature, but do not typically involve the study of natural phenomenon or experimentation.

A study of sciences often involves research and experimentation.
A study of sciences often involves research and experimentation.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


Very informative site on looking into the perspective of science.


It seems that science is everywhere and in everything we encounter. How do they all work together?


Very helpful but doesn't answer my question. Why does science have an inability to stand alone from other fields?


Natural science is a big contribution to science. It is now the most distinguished source of any natural information people may find. And the different divisions of natural science, especially psychology, give more explanations about why people became like that and like this. In short, why people have different attitudes.

There are lots of questions that we can't find the answers to by just asking ourselves. And we can answer those through natural sciences! Please help us to understand why sciences are very important to us living things.


I believe that some natural sciences are closely related to the social sciences. Biology and biochemistry are perfect examples. From what I know, when these sciences study the effects of substances on the brain, the behaviors as well as physical reactions are studied.

When scientists study a new drug, doctors look for both physical and mental side effects. Drug studies also make conclusions on the physiological effects of the drug. They want to know whether these drugs are working as designed, and if the outcome justifies the side effects.

This is just one example that I can think of where two branches of science overlap, but I am sure there are others.


Sustainability is a new interdisciplinary science that studies the relationship between the natural, social and formal sciences. The science uses mathematics and statistics to understand the effects of economic and socio-cultural forces on the natural world.

A few top tier universities are establishing sustainability programs. Arizona State University in Tempe actually has a sustainability school that offers post-graduate degrees all the way up to the doctorate level. They have sustainability degrees that concentrate on engineering, the social sciences, and the natural sciences.

Arizona State is also working to establish a standard definition of the field of sustainability. The school was established in 2006, and has already become one of the top environmental science related programs in the country.

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