What is Physical Science – Definition, Subjects, Branches, History and General Principles

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Physical science serves as the cornerstone of our understanding of the natural world, delving into the fundamental principles that govern matter, energy, and their interactions. From the smallest subatomic particles to the vast expanses of the universe, physical science encompasses a broad spectrum of phenomena and disciplines that shape our understanding of the universe. 

What is Physical Science – Definition, Subjects, Branches, History and General Principles
What is Physical Science – Explained

In this article, we start to explore what physical science is all about, including its definition, subjects, different parts, and interesting history.

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What is Physical Science? – Explained

Physical Science Definition:

At its core, physical science is the systematic study of the non-living components of the universe, focusing on their properties, behavior, and interactions. It encompasses a wide array of scientific disciplines, including 

  1. Physics, 
  2. Chemistry, 
  3. Astronomy, and 
  4. Earth science.

Physical scientists seek to uncover the underlying principles that govern the natural world, utilizing observation, experimentation, and mathematical analysis to unravel its mysteries.

Physical Science Subjects

Physical science encompasses a broad range of subjects. In addition to the core disciplines like physics, chemistry, astronomy, and earth science, it also includes subfields such as:

  • Geology
  • Meteorology
  • Oceanography
  • Materials science
  • Thermodynamics
  • Acoustics
  • Fluid dynamics
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Nuclear physics
  • Optics
  • Electromagnetism
Geology: Geology examines the Earth's solid materials, including rocks, minerals, and the processes that shape the Earth's surface and interior, such as plate tectonics, erosion, and volcanic activity.

Meteorology: Meteorology studies the Earth's atmosphere, weather patterns, and atmospheric phenomena like clouds, precipitation, and storms. It involves forecasting, climate analysis, and understanding the factors that influence weather.

Oceanography: Oceanography explores the physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the oceans. It covers topics such as marine biology, ocean currents, marine ecosystems, and the study of marine resources.

Materials Science: Materials science investigates the properties, structure, and behavior of materials, including metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites. It aims to develop new materials with specific properties for various applications.

Thermodynamics: Thermodynamics deals with the relationships between heat, energy, and work. It studies the behavior of systems at macroscopic scales and includes concepts like temperature, entropy, and energy transfer.

Acoustics: Acoustics is the study of sound and its transmission through different mediums. It encompasses topics such as wave behavior, sound propagation, resonance, and the perception of sound.

Fluid Dynamics: Fluid dynamics examines the behavior of fluids (liquids and gases) in motion. It studies phenomena like fluid flow, turbulence, drag, and lift, with applications in engineering, meteorology, and oceanography.

Quantum Mechanics: Quantum mechanics is a branch of physics that describes the behavior of particles at the atomic and subatomic levels. It deals with phenomena like wave-particle duality, quantum entanglement, and the uncertainty principle.

Nuclear Physics: Nuclear physics studies the properties and behavior of atomic nuclei and their interactions with subatomic particles. It includes topics such as nuclear reactions, radioactive decay, and nuclear energy.

Optics: Optics investigates the behavior and properties of light, including reflection, refraction, diffraction, and polarization. It covers topics like geometric optics, wave optics, and the applications of optics in devices like lenses and lasers.

Electromagnetism: Electromagnetism studies the interactions between electric charges and magnetic fields. It includes topics like electrostatics, magnetostatics, electromagnetic induction, and electromagnetic waves.

Branches of Physical Science:


Physics is perhaps the most fundamental of the physical sciences, dealing with the study of matter, energy, motion, and force. From the behavior of subatomic particles to the dynamics of celestial bodies, physics seeks to elucidate the fundamental laws that govern the universe.


Chemistry explores the composition, structure, and properties of matter, as well as the changes it undergoes during chemical reactions. It encompasses a diverse range of sub-disciplines, including 

  • organic chemistry, 
  • inorganic chemistry, 
  • physical chemistry, and 
  • biochemistry.


Astronomy is the study of celestial objects and phenomena beyond Earth's atmosphere, including stars, planets, galaxies, and cosmic phenomena such as supernovae and black holes. It seeks to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos and understand the origins and evolution of the universe.

Earth Science: 

Earth science encompasses a variety of disciplines focused on the study of the Earth and its processes, including geology (the study of the Earth's structure and composition), meteorology (the study of the atmosphere and weather), oceanography (the study of the oceans), and environmental science (the study of the interactions between humans and the environment).

History of Physical Science:

The roots of physical science can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where early scholars laid the groundwork for our understanding of the natural world. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle pondered the nature of matter and motion, while astronomers like Ptolemy developed intricate models to explain the movement of celestial bodies.

Physical science in the Renaissance period 

The Renaissance period witnessed a resurgence of interest in the natural sciences, with figures like Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler making groundbreaking discoveries in physics and astronomy. Galileo's experiments with motion and his observations of the heavens revolutionized our understanding of the universe, laying the foundation for the scientific revolution that would follow.

Physical science in the 17th and 18th century 

The 17th and 18th centuries saw the emergence of modern science, with figures such as Isaac Newton and Antoine Lavoisier making seminal contributions to physics and chemistry, respectively. Newton's laws of motion and universal gravitation provided a unified framework for understanding the motion of objects, while Lavoisier's experiments laid the groundwork for the modern theory of chemical reactions.

Physical science in 19th and 20th century 

The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed unprecedented progress in physical science, with advancements in fields such as electromagnetism, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and relativity reshaping our understanding of the universe. Figures such as James Clerk Maxwell, Albert Einstein, and Niels Bohr made groundbreaking discoveries that revolutionized our understanding of the fundamental forces and particles that govern the cosmos.

Physical science in the modern era

In the modern era, physical science continues to push the boundaries of human knowledge, with scientists probing the mysteries of the cosmos through cutting-edge research and experimentation. From the exploration of subatomic particles at the Large Hadron Collider to the search for exoplanets orbiting distant stars, physical science remains at the forefront of human exploration and discovery.

General Principles of the Physical Sciences

The physical sciences are based on principles like the conservation of energy, the laws of motion, the principles of thermodynamics, and the understanding of electromagnetism and gravity. These principles provide the foundation for understanding the behavior of matter and energy in the universe.

Basic Principles of Physics:

  • Newton's Laws of Motion: Describes the relationship between an object and the forces acting upon it.
  • Law of Universal Gravitation: States that every mass attracts every other mass in the universe with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers.
  • Conservation Laws: These include the conservation of energy, momentum, and angular momentum, which state that these quantities cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed from one form to another.

Basic Principles of Chemistry:

  • Atomic Structure: Describes the composition of matter in terms of atoms, their subatomic particles, and how they interact to form molecules.
  • Periodic Table: Organizes elements based on their atomic number, electron configuration, and recurring chemical properties.
  • Chemical Reactions: Involves the rearrangement of atoms to form new substances, governed by principles such as conservation of mass and energy.

Basic Principles of Astronomy:

  • Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion: Describes the motion of planets around the Sun, including their elliptical orbits and varying speeds.
  • Stellar Evolution: Describes the life cycle of stars, from their formation in nebulae to their death as supernovae or white dwarfs.
  • Cosmology: Studies the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of the universe as a whole, including concepts such as the Big Bang theory and dark matter.

Basic Principles of Earth Science:

  • Plate Tectonics: Describes the movement of Earth's lithosphere plates and their interactions, leading to phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain formation.
  • Weather and Climate: Studies the atmosphere and its interactions with Earth's surface, including weather patterns, climate change, and the greenhouse effect.
  • Geological Time Scale: Divides Earth's history into eons, eras, periods, epochs, and ages based on major geological and biological events.

Is biology a physical science ?

  • Biology is not typically classified as a physical science but rather as a life science.
  • It focuses on the study of living organisms, their structure, function, growth, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy.
  • Topics in biology include genetics, ecology, anatomy, physiology, and microbiology.

Is environmental science a physical science ?

  • Environmental science can have aspects of physical sciences, but it's generally considered an interdisciplinary field.
  • It incorporates elements of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and geography to study the environment and how organisms interact with it.
  • Environmental science explores topics such as pollution, conservation, climate change, and sustainable development.

Is geography a physical science ?

  • Geography is not typically classified as a physical science; instead, it's categorized under the social sciences.
  • However, physical geography is a subfield of geography that focuses on Earth's physical features and processes.
  • Physical geography covers topics such as landforms, climates, soils, vegetation, and natural hazards.


Physical science stands as a testament to humanity's insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge, offering a window into the workings of the natural world and our place within it. 

From the subatomic realm to the farthest reaches of the cosmos, physical science continues to illuminate the mysteries of the universe, inspiring wonder and awe in all who seek to understand its secrets.

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