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Preface 1: The Scope of Chemistry

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    213125
  • Science is the process by which individuals observe, test, and model natural phenomena, in order to learn about the universe.  Because the physical universe is so vast, there are many different branches of science, as indicated in Figure P.1.1, and each discipline has a unique primary focus.  Chemistry is the study of matter, biology is the study of living things, and geology is the study of rocks and the earth.  Mathematics is the language of science and, therefore, will be used to communicate some of the ideas of chemistry.

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    Figure P.1.1: The Relationships between Scientific Disciplines.

    Although science is divided into different fields, there is much overlap among these disciplines.  For example, some biologists and chemists work in both fields so much that their work is called biochemistry. Similarly, geology and chemistry overlap in the field called geochemistry.  At some level, all of these fields depend on matter, which is contained in nearly all substances in the known universe.  Therefore, chemistry has been called the "central science", as it is the singular discipline that serves as the link between each of the remaining fields of scientific study.

    Areas of Chemistry

    The study of modern chemistry has many branches, but can generally be broken down into five main sub-disciplines, as described below.

    • Physical chemistry: Physical chemistry is the study of macroscopic properties, atomic properties, and phenomena in chemical systems.  A physical chemist may study such things as the rates of chemical reactions, the energy transfers that occur in reactions, or the physical structure of materials at the molecular level.
    • Organic chemistry: Organic chemistry is the study of chemicals containing carbon, which is one of the most abundant elements on Earth and is capable of forming a tremendously vast number of chemicals.  Most of the chemicals that are found in living organisms are based on carbon.
    • Inorganic chemistry: Inorganic chemistry is the study of chemicals that, in general, are not primarily based on carbon.  Inorganic chemicals are commonly found in rocks and minerals.  One current important area of inorganic chemistry deals with the design and properties of materials involved in energy and information technology.
    • Analytical chemistry: Analytical chemistry is the study of the composition of matter.  It focuses on separating, identifying, and quantifying chemicals in samples of matter.  An analytical chemist may use complex instruments to analyze an unknown material in order to determine its various components.
    • Biochemistry: Biochemistry is the study of chemical processes that occur in living things.  Biochemical research may study anything from basic cellular processes up to understanding diseases and their treatments.
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