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What are Physical Sciences?

Last Updated on November 20, 2021 by

Physical science, the systematic study of the inorganic world, as distinct from the study of the organic world, which is the province of biological science. Physical science is ordinarily thought of as consisting of four broad areas: astronomy, physics, chemistry, and the Earth sciences. Each of these is in turn divided into fields and subfields. This article discusses the historical development—with due attention to the scope, principal concerns, and methods—of the first three of these areas. The Earth sciences are discussed in a separate article.

The physical sciences is a broad field connecting many disciplines together through its focus on the earth and its components, from rocks and soils to the ocean and atmosphere. If these topics interest you, keep reading to learn more about becoming a physical scientist.




Physical science can be described as all of the following:

  • A branch of science (a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe).
    • A branch of natural science – natural science is a major branch of science that tries to explain and predict nature’s phenomena, based on empirical evidence. In natural science, hypotheses must be verified scientifically to be regarded as scientific theory. Validity, accuracy, and social mechanisms ensuring quality control, such as peer review and repeatability of findings, are amongst the criteria and methods used for this purpose. Natural science can be broken into two main branches: life science (for example biology) and physical science. Each of these branches, and all of their sub-branches, are referred to as natural sciences.

The Greek philosophers of the 6th and 5th centuries BCE abandoned the animism of the poets and explained the world in terms of ordinarily observable natural processes. These early philosophers posed the broad questions that still underlie science: How did the world order emerge from chaos? What is the origin of multitude and variety in the world? How can motion and change be accounted for? What is the underlying relation between form and matter? Greek philosophy answered these questions in terms that provided the framework for science for approximately 2,000 years.

Inside Physical Sciences

Physical science is a broad discipline concerned with natural phenomena of the earth, atmosphere and space. It encompasses a variety of fields that include astronomy, chemistry, geology, physics, atmospheric science and oceanography. Physical scientists are people who love studying the earth and all its processes and components. A physical science bachelor’s degree program prepares students for careers as science teachers, science writers or a range of scientific positions related to their areas of emphasis. It also serves as good preparation for graduate-level studies in any physical science discipline.

Branches of physical science

  • Physics – natural and physical science that involves the study of matter and its motion through space and time, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.
    • Branches of physics
  • Astronomy – study of celestial objects (such as stars, galaxies, planets, moons, asteroids, comets and nebulae), the physics, chemistry, and evolution of such objects, and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth, including supernovae explosions, gamma ray bursts, and cosmic microwave background radiation. During the following centuries, however, the study of stars, galaxies, nebulas, and the interstellar medium became increasingly important. Celestial mechanics, the science of the motion of planets and other solid objects within the solar system, was the first testing ground for Newton’s laws of motion and thereby helped to establish the fundamental principles of classical (that is, pre-20th-century) physics. Astrophysics, the study of the physical properties of celestial bodies, arose during the 19th century and is closely connected with the determination of the chemical composition of those bodies. In the 20th century physics and astronomy became more intimately linked through cosmological theories, especially those based on the theory of relativity.
    • Branches of astronomy
  • Chemistry – studies the composition, structure, properties and change of matter. In this realm, chemistry deals with such topics as the properties of individual atoms, the manner in which atoms form chemical bonds in the formation of compounds, the interactions of substances through intermolecular forces to give matter its general properties, and the interactions between substances through chemical reactions to form different substances.
    • Branches of chemistry
  • Earth science – all-embracing term referring to the fields of science dealing with planet Earth. Earth science is the study of how the natural environment (ecosphere or Earth system) works and how it evolved to its current state. It includes the study of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere.
    • Branches of Earth science

Education Information

Physical sciences degree programs are generally structured to provide flexibility for students wanting to focus on a specific field within physical science. Alternatively, students may elect to take a variety of major and elective courses in different departments, which can range from astronomy and physics to mathematics and computer science. Some programs offer forensic science and pre-medicine tracks for students planning to continue on to graduate school in these fields. Physical science graduate degrees are rarer, but they do exist. Read the following articles to get more details regarding degree options in this field of study.

  • Bachelor of Science in Physical Science
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Geology
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Oceanography
  • Master of Science in Physics
  • Ph.D. in Chemistry

Distance Learning Options

A wide variety of options is also available to students wanting to pursue their studies online. Many degree programs in fields within physical sciences are available fully online or as hybrid degree programs. Students can also take many physical science courses online.

  • Online Courses in the Physical Sciences
  • Online Courses in Physics
  • Online Graduate Courses in Chemistry
  • Online Degree Programs in Forensic Science
  • Online Degree Programs in Geography

Career Options

Individuals with degrees in the physical sciences work a wide range of scientific jobs. The list below includes some jobs physical scientists may hold. Visit to find additional career opportunities.

  • Physical Scientist
  • Science Teacher
  • Astronomer
  • Meteorologist
  • Environmentalist

Employment Information

In general, physical scientists will experience good job prospects over the 2018-2028 period. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for hydrologists, physicists and atmospheric scientists is expected to be faster than average rate compared to other occupations ( However, chemists and materials scientists may see average job growth. Physical scientists typically earn good wages, but these do vary by field. As of May 2019, mean annual wages were $84,150 for chemists, $131,080 for physicists, $86,330 for hydrologists and $97,160 for atmospheric and space scientists, also per the BLS.

Physical Sciences Degree Guide

The Physical Sciences field is multi-disciplinary, allowing students to take classes in mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, meteorology, and more in order to learn the laws of nature, the chemical makeup of rocks and soil and much more. Graduates learn math and science skills that prepare them for careers in a variety of industries.

Physical Sciences is a large field with several possible choices for majors. Students can major in General Physical Sciences for a broad education in all topics. If they are more interested in space and space travel, the may choose a major in Astronomy and Astrophysics, while those interested in weather can major in Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology. Other majors include Chemistry, Geological and Earth Sciences, Physics and Material Sciences.

Career Opportunities for A Degree In Physical Sciences Graduate


Students who graduate with a degree in the Physical Sciences often pursue careers that allow them to work closely with the natural world. Graduates have gone on to find jobs as meteorologists, geologists, chemists, physicists, and astronomers. Their advanced knowledge in math and science fields have allowed graduates to find jobs at research and development firms, with NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, and at the National Weather Service.

Solid Growth Projected for Physical Sciences Careers

Want a job when you graduate with your physical sciences degree? Physical Sciences careers are expected to grow 8.3% between 2016 and 2026.

The following options are some of the most in-demand careers related to physical sciences.

Occupation NameProjected JobsExpected Growth
High School Teachers1,095,5007.5%
Architectural and Engineering Managers190,0005.5%
Environmental Scientists and Specialists99,40011.1%

Physical Sciences Degree Salary Potential

Recently graduated physical sciences students earned an average of $38,122 in 2017-2018. Earnings can range from as low as $11,100 to as high as $117,200. As you might expect, salaries for physical sciences graduates vary depending on the level of education that was acquired.

High Paying Careers for Physical Sciences Majors

Salaries for physical sciences graduates can vary widely by the occupation you choose as well. The following table shows the top 5 highest paying careers physical sciences grads often go into.

Occupation NameMedian Average Salary
Architectural and Engineering Managers$148,970
Natural Sciences Managers$139,680
Engineering Professors$113,680

types of physical science

The branches of science, also referred to as sciences, “scientific fields”, or “scientific disciplines,” are commonly divided into three major groups:

  • Formal sciences: the study of formal systems, such as those under the branches of logic and mathematics, which use an a priori, as opposed to empirical, methodology.
  • Natural sciences: the study of natural phenomena (including cosmological, geological, physical, chemical, and biological factors of the universe). Natural science can be divided into two main branches: physical science and life science (or biological science).
  • Social sciences: the study of human behavior in its social and cultural aspects

Natural and social sciences are empirical sciences, meaning that the knowledge must be based on observable phenomena and must be capable of being verified by other researchers working under the same conditions.This verifiability may well vary even within a scientific discipline

Natural, social, and formal science make up the fundamental sciences, which form the basis of interdisciplinary and applied sciences such as engineering and medicine. Specialized scientific disciplines that exist in multiple categories may include parts of other scientific disciplines but often possess their own terminologies and expertises.

The formal sciences are the branches of science that are concerned with formal systems, such as logic, mathematics, theoretical computer science, information theory, systems theory, decision theory, statistics.

Unlike other branches, the formal sciences are not concerned with the validity of theories based on observations in the real world (empirical knowledge), but rather with the properties of formal systems based on definitions and rules. Hence there is disagreement on whether the formal sciences actually constitute a science. Methods of the formal sciences are, however, essential to the construction and testing of scientific models dealing with observable reality and major advances in formal sciences have often enabled major advances in the empirical sciences.

Natural science is a branch of science concerned with the description, prediction, and understanding of natural phenomena, based on empirical evidence from observation and experimentation. Mechanisms such as peer review and repeatability of findings are used to try to ensure the validity of scientific advances.

Natural science can be divided into two main branches: life science and physical science. Life science is alternatively known as biology, and physical science is subdivided into branches: physics, chemistry, astronomy and Earth science. These branches of natural science may be further divided into more specialized branches (also known as fields)

Social science is the branch of science devoted to the study of societies and the relationships among individuals within those societies. The term was formerly used to refer to the field of sociology, the original “science of society”, established in the 19th century. In addition to sociology, it now encompasses a wide array of academic disciplines, including anthropology, archaeology, economics, human geography, linguistics, political science, and psychology.

Positivist social scientists use methods resembling those of the natural sciences as tools for understanding society, and so define science in its stricter modern sense. Interpretivist social scientists, by contrast, may use social critique or symbolic interpretation rather than constructing empirically falsifiable theories, and thus treat science in its broader sense. In modern academic practice, researchers are often eclectic, using multiple methodologies (for instance, by combining both quantitative and qualitative research). The term “social research” has also acquired a degree of autonomy as practitioners from various disciplines share in its aims and methods.

physical science subjects

Universities and colleges in the UK are offering courses in the following subject areas:

  • Chemistry
  • Materials science
  • Physics
  • Forensic and archaeological sciences
  • Astronomy
  • Geology
  • Science of aquatic and terrestrial environments
  • Physical geographical sciences

There are a broad range of degree courses available, with many options to combine different subjects together. While many degrees with the same subject title will offer similar modules with a choice of topics, it is important to be aware that there is no national curriculum at this level, so courses can vary significantly.

 Subject combinations and available course options include:

  • single, joint, and multiple subject combinations
  • full-time, part-time and flexible study options as well as courses with a placement (sandwich courses)
  • qualifications ranging from BA/BSc (Hons) and MSci degrees through to HND, HNC and Foundation Certificates

If you are considering taking a joint or combined degree, it would be advisable to consider any potential impact such a choice may have on any career goals.

A number of universities offer four year undergraduate or integrated masters degrees in subjects such as geology (MGEOL/MSci)/, physics (MPhys /MSci) and chemistry (MChem/ MSci). The course content is likely to be the same for the first two years of a BSc at the same university and then beyond will have a broader range of taught units and a larger piece of research.

Entry requirements

A levels – To get on to a physics related degree, you will usually require at least two A levels including physics and maths.

For chemistry degrees, you will need chemistry A level, with some universities preferring a second science subject.

Geography related degrees generally require A level geography, though some will accept a related subject (for example, sociology, world development, geology, environmental science). Some geology degrees require two science related A levels.

Entry requirements in general range from BCC to AAA, with the universities and colleges most commonly asking for ABB.

In addition to the different A level requirements above, you will also need five GCSEs (A-C) including science, English, and maths.

A few course providers may use additional methods to support selection, for example, you may be asked to complete an online test to assess your numerical skills and how you apply your knowledge to chemical problems.

Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from ABBB to AAAAB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring AABBB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for ABB.

Universities are looking for:

  • evidence that you are well informed about the subject and have strong interest/motivation, which could be demonstrated by:
    • relevant work experience/shadowing or voluntary work (although it is recognised this is more difficult for some subject areas such as physics)
    • additional reading and research of particular topics
    • membership of related societies/clubs
  • a range of interests outside of academic study
  • a well written statement that demonstrates your ability to write persuasive statements
  • the ability to work individually and in teams

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