Inquire: What is Physical Science?
During this lesson, students will learn about the definition of physical science and how it relates to modern inventions and everyday life. They will discover the scope, applications, and importance of chemistry and physics, as well as some main concepts in physical science. Lastly, students will get a sense of some careers that involve physical science from the list of careers covered in the lesson.
Why is the study of physical science important for us?
Watch: Physical Science Around Me?
Read: What is Physical Science all About?
Science has many fields. Those fields relate to the physical world and its phenomena, and are considered natural science. Some scholars divide natural science into life science and physical science. Life science studies living things, and includes biology, while physical science studies nonliving matter and includes astronomy, geology, chemistry, and physics. Physical science is a broad discipline which encompasses four main fields: astronomy, geology, chemistry, and physics. Each of these in turn divide into fields and subfields.
Life science and physical science have areas of overlap where one type of phenomenon may be associated with another. Light, studied in physics, is the energy source behind the chemical process of photosynthesis in plants, which are studied in biology. This creates other fields in science like biochemistry, which is the hybrid of biology and chemistry. Physical chemistry is a combination of physics and chemistry. A perfect example of chemistry and physics coming together to affect our daily lives is the discoveries made by Marie Curie, who is the only individual to be awarded the Nobel Prize in both chemistry and physics.
Chemistry’s Role in Physical Science
Chemistry is the study of the composition, structure, properties, and interaction of matter. It is sometimes referred to as “the central science” due to its central place in the study and practice of science and technology. Chemistry has close interconnectedness with a vast array of other science, technology, education, and mathematical (STEM) disciplines, agriculture, medicine, and many other fields.
Some important components of chemistry in physical science are physical changes, like paper being shredded, and chemical changes, like paper being burned.
Chemists change our lives daily with their research and discoveries. They measure, analyze, purify, and synthesize a wide variety of substances that are important in our lives. Louis Pasteur created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax, which saved many lives. Giacomo Luigi Ciamician was a photochemist and is an early pioneer in artificial photosynthesis.
Everything you do and encounter daily involves chemistry. What is it in onions that makes you cry when you cut them? How does soap clean? Can bottled water go bad? What materials power your cell phones and other smart devices? What makes them lighter, tougher, longer-lasting, and more powerful?
Physics’ Role in Physical Science
Physics, which comes from the Greek phúsis, meaning “nature,” is concerned with describing the interactions of energy, matter, space, and time to uncover the fundamental mechanisms that underlie every phenomenon. Some important concepts in physics are motion, force, magnetism, gravity, and energy. Physics developed from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century is called classical physics. It was transformed into modern physics by revolutionary discoveries made starting at the beginning of the 20th century.
Physics is the foundation of many other important disciplines and contributes directly to others. Molecular physics has close ties to chemistry. In architecture, physics is essential since it’s related to structural stability and is involved in lighting, heating, and cooling. In seismology, earthquake analysis has very close ties to physics. Some disciplines like biophysics and geophysics are hybrids of physics and other disciplines.
Knowledge of physics is useful in everyday situations, and can improve your problem-solving skills. It can help us understand how microwave ovens work, how GPS determine the travel time from one location to another, and how a cell phone operates.
Physics retains the basic aspects of science, and it is used by all the sciences. A thorough grounding in physics is necessary if you want to accomplish your goals in any of the various fields within the natural sciences.
Physical Science in Everyday Life
There are lots of important inventions, such as bulbs, cars, bikes, TV, cell phones, computers, planes, microwave, washing machines, and so many others that rely on physical science.
Physical science can also answer many of the questions that we have about the world around us. Why does a puddle dry up in the Sun, but lakes, rivers, and oceans do not? Why do satellites orbit Earth instead of falling back down to Earth or flying out into space? These questions can be answered by analyzing what happens to these phenomena on a subatomic level. If you were to watch a puddle and an ocean on a microscopic level, you would see that they both are affected by evaporation. Oceans, lakes, and rivers are immensely larger than a puddle, and as a result, the rate of evaporation is a lot slower, and its effects are diminished due to rainfall. As a result, it can take billions of years for lakes and oceans to evaporate. As for satellites, the Law of Gravitation says that gravitational pull is dependent on mass and distance. Mass meaning the object with the smaller mass will be attracted to the object with larger mass. Distance relates to how close the objects are to each other. The closer they are, the stronger the pull. Satellites are in a precarious position in Earth’s atmosphere where they are close enough to be kept in place, but not too close where they will be pulled to Earth’s surface. This is how the moon stays in orbit around Earth.
Physical science can solve many of the issues we’re facing in the world, such as overpopulation, global warming, and natural disasters.
Careers in Physical Science
Individuals with degrees in the physical sciences work a wide range of jobs. The list below includes names of jobs that scientists have.
They work with other types of engineers and architects to create an optimal design and sound quality for facilities like performance spaces and recording studios. They can also work in bioengineering to develop medical devices, such as hearing aids.
They study the relationships between atmospheric characteristics and the environment, predict future weather conditions, track ozone levels, and monitor global temperature.
They work in many industries that focus on the preservation or conservation of the various aspects of our ecosystem, such as forests and oceans.
They work in a laboratory or in the field conducting experiments, making observations, analyzing findings, operating necessary equipment, developing, and testing theories. Some job titles include chemist, biochemist, astronomer, geologist, physiologist, environmental scientist, and physicist.
Reflect: Science in Daily Life!
Expand: Comparison of Matter and Energy
As discussed above, physical science is the study of matter and energy. To fully understand the wide scope of physical science, one must be able to differentiate between matter and energy. While they are related in many ways, they are not the same.
Matter makes up the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the food we eat and the plants and animals that live around us. Even our own human bodies are made of matter. All objects that we see in the world around us are made of matter. To be more exact, matter is material that occupies space and has mass. The three most common states of matter are solid, liquid, and gas.
A solid has a fixed shape and volume (like an ice cube). A liquid has a variable shape and a fixed volume. Liquids also take on the shape of the container they’re in (like liquid water). A gas has a variable shape and volume. It completely fills the container that it is in (like steam). Melting, boiling, freezing, condensation, and sublimation are processes that take place when matter changes state. Matter can change between these states by either adding or removing heat.
There is no simple, yet accurate, scientific definition of energy. Energy is what gives matter the ability to move and change. It is characterized by its many forms and the fact that it is always conserved. Energy can take on many forms like electricity, sound, or heat. Its form varies depending on the state of and the composition of the matter in which it is stored.
Energy plays an essential role both in everyday events and in scientific phenomena, from the energy provided by foods, to the energy we use to run our cars, to the sunlight that warms us. Not only does energy have many forms, but it is also involved in all phenomena, and is one of the most important concepts of physics. What makes it even more important is that the total amount of energy in the universe is constant. Energy can change forms, but it cannot appear from nothing or disappear without a trace. Conservation of energy is the principle that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, as numerous experiments have proven. Even as scientists discover new forms of energy, the conservation of energy always holds true.
Check Your Knowledge
Use the quiz below to check your understanding of this lesson’s content. You can take this quiz as many times as you like. Once you are finished taking the quiz, click on the “View questions” button to review the correct answers.
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- Question 1 of 3
True or False: Matter is all things in the universe that have a mass OR take up space.CorrectIncorrect
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True or False: Matter exists in one of the following three states: solid, liquid, and gas.CorrectIncorrect
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True or False: Energy is what gives matter the ability to move and change.CorrectIncorrect
Additional Resources and Readings
A video explaining the difference between chemical and physical changes
An accessible TED Talk discussing physics in everyday life
A video presenting a great explanation of the structure of an atom
This video presents the basic principles of the states of matter
- chemistrythe study of the composition, properties, and interactions of matter
- classical physicsphysics as it developed from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century
- energyenergy is the quantitative property that must be transferred from one object to another in order to perform work on, or to heat the object
- life scienceone of the two major branches of natural science that studies living things, such as biology
- matterdefined as anything that occupies space and has mass.
- modern physicsin general, the term is used to refer to any branch of physics either developed in the early 20th century and onwards, or branches greatly influenced by early 20th century physics
- natural sciencea major branch of science that is related to the physical world and its phenomena and processes
- physical scienceone of the two major branches of natural science that studies nonliving matter, such as astronomy, geology, chemistry, and physics
- physicswhich comes from the Greek phúsis, meaning “nature,” is concerned with describing the interactions of energy, matter, space, and time to uncover the fundamental mechanisms that underlie every phenomenon
License and Citations
Authored and curated by Ja’Corie Maxwell and Jinxiu Yuan for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA 4.0
Title: University Physics Volume 1 – 1.1 The Scope and Scale of Physics. Rice University, OpenStax CNX. CC BY 4.0
Title: Physical Sciences Grade 10 – Chapter 2: Classification of Matter. Siyavula Science; Siyavula Education. License: CC BY 3.0
Title: College Physics – 7 Introduction to Work, Energy, and Energy Resources. Rice University, OpenStax CNX. CC BY 4.0
|Science Biology Medical||Annalise1988||Pixabay||CC 0|
|States of Matter||M.manary||Wikimedia Commons||Public Domain|
|Hydrologist Measuring Streamflow||U.S. Geological Survey||Wikimedia Commons||Public Domain|
|Soap bubbles||the Italian voice||Flickr||CC BY 2.0|
|ChemWeb.||OpenStax||OpenStax||CC BY 4.0|