The Branches of Science

In pursuit of a more deliberate and positive future, a number of methods, procedures, and disciplines are needed to study, formulate, and enact positive change. The most significant conceptul framework for approaching the investigation of the past, present, and the future are the branches of science.

Science may be roughly divided into the physical sciences, the earth sciences, and the life sciences. These areas of study might be called pure sciences, in contrast to the applied, or engineering, sciences, i.e., technology, which is concerned with the practical application of the results of scientific activity. Mathematics, while not a science, is closely allied to the sciences because of their extensive use of it. Finally, there are distinct disciplines for the study of the history and philosophy of science, and areas concerning the society and the interactions of people, social science.

On this page we present these disciplines in hierarchical fashion, with a brief description of each. What does this information have to do with the future of human evolution? All of these sciences will have an impact on the way we work, live, learn, play, and grow. Using the methods on our future studies methodologies page combined with one or more of these areas of focus may reveal some important insights into our collective future.

A final important note: these branches of science are increasingly converging . The more we learn about one, the more we begin to see the interconnectedness between them. More than anything, these classifications serve as a framework for our human convenience as opposed to any definite segregation between them.

Quicklinks on this Page

  Physical Sciences
  Earth Sciences
  Life Sciences
  Social Sciences

  Big Four Disciplines
  Medium Four Disciplines
  Smaller Ten Disciplines

The Physical Sciences

The physical sciences investigate the nature and behavior of matter and energy on a vast range of size and scale. In physics itself, scientists study the relationships between matter, energy, force, and time in an attempt to explain how these factors shape the physical behavior of the universe.



The study of matter and energy and the interactions between them. Physicists study such subjects as gravity, light, and time. Albert Einstein, a famous physicist, developed the Theory of Relativity.



The science that deals with the composition, properties, reactions, and the structure of matter. The chemist Louis Pasteur, for example, discovered pasteurization, which is the process of heating liquids such as milk and orange juice to kill harmful germs.



The study of the universe beyond the Earth's atmosphere.

The Earth Sciences

The earth sciences examine the structure and composition of our planet, and the physical processes that have helped to shape it.



The science of the origin, history, and structure of the Earth, and the physical, chemical, and biological changes that it has experienced or is experiencing.



The exploration and study of the ocean.



The science of the forms of life that existed in prehistoric or geologic periods.



The science that deals with the atmosphere and its phenomena, such as weather and climate.

The Life Sciences (Biology)

The life sciences aka Biology is the general study of the origin, development, structure, function, evolution, and distribution of living things.



The study of plants.



The study of heredity.



The science of diagnosing, treating, and preventing illness, disease, and injury.



The science that covers animals and animal life.

Mathematical Sciences

The mathematical sciences investigate the relationships between things that can be measured or quantified in either a real or abstract form. Pure mathematics differs from other sciences because it deals solely with logic, rather than with nature's underlying laws. However, because it can be used to solve so many scientific problems, mathematics is usually considered to be a science itself.



The use of numbers for calculation. In arithmetic, mathematicians combine specific numbers (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) to produce a result.



Works in a similar way, but uses general expressions and allows for "variables" that are place holders in complex problem solving.



Describes objects and the spaces around them. In its simplest form, it deals with objects in two or three dimensions, such as lines, circles, cubes, and spheres. Geometry can be extended to cover abstractions, including objects in many dimensions.



deals with continuously changing quantities, such as the position of a point on a curve or the area that the curve bounds. Among the advances that calculus helped develop were the determination of Newtons laws of motion and the theory of electromagnetism.

Social Sciences

The social sciences explore human society past and present, and the way human beings behave.



investigates the way society is structured and how it functions Psychology: which is the study of individual behavior and the mind. Social psychology: draws on research in both sociology and psychology fields. It examines the way society influences people's behavior and attitudes.



looks at humans as a species and examines all the characteristics that make us what we are. These include not only how people relate to each other but also how they interact with the world around them, both now and in the past. This adds knowledge to the nature-nurture debate.


Political science:

a by-product of human society which may or may not be tied to the physical sciences, but studying them can lend clues to to the nature/nurture debate and can help us prepare for the future.



Another uniquely human construct that tells us probably more about human nature in the law making proces than do the laws themselves.



Economics has some surprisingly close parallels with ecology. This is because the laws that govern resource use, productivity, and efficiency do not operate only in the human world, with its stock markets and global corporations, but in the nonhuman world as well.


In technology, scientific knowledge is put to practical use. This knowledge comes chiefly from mathematics and the physical sciences, and it is used in designing machinery, materials, and industrial processes. In general, this work is known as engineering, a word dating back to the early days of the Industrial Revolution, when an "engine" was any kind of machine.

Engineering has many branches, calling for a wide variety of different skills. According to, these are distributed as follows:

Big Four Technologies

The Big Four Disciplines which account for approximately two-thirds (67%) of all engineering Bachelors degrees awarded annually are:



Public works/infrastructure and buildings/structures. Subdisciplines include Construction Management, Environmental, Geotechnical, Structural, Surveying, Transportation, and Water Resources to name a few.



Utilize knowledge in both Computer Science and Electrical Engineering to design integrated computer systems (that is, integrating hardware and software components). Also includes the field of Artificial Intelligence.



All things electrical/electronic electronic devices, electrical systems, electrical energy, robotics, etc. Given the number of potential applications, Electrical Engineering is a very broad discipline, especially with respect to its intersection with Computer Engineering.



Machines, structures, devices, mechanical systems, and energy conversion systems. Mechanical Engineering is often considered the broadest of engineering disciplines, with overlap into many of the other existing engineering disciplines, including Civil, Electrical, and Chemical Engineering.

Medium Four Technologies

The Medium Four Disciplines which collectively account for approximately 20% of all engineering Bachelors degrees awarded annually are:



Flight vehicles and systems, including both space flight (spacecraft, rockets, satellites, etc.) and sub-space flight (airplanes, helicopters, missiles, etc.). Many Aerospace Engineers also work on land-based vehicles as well (race cars, regular cars, etc.), typically focusing on aerodynamics (design of external surfaces). Astronautical Engineering programs focus on space flight/systems (spacecraft, satellites, etc.), while Aeronautical Engineering programs focus on sub-space flight vehicles/systems (airplanes, cars, etc.).



Engineering applications within the broad fields of medicine and the life sciences. Biomedical Engineering is the most rapidly growing engineering discipline, particularly at the undergraduate level.



Chemical-based manufacturing - applying chemistry for commercial-quantity production of a wide variety of products, including: Fuels (gasoline, natural gas) Petro-Chemicals (chemicals obtained from petroleum or natural gas) Agricultural Chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides) Industrial Chemicals (acids, alkalis, organics, salts) Plastics, Polymers and Fibers Paper and Paper Products Pharmaceuticals and Drugs Consumer Products (paints, soaps, household cleaners, etc.) Food Additives/Products Advanced Materials (ceramics, electronic materials, composites, etc.)


Industrial/ Manufacturing

Efficiency, or, more precisely, how to design, organize, implement, and operate the basic factors of production (materials, equipment, people, information, and energy) in the most efficient manner possible. The typical focus is on optimizing industrial manufacturing operations, although the skills learned can be applied to other non-manufacturing settings.

Smaller 10 Disciplines

The Smaller Ten Disciplines which collectively account for less than 10% of all engineering Bachelors degrees awarded annually:



Production and processing of agricultural products (agriculture = crops, livestock and poultry). Includes Biological Engineering; Bio-Resources Engineering; Bio-Systems Engineering.



Engineered systems (that is, structural, mechanical, and electrical systems) for commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings/facilities. Overall, Architectural Engineers seek to bridge the gap between Architects (who focus on form and function) and Engineers (who focus on buildability) in designing/building buildings and facilities.


Engineering Mgmt

Combine management courses and engineering classes to prepare graduates to work in technology-driven businesses.


Engineering Physics or Science

Research into, and application of, principles from basic scientific fields (particularly physics) with an eye towards engineering applications.



Issues involving the protection and preservation of the environment, including sustainable use of the earths natural resources. Primary Areas of Specialization include Air Pollution Control, Hazardous Waste Treatment and Disposal, Natural Systems Modeling, Recycling and Solid Waste Disposal, Sanitary Engineering (municipal and industrial water and wastewater treatment). and Water Resources. Environmental Engineering is also a frequent area of specialization under both Chemical and Civil Engineering programs.


General Engineering Studies

General engineering studies includes core courses and competencies (including mathmatics) that can be applied to any number of enginering disciplines without specializing in a specific one.


Materials/ Metallurgical

Development and application of advanced materials ceramics, polymers, metallic alloys/specialty metals, electronic materials, composites, etc. While Materials Engineering is concerned with developing and applying advanced material, commercial-scale production of such materials is the realm of Chemical Engineering. This discipline is also known as Materials Science and Engineering (reflecting the heavy emphasis on studying materials science that such programs often entail).


Mining, Nuclear

Combining the Finding, extracting, and processing coal, metallic ores (such as copper, nickel, zinc, and gold) and other minerals (such as diamonds) with the engineering applications of nuclear/radioactive materials.


Petroleum Engineering

The identification, extraction, storage, and transportation of crude oil and natural gas. Processing (refining) crude oil is in realm of Chemical Engineering



In recent years, a completely new field of technology has developed from advances in the life sciences. Known as biotechnology, it involves such varied activities as genetic engineering, the manipulation of genetic material of cells or organisms, and cloning, the formation of genetically uniform cells, plants, or animals. Although still in its infancy, many scientists believe that biotechnology will play a major role in many fields, including food production, waste disposal, and medicine.

The Specialty Disciplines: A variety of miscellaneous disciplines offered (such as Ocean Engineering) that collectively account for less than 5% of all engineering Bachelors degrees awarded annually.

^ Top ^