Physics vs. Physical Science: What’s the Difference?

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The study of inorganic matter, which is the non-living aspect of the universe, is the foundation of physical science. This is the other side of the coin, where the biological sciences reside. Any subfield in science that involves the study of inanimate objects falls under physical science.

It might be a tad bit confusing when one tries to distinguish between the meaning of physical science and physics. They’re pretty similar in wording, which often causes people to use them interchangeably. However, there are rather unique differences between the two subjects.

In this article, we dwell on physical science and physics definitions and point out the significant differences. Moreover, you’ll read through detailed explanations of the different subjects under each.

What is Physical Science All About?What is Physical Science All About?

There are four main subdivisions of physical science. They all revolve around the study of inorganic matter. Hence the topic is quite broad. The physical science branches are mainly composed of astronomy, chemistry, physics, and earth sciences.

Physics was born in the 17th century as Galileo discovered that the Earth revolves around the sun. Before that instance, many believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. Hence, his discovery was ground-breaking, despite numerous skeptics denying his discovery.

As the years went by, chemistry and physics were often intertwined. However, we can now have more definitive explanations for each. Physics is the study of atoms’ behavior and structure. On the other hand, chemistry focuses more on how these atoms and molecules react and which properties they have.

As you can see, physical science often intertwines all these various topics. For instance, astronomy can often fall under physics, as mechanics and radiation can explain the phenomena we observe in space. Moreover, the word “physical” often confuses people into believing that it’s the study of anything tangible. We now know that’s incorrect, as chemistry deals with the composition and changes within a molecule.

But what is physical science in high school? According to Forest Trail Academy, the outline for physical science involves only physics and chemistry. In high school, you’ll often learn the basics of science, such as theories and history. You’ll also learn about the basic structure of an atom, what the scientific method is, and how to measure various scientific components.

What are the Branches of Physical Science?

What are the Branches of Physical Science?

As discussed before, physical science has 4 branches:

Astronomy

Astronomy is the study of all the celestial objects found in the universe. However, it revolves around chemistry and physics, as these two branches are used to explain the various phenomena witnessed in space.

For instance, scientists, through astronomy, study different objects. These include asteroids, stars, planets, moons, nebulae, comets, and black holes. Little is known about a number of these objects, and the only way to find explanations for the phenomena is through extensive use of both chemistry and physics.

Some phenomena that are also studied in astronomy include gamma-ray bursts, electromagnetic radiation from different objects, background radiation, and supernova explosions.

Through the study of astronomy, scientists attempt to travel back in time, not literally, though. However, the primary purpose of scientists trying to travel back and understand the universe is to know where we come from. Astronomy includes studying the big bang and attempting to understand what happened before the universe was born.

Chemistry

Is chemistry a physical science? Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. Chemistry does not involve the study of any living organism and focuses on the inorganic world. Hence, through chemistry, you learn the composition of an atom and its structure, how different elements interact together, and how matter changes.

By studying chemistry, you’ll also learn quite a lot about the bonding between different molecules. These bindings are what give the material its various properties. For instance, once you understand the composition difference between gases, solids, and liquids, you’ll know why each has its specific properties.

Physics

In simple words, physics is the study of the whole universe. It spans the micro world, such as electrons (particles of electricity) and photons (particles of light). Hence, it covers the way electricity works, but it also explains why the radiation from the sun can be harmful.

Moreover, physics involves the study of the macro world, the intangible one. That includes the moon, the sun, the planets, and asteroids. While often seen as the most complex science out there, physics allows you to widen your perspective and understand how the world operates.

Earth Sciences

Earth science is also known as geoscience. It studies natural science revolving around the Earth and its atmosphere. Hence, it deals with numerous subfields, including the physical and chemical composition of various elements found on Earth.

However, earth sciences mainly focus on the atmosphere. Hence, you’ll learn about the biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. Expect to see a lot of geology and meteorology, as they both fall under the discipline of earth science.

What is Physics in Science?

What is Physics in Science?

Physics involves the study of how the world operates. Hence, you’ll often see it span various topics. This includes energy, electricity, quantum physics, physical objects, and the study of new particles. For instance, CERN has multiple accelerators that work on accelerating particles at speeds near the speed of light. Those experiments are all devised and explained based on physics.

But one fundamental aspect to keep in mind is that physics is heavily dependent on mathematics. We mean that all the phenomena are further explained through equations and theories. Einstein’s theory of relativity originated from mathematics. Another example is Newton’s kinematic equations.

Is physics different from physical science? Well, they’re separate entities. However, physics does fall under physical science, as it is yet another study of non-living systems.

However, physics stands on its own, as it’s a significant enough discipline without any other topic. It’s considered the second most fundamental study in the universe after mathematics. That simply means that mathematics is believed to be the discipline that makes up the universe. Then physics is there to elaborate on it.

For instance, physics would not have been in existence without mathematics. Everything in physics is backed up by some mathematical theories and formulas.

But what is the difference between physics and physical science classes? Here is a short list to illustrate:

  • Physics as a course will be much more intense as compared to a physical science course
  • During a physical science class, you’ll often study some bits and pieces of all four disciplines: physics, chemistry, astronomy, and earth sciences
  • A physics class will revolve around the study of matter, forces, and energy
  • A physical science class will focus on what objects in the universe are made of and how they change
  • In physics, you’ll dive deep into theories of energy, gravity, and kinematics
  • In physical science, you’ll study various topics, but more generally, without diving too deep into any of the disciplines

Is Physics Different from Physical Science?

Is Physics Different from Physical Science?

What are the fundamental differences between physics vs. physical science? According to dictionary.com, physical science is defined as “any natural sciences dealing with the inanimate matter and is a collection of sciences.”

On the other hand, it defines physics as “the science that deals with matter, energy, motion, and force.”

Hence, it’s pretty evident that physical science includes physics as a subcategory but is a much broader topic. Overall, physical science is simply a term coined to include any study that doesn’t involve the biological aspect of the world.

People often compare conceptual physics vs. physical science, as some believe they’re intertwined. Well, in theory, they are pretty similar. For instance, conceptual physics focuses on explaining various phenomena and observations through concepts instead of a mathematical basis. Hence, it’s generally more accessible as it’s more straightforward.

The similarity between conceptual physics and physical sciences is that they’re both broader topics. Moreover, they rarely include extensive math equations. Hence, it’s more light-hearted compared to physics.

Physical Science Vs. Physics: What You’ll Learn

Physical Science

  • Programming
  • Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Integrated Mathematics
  • Integrated Physics
  • Planets
  • Properties of Matter
  • Meteorology
  • Geology
  • Geography
  • Materials Science

Physics

  • Mechanics
  • Electromagnetic Theory
  • Theory of Special Relativity
  • Theory of General Relativity
  • Statistical Mechanics
  • Modern Physics
  • Waves
  • Energy
  • Thermodynamics

Keep in mind that the list goes on and on. However, you’ll get a general understanding of what each subject entails from the list above. In summary, physics as a course or degree is much more extensive. It dives deeper into all mechanisms of the universe.

On the other hand, physical science addresses numerous topics while spanning numerous subfields. Still, it keeps things lighter, with lower amounts of mathematics.

Wrapping Things Up: Physics vs. Physical Science: What’s the Difference?

The takeaway from this article is that both physical science and physics are ever-evolving. The topics will never stop advancing, as the discoveries and the theories are continuously updated. In a gist, physical science includes physics as a subfield. Still, you most probably won’t see the entirety of it covered. All in all, both are pretty difficult subjects, so we advise that you tread lightly.

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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