Thoughts with Richard Bleil
There are three major overarching basic sciences: chemistry, physics and biology. Other sciences are more applied sciences (such as geology which is applied to earth and mineral science). I’m not suggesting that some sciences are better than others, nor am I trying to set a priority, but when most people think of basic science, I believe that they think of one of these three. I am intentionally leaving mathematics off of the list. Although I think of math as one of the sciences (and many would disagree with me anyway), it doesn’t really fit into the theme I am shooting for tonight. And, by the way, there is really no point to today’s post. The idea today is just to express a trend that I’ve been noticing in the sciences that I personally find interesting, but not everybody will.
Before I discuss this trend, though, I think it’s a good time to bring up something else that I’ve noticed. It seems as if, as a general rule, people will say that they don’t like science (those of us in the sciences being the obvious exceptions although, during lunch with colleagues at an analytical chemistry private lab, I was admonished for bringing up a topic in science because they “didn’t want to talk about science on their break”). And yet, as people are happy to express a distaste for science, the term “science” is quickly applied to many things in what appears to be an effort to make them seem somehow more significant. Take, for example, cosmetic science. There is truly a lot of science (in particular chemistry with some biology) behind cosmetics, but when a third party is selling cosmetics in an independent sales approach, they’re not practicing cosmetic science, in my humble opinion. They’re not making the formulations, doing the quality control analytical chemistry, performing the toxicology testing or any other true science behind the cosmetics. Learning the available company products is not doing science.
Okay, with that little odd side-rant out of the way, what I’ve noticed over the years is that the sciences all seem to be converging on chemistry. Chemistry is the study of matter, and matter is anything that occupies a volume and has mass, so with few exceptions, it’s everything we can see, touch, smell, or taste (notice that I’ve left a sense out). In other words, nearly everything that we experience is indeed chemistry. It’s been called the “central science” by some because it truly is the most applicable.
Physics, on the other hand, is the study of energy. I left hearing out in the list of senses because it probably best fits in physics. Although we can hear things from chemical reactions and processes, such as a firecracker or fizzing from a soda, the actual sense of hearing is detecting wave propagation, which is a form of energy and best fits into the realm of physics. And yet, one of the major subdisciplines in physics today is molecular physics, sometimes called material science. Well, the study of materials and molecules is chemistry. I’m not complaining, mind you. When physicists study chemistry, they bring their own perspective to the discipline, which is unique and a new perspective to the discipline bringing with it rich advancements and insights, but I still find it curious that modern physics seems to be moving towards chemistry.
Biology is the study of living organisms. Historically it has related to figuring out kingdoms and families and so forth for animals and species of living organisms and their interrelationships. However, in modern biology, the new hot subdiscipline of is molecular biology. This is looking at the molecular processes, reactions and structures relevant to life, and yet, if you’re talking about molecules, you’re talking about chemistry. Again, the perspective is different as biologists examine such structures and processes as it relates to life, bringing, again, a new perspective to the old discipline of chemistry.
Frankly, I believe this is rather exciting. New perspectives lead to new insights. One could argue (and I have) that physics is the foundation of chemistry, and that chemistry is the foundation of biology, and, of course, I’ve also argued that in the universe, the disciplines do not work in a vacuum. The chemical reactions giving rise to my ability to move my biological fingers produces the energy physics requires for me to do this. This, by the way, is not a universally accepted opinion among scientists. I have heard colleagues argue (in both biology and physics) that the only true science is, well, biology and physics respectively. Modern advances, including pharmaceuticals, LED lights, batteries and so on, have come on the back of the disciplines of science working together, with diverse perspectives on the same topics. I’m in chemistry because it’s the discipline that I enjoy the most, not because I believe it to be the most important. Any true scientist will realize the importance of diversity of perspectives and respect all of the disciplines, extending even beyond these three.