Why is chemistry the central science? Aren't other areas of science just as important?

Chemistry is sometimes called the central science because it’s so important to all the other fields of science, like biology, geology, astronomy, physics, medicine, engineering, materials science, and many others. In this article, we’ll share more insight into why chemistry is so important to other disciplines.

Chemistry is the study of the building blocks of matter and life. We don't all need to have a deep understanding of this science but having some understanding of how chemistry works and influences our lives can only be beneficial. If you need to brush up on chemistry, check out our adaptive Brainscape flashcards for:

The importance of learning chemistry

Biology and botany

All biological bodies are made up of chemical compounds. These compounds engage in chemical reactions that transport energy. They have cells that grow and divide; it's chemical reactions that enable reproduction, respiration, and more. Plants synthesize and use a huge variety of chemical compounds, many of which form the basis of medicine. The chemistry of animals and plants is central as well to any understanding of diet, nutrition, and health.

Geology, geomorphology, and archeology

Another field that is based on chemistry is geology. Rocks are made up of atoms, and the chemical composition of stone and soil determines hardness, erosion, and other physical qualities that shape the landscape. In geology, as well as archeology and many other fields, the gradual chemical changes that occur in radioactive elements enable carbon dating techniques that have revolutionized our understanding of the past.

Medicine and biochemistry

In the fields of medicine and biochemistry, chemistry plays a central role. Finely-balanced chemical reactions, such as hormone synthesis and similar processes, regulate the health of our bodies. Understanding and treating many health issues depends on a chemical understanding of what is occurring in the body. From bandages to mental health, from medications to blood plasma, chemistry is critical to medicine and biochemistry.

Astronomy

Modern astronomy would not be possible without a deep understanding of chemistry. That’s because much of our knowledge of the universe has only been gained through astronomical spectroscopy, which analyzes the spectrum of celestial objects and matches that spectrum with elements of the periodic table to determine their composition.

Engineering and materials science

Of course, basic engineering and materials science is possible without chemistry. The same is true of all the other fields of study discussed here. But chemistry allows more complete understanding. That’s because every material is made up of atoms, and the properties of any material are determined by the interaction of those atoms. The fundamental chemistry of each element determines its strength, surface qualities, combustibility, and much more.

Physics

Chemistry and physics are interdependent, with neither field being completely understandable without the other. If there is any science that has a claim to being the central science other than chemistry, physics would be it.

So, why is chemistry the central science?

As you see above, chemistry plays a rather central role in other sciences. This central role is best described using a hierarchical classification of sciences first developed by Auguste Comte.

Sciences can be listed in order depending on the general framework for the area it precedes (e.g. mathematics → astronomy → physics → chemistry → physiology and medicine → social sciences). Chemistry provides a significant amount of emergent ideas and concepts used in "higher fields of science". Without an understanding of these concepts in chemistry, one could not fully understand the sciences that come after it on the hierarchy!