My watch list  

The central science

  Chemistry is often called the central science because of its role in connecting “hard sciences” such as physics with the “soft sciences” such as biology, medicine, and the earth sciences.[1][2]. The nature of this relationship is one of the main topics in the philosophy of chemistry and in scientometrics. The phrase was popularized by its use in a textbook by Theodore L. Brown, titled Chemistry: The Central Science, which was first published in 1977, with a tenth edition published in 2005.[3]

The central role of chemistry can be seen in the systematic and hierarchical classification of the sciences by Auguste Comte in which each dislipline provides a more general frameworks for the area it precedes (mathematics → astronomy → physics → chemistry → physiology and medicine → social sciences).[4] Balaban and Klein have more recently proposed a diagram showing partial ordering of sciences in which chemistry may be argued is “the central science” since it provides a significant degree of branching.[5] In forming these connections it is important to note that the lower field cannot be fully reduced to the higher ones. It is recognized that the lower fields possess emergent ideas and concepts that do not exist in the higher fields of science.

Thus chemistry is built on an understanding of laws of physics that govern particles such as atoms, protons, electrons, thermodynamics, etc. although it has been argued that it cannot be “fully 'reduced' to quantum mechanics”.[6] Concepts such as the periodicity of the elements and chemical bonds in chemistry are emergent in that they are more than the underlying forces that are defined by physics.

In the same way biology cannot be fully reduced to chemistry despite the fact that the machinery that is responsible for life is composed of molecules.[7] For instance, the machinery of evolution may be described in terms chemistry by the understanding that it is a mutation in the order of genetic base pairs in the DNA of an organism. However chemistry cannot fully describe the process since it does not contain concepts, such as natural selection that are responsible for driving evolution. Chemistry is fundamental to biology since it provides methodology to study and understand the molecules that compose cells.

Connections made by chemistry are formed through various sub-disciplines that utilize concepts from multiple scientific disciplines. Chemistry and physics are both needed in the areas of physical chemistry, nuclear chemistry, and theoretical chemistry. Chemistry and biology intersect in the areas of biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, molecular biology, chemical biology, molecular genetics, and immunochemistry. Chemistry and the earth sciences intersect in areas like geochemistry and hydrology.


  1. ^ Michael Heylin “The 'Central Science' Seeks A New Contract With Society” Chemical & Engineering News, January 12, 1998.[1]
  2. ^ Mary L. Good “Chemistry in the 21st century. A central science or a “back office” technical activity?” Pure Appl. Chem., Vol. 73, No. 8, pp. 1229–1230, 2001.[2]
  3. ^ Theodore L. Brown Chemistry: The Central Science. Prentice Hall, 1977. ISBN 0131287699.
  4. ^ Carsten Reinhardt. Chemical Sciences in the 20th Century: Bridging Boundaries. Wiley-VCH, 2001. ISBN 3527302719. Pages 1-2.
  5. ^ ”Is chemistry ‘The Central Science’? How are different sciences related? Co-citations, reductionism, emergence, and posets” Alexadru T. Balaban, Douglas J. Klein Scientometrics 2006, 69, 615-637. doi:10.1007/s11192-006-0173-2
  6. ^ Eric Scerri “Philosophy of Chemistry” Chemistry International, Vol. 25 No. 3 [3].
  7. ^ Dennis R Livesay “At the crossroads of biomacromolecular research: highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of the field” Chemistry Central Journal 2007, 1:4 doi:10.1186/1752-153X-1-4.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "The_central_science". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE