In this brief guide we are going to answer the question ‘’What are the 5 main branches of chemistry?’’ we will explain what chemistry is, what its main branches are, what each of them does and what their areas of work are.
What are the 5 main branches of chemistry?
For practical purposes, a more specific description is now used to name the branches of chemistry which include: inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry and biochemistry.
Organic chemistry” is the study of carbon and its compounds. In other words, it is learning about the chemistry of life and the reactions that occur in living organisms.
It is mainly concerned with looking at the structure and behaviour of molecules composed of:
- Carbon (C).
- hydrogen (H)
- Oxygen (O).
- Nitrogen (N).
These are the atoms used to build the substances that all plants and animals require for their survival.
Organic chemists are concerned with synthesising new molecules through efficient reactions, which is a challenge. These can be:
- Polymers (plastics).
- Fertilisers and pesticides.
In addition, understanding something about organic chemistry is essential to learning about biochemistry and molecular biology because biomolecules such as proteins, sugars, fats and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) are all organic molecules, albeit very large ones.
Students concentrating in organic chemistry generally work in pharmaceutical, food or polymer companies, research or teach organic chemistry, pursue medical careers or may seek other related job opportunities.
Inorganic chemistry” deals with the properties and behaviour of inorganic compounds, which include metals, minerals and organometallic compounds.
While organic chemistry is defined as the study of compounds containing carbon, inorganic chemistry is the study of the remaining (i.e. non-carbon containing) subset of compounds.
But, there can be an overlap between the two fields. For example, organometallic compounds often contain a metal or metalloid attached directly to carbon.
Where is inorganic chemistry used?
Inorganic compounds are used as:
- Fuels, among others.
They often have high melting points and specific properties of high or low electrical conductivity, which makes them useful for specific purposes. For example:
- Chlorine is used in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride (used for pipes, clothing, furniture, etc.), agrochemicals (e.g. fertilisers, insecticides or soil treatment), pharmaceuticals, and water treatment and sterilisation chemicals.
- Titanium dioxide is the natural oxide of titanium, which is used as a white powder pigment in paints, coatings, plastics, paper, inks, fibres, food and cosmetics. It also has excellent UV-resistant properties.
Analytical chemistry” is the study of the composition of matter and the development of tools to measure the properties of matter.
Analytical chemistry is the science of obtaining, processing and communicating information about the composition and structure of matter. In other words, it is the art of determining what matter is and how much of it exists.
What are the applications of analytical chemistry?
Analytical chemistry can be a challenging profession that makes significant contributions to many fields of science. Applications include:
- Ensuring the safety and quality of food, pharmaceuticals and water.
- Ensuring compliance with environmental and other regulations.
- Supporting legal processes with quantitative data.
- Help clinicians diagnose diseases.
- Provide essential measurements and documentation for commerce and economics.
We can understand this branch of chemistry as the science of solving problems in any type of industry.
Analytical chemistry includes:
- Quantitative and qualitative analysis.
- Spectrometry and spectroscopy.
- Chromatography and electrophoresis.
Biochemistry” studies the chemical processes related to living organisms. It is a laboratory science that arises from the relationship between chemistry and biology.
What does a biochemistry professional study?
Biochemists study points such as the structure, composition and chemical reactions of all substances in living systems, as well as their functions and ways of controlling them.
Biochemistry was born as a separate discipline when scientists combined biology with organic, inorganic and physical chemistry. Since then, the following questions began to emerge:
- How do living things get energy from food?
- What is the chemical basis of heredity?
- What fundamental changes occur in disease?
Biochemistry is the tool that provides the answer to these questions.
What sciences does biochemistry include?
Biochemistry is interdisciplinary and therefore draws on areas such as:
- Molecular biology.
What are the applications of biochemistry?
Biochemistry has obvious applications in medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine. Other applications include:
Biochemists determine the chemical composition of food, investigate ways to develop abundant and economical sources of nutritious food, develop methods to extract nutrients from waste products and/or invent ways to extend the shelf life of food products.
Biochemists study the interaction of herbicides/insecticides with plants and pests. They examine the structure-activity relationships of compounds, determine their ability to inhibit growth and assess toxicological effects on surrounding life.
Like pharmacology, physiology, microbiology, toxicology and clinical chemistry, biochemists have roles such as:
Evaluating the mechanisms of action of drugs.
Participate in viral research.
Using chemical concepts, procedures and techniques to study the diagnosis and therapy of diseases and the evaluation of health.
The study of the principles of physics involved in the way chemical reactions take place.
- How does matter behave at the molecular and atomic levels?
- How do chemical reactions occur?
The study of physical chemistry focuses on understanding the physical properties of atoms and molecules, how chemical reactions work and what these properties reveal.
Physical chemistry is a good area for chemists who are curious about how things work at the atomic level and enjoy working with laboratory instruments and machines.
What is the application of physical chemistry?
Researchers in the field discover, test and strive to understand the physical characteristics of a material (i.e. solid, liquid or gas). Precision and attention to detail make their work somewhat similar to analytical chemistry.
They use sophisticated instrumentation and equipment such as lasers, mass spectrometers, nuclear magnetic resonance and electron microscopes to:
- Analyse materials.
- Develop methods to test and characterise the properties of materials.
- Develop theories about these properties.
- Discover the potential use of materials.
Mathematical analysis in physical chemistry
Specialists in the field use mathematical and statistical analysis on large data sets, sometimes with millions of data points, to reveal hidden information about compounds, materials and processes.
They can also perform simulations, developing mathematical equations that predict how compounds react over time.
Areas of study in chemistry
Chemistry is the study of changes in matter, which characterises it as a central science. Every detail of this topic is mentioned in our post What is chemistry?
This fascinating discipline covers a large number of areas, here we mention some of its most demanded specialisations:
- Green chemistry: looks for ways to minimise the environmental impact of chemical processes. This includes remediation, as well as forms of green chemical efficiency.
- Chemical engineering: Involves the production and manufacture of products through chemical processes. This includes the design of equipment, systems and processes for refining raw materials and for mixing, blending and processing chemicals.
- Health sciences: Chemistry is the basis of metabolic processes, the study of chemical reactions that occur in humans has enabled the advancement of medicine, and is therefore of great importance to any discipline in this area.
- Biotechnology: involves the manipulation of living organisms (or their components) to design or improve vaccines, medicines, energy efficiency or food safety. Common applications can be found in drug development, human and animal nutrition, agricultural improvements and environmental protection.
- Electrochemistry: Electrochemistry examines the movement of charge in chemical systems. Often, electrons are the charge carriers, but the discipline also investigates the behaviour of ions and protons.
- Chemical kinetics: Chemical kinetics (or simply “kinetics”) studies the rates of reactions, chemical processes and the factors that affect them.
- Radiochemistry: It explores the nature of radioisotopes, the effects of radiation on the matter and the synthesis of radioactive elements or compounds.
- Petroleum and petroleum chemistry: The field of petroleum involves multiple branches of chemistry, including biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry and chemical engineering. They support the industry with fluid cracking catalysts, and chemicals used to assist in drilling and refining.
- Crystallography: An area that combines its multidisciplinary background to address some of the most challenging questions in the development of atomic-level knowledge of major biological processes, such as DNA repair, ribosome biogenesis, cell signalling and cancer biology.
In this brief guide we answered the question ‘’What are the 5 main branches of chemistry?’’ we explained what chemistry is, what its main branches are, what each of them does and what their areas of work are.
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