The five main branches of chemistry are organic, inorganic, analytical, physical, and biochemistry. But, there are many important sub-branches and types of chemistry shared with other disciplines. Here are the definitions and descriptions of the major branches, with a list of several other areas of study.
Organic chemistry is the study of life and organic carbon compounds. This discipline focuses on compounds that contain C-H bonds.
Inorganic chemistry studies inorganic compounds, including metals, ceramics, and minerals. Some carbon compounds are included, but they don’t contain C-H bonds.
Analytical chemistry characterizes matter and develops tool to measure it. Analytical techniques include both qualitative and quantitative analysis.
As its name implies, physical chemistry shares close ties with the science of physics, particularly the discipline of thermodynamics. Physical science applies thermodynamics and mechanics to chemistry.
Biochemistry is the study of chemical reactions that occur in living organisms. The field focuses on nucleic acids, lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins. Some people consider the 4 branches of chemistry to be organic, inorganic, analytical, and physical chemistry. Under this classification system, biochemistry is a sub-discipline of organic chemistry. But, biochemistry is often considered the fifth branch of chemistry.
More Branches of Chemistry
In addition to the main four or five branches of chemistry, there are many other disciplines. Here are some of them:
- Agrochemistry – Agrochemistry examines chemical processes important to agriculture.
- Astrochemistry – Astrochemistry is the study of chemical reactions in space.
- Coordination Chemistry – Coordination chemistry is the study of coordination complexes, which consist of a central atom (usually a metal) surrounded by ligands.
- Forensic Chemistry – Forensic chemistry applies chemical principles to investigate crime.
- Geochemistry – Geochemistry is the study of minerals, rocks, and the atmosphere of the Earth or other planetary body.
- Medicinal Chemistry – Medicinal chemistry designs, synthesizes, and studies drugs and other therapeutic agents.
- Organometallic Chemistry – Organometallic chemistry bridges both organic and inorganic chemistry. It is the study of compounds containing chemical bonds between carbon and a metal.
- Petrochemistry – Petrochemistry is the branch of organic chemistry focusing on petroleum and natural gas processing and refining.
- Phytochemistry – Phytochemistry is the study of chemicals derived from plants.
- Polymer Chemistry – Polymer chemistry is the sub-discipline of organic chemistry concerned with the chemistry of plastics and polymers.
- Nuclear Chemistry – Nuclear chemistry studies atoms and chemical reactions at the nuclear level. It includes the chemical study of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay.
- Radiochemistry – Radiochemistry studies radioisotopes and uses radioactive materials to study chemical reactions.
- Solid-State Chemistry – Solid-state chemistry examines reactions and properties of matter in the solid-state phase.
- Spectroscopy – Spectroscopy is the study of the interactions between light and matter.
- Stereochemistry – Stereochemistry studies the spatial arrangement of atoms within molecules.
- Surface Chemistry – Surface chemistry examines chemical processes on the surfaces of materials.
- Thermochemistry – Thermochemistry is the branch of physical chemistry dealing with heat in chemical systems.
- Quantum Chemistry – Quantum chemistry applies quantum mechanics and mathematics to describe the motion and interaction of subatomic particles in atoms and molecules.