The 5 Main Branches of Chemistry

One of Several Ways Chemistry Can Be Divided Into Categories

Main branches of chemistry: organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, biochemistry, analytical chemistry

ThoughtCo / Derek Abella 

There are many branches of chemistry or chemistry disciplines. The five main branches are organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, and biochemistry.


Branches of Chemistry

  • Traditionally, the five main branches of chemistry are organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, and biochemistry. However, sometimes biochemistry is considered a subdiscipline of organic chemistry.
  • The branches of chemistry overlap those of physics and biology. There is also some overlap with engineering.
  • Within each major discipline there are many subdivisions.

What Is Chemistry?

Chemistry, like physics and biology, is a natural science. In fact, there is considerable overlap between chemistry and these other disciplines. Chemistry is a science that studies matter. This includes atoms, compounds, chemical reactions, and chemical bonds. Chemists explore the properties of matter, its structure, and how it interacts with other matter.

Overview of the 5 Branches of Chemistry

  • Organic Chemistry: Organic chemistry is the study of carbon and its compounds. It is the study of the chemistry of life and reactions occurring in living organisms. An organic chemistry might study organic reactions, the structure and properties of organic molecules, polymers, drugs, or fuels.
  • Inorganic Chemistry: Inorganic chemistry is the study of compounds not covered by organic chemistry. It is the study of inorganic compounds, or compounds that don't contain a C-H bond. A few inorganic compounds do contain carbon, but most contain metals. Topics of interest to inorganic chemists include ionic compounds, organometallic compounds, minerals, cluster compounds, and solid-state compounds.
  • Analytical Chemistry: Analytical chemistry is the study of the chemistry of matter and the development of tools to measure properties of matter. Analytical chemistry includes quantitative and qualitative analysis, separations, extractions, distillation, spectrometry and spectroscopy, chromatography, and electrophoresis. Analytical chemists develop standards, chemical methods, and instrumental methods.
  • Physical Chemistry: Physical chemistry is the branch of chemistry that applies physics to the study of chemistry, which commonly includes the applications of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics to chemistry.
  • Biochemistry: Biochemistry is the study of chemical processes that occur inside of living organisms. Examples of key molecules include proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, lipids, drugs, and neurotransmitters. Sometimes this discipline is considered a subdiscipline of organic chemistry. Biochemistry is closely related to molecular biology, cell biology, and genetics.


Other Branches of Chemistry

There are other ways chemistry can be divided into categories. Depending on who you ask, other disciplines might be included as a main branch of chemistry. Other examples of branches of chemistry include:

  • Astrochemistry: Astrochemistry examines the abundance of elements and compounds in the universe, their reactions with each other, and the interaction between radiation and matter.
  • Chemical Kinetics: Chemical kinetics (or simply "kinetics") studies the rates of chemical reactions and processes and the factors that affect them.
  • Electrochemistry: Electrochemistry examines the movement of charge in chemical systems. Often, electrons are the charge carrier, but the discipline also investigates the behavior of ions and protons.
  • Green Chemistry: Green chemistry looks at ways of minimizing the environmental impact of chemical processes. This includes remediation as well as ways of improving processes to make them more eco-friendly.
  • Geochemistry: Geochemistry examines the nature and properties of geological materials and processes.
  • Nuclear Chemistry: While most forms of chemistry mainly deal with interactions between electrons in atoms and molecules, nuclear chemistry explores the reactions between protons, neutrons, and subatomic particles.
  • Polymer Chemistry: Polymer chemistry deals with the synthesis and properties of macromolecules and polymers.
  • Quantum Chemistry: Quantum chemistry applies quantum mechanics to model and explore chemical systems.
  • Radiochemistry: Radiochemistry explores the nature of radioisotopes, the effects of radiation on matter, and the synthesis of radioactive elements and compounds.
  • Theoretical Chemistry: Theoretical chemistry is the branch of chemistry that applies mathematics, physics, and computer programming to answer chemistry questions.

Sources

  • Greenwood, Norman N.; Earnshaw, Alan (1997). Chemistry of the Elements (2nd ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-08-037941-8.
  • Laidler, Keith (1993). The World of Physical Chemistry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-855919-4.
  • Skoog, Douglas A.; Holler, F. James; Crouch, Stanley R. (2007). Principles of Instrumental Analysis. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Thomson. ISBN 978-0-495-01201-6.
  • Sørensen, Torben Smith (1999). Surface Chemistry and Electrochemistry of Membranes. CRC Press. ISBN 0-8247-1922-0.
  • Streitwieser, Andrew; Heathcock, Clayton H.; Kosower, Edward M. (2017). Introduction to Organic Chemistry. New Delhi: Medtech. ISBN 978-93-85998-89-8.
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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The 5 Main Branches of Chemistry." ThoughtCo, Aug. 2, 2021, thoughtco.com/the-5-branches-of-chemistry-603911. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2021, August 2). The 5 Main Branches of Chemistry. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-5-branches-of-chemistry-603911 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The 5 Main Branches of Chemistry." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-5-branches-of-chemistry-603911 (accessed September 18, 2021).