Transdisciplinary approaches such as biomimicry are blurring the boundaries between the two conventional branches of natural science: physical science and life science.
Natural sciences, what is it?
Natural sciences: definition and context
Science is etymologically defined as the sum of knowledge. But, what are natural sciences compared to other types of sciences? Three classifications are distinguished:
the exact sciences, what is mathematics or theoretical physics, based on axioms and assumptions,
the social sciences which study the behaviors and interactions of human beings,
the natural sciences, which aim to study natural phenomena, such as chemistry, biology, or even experimental physics.
Physical sciences and life sciences are natural sciences!
The natural sciences are empirical and experimental sciences, which meet therefore to observations made on the living. We can then distinguish two branches of natural sciences: the life sciences and the physical sciences.
On the one hand, the life sciences, similar to biology, aim to study living organisms at different scales: from molecular biology to the theory of evolution, including the anatomy of human beings for example. On the other hand, the physical sciences bring together different fields such as physics, chemistry, or astronomy. They aim to study non-living organisms, unlike the life sciences.
As you will have understood, the border between the two branches of natural sciences is thin and sometimes the study of certain mechanisms, of certain behaviors cannot be placed in one of them in particular.
For instance, biomimicry, if it were to be classified or owned, would at the convergence of these two branches. Indeed, as a study of the mechanisms and systems of the living world in order to apply it to technologies, within the framework of a method of innovation (biomimicry definition link), biomimicry takes the principles of life sciences and applies them to physical sciences.
The history of natural sciences
The definition and classification of sciences as we explained, is only a few years old. The history of natural sciences is obviously correlated with the evolution of civilizations and societies. Since the prehistoric era, man has defined and refined his tools empirically. These are the first traces of a scientific method in history, which is enriched throughout history. Previously, the boundaries between the different fields that may be mathematics, philosophy or physical sciences were much more blurred. One can think of great scholars of antiquity such as Eratosthenes, a great mathematician, astronomer, geographer to whom we owe in particular the first measurement of the circumference of the Earth. We can also mention Hippocrates, considered “the father of medicine”, who was also a renowned philosopher, author in particular of the theory of humors, at the crossroads between empirical medicine and philosophy.
The analysis methods evolved, with a strong influence from ancient Greece and the Persian Empire. Various texts, in particular those of Aristotle, were only translated into Latin from the 12th century, and give birth to the first classifications of the natural sciences. Indeed, in the 13th century a Spanish philosopher named Gundissalinus defined the natural sciences as “sciences which study only concrete things capable of performing a movement”. These first definitions are gradually approaching what we know today, but the greatest developments in the natural sciences will come from the 17th century, with Isaac Newton which truly revolutionizes physics but also astronomy and optics. These numerous discoveries have allowed monumental advances, which have shaped the world as we know it today.
Natural sciences: cross-border disciplines
The different branches of the natural sciences include bordering disciplines, such as biophysics and the biomimicry, which overlaps the skills and attributes of the physical sciences and the life sciences.
Biophysics, between physical sciences and life sciences
Biophysics is an ideal example of multidisciplinary sciences, as it is at the interface of physics and biology. It can be defined primarily as the science that uses the approaches and methods of the physical sciences to study biological phenomena. Several universities are forerunners in this field, such as the University of Cambridge. At the end of the Second World War, it created a dedicated department, that notably led to the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1962, by crystallography in X-rays. We therefore understand that the separation of natural sciences into physical sciences and life sciences aims to categorize and specify the interest of each discipline, but that the links between these categories can lead to great discoveries. Thus we see the importance of pooling knowledge, across scientific disciplines, like biomimicry, capable of bringing technological innovations through the study of the living world.
Natural science and biomimicry
As you will have understood, natural sciences can be seen as a base for biomimicry, as this discipline is transverse to the physical sciences and the life sciences. Indeed, as an R&D approach that draws inspiration from the ingenuity of living mechanisms, functions and properties to innovate, biomimicry is by definition transdisciplinary. Biomimicry is the evidence that the interaction between sciences is effective and necessary. In fact, by combining the study of living beings and fluid mechanics for example, it is possible to design innovations to improve the aerodynamics of different elements, such as wind turbine blades which, that will, through biomimicry, be more efficient and profitable. (biomimicry and aerodynamics link). Similarly, life can be a very relevant source of inspiration in other areas such as thermoregulation of buildings, that is to say the management of air flow systems inside buildings to ensure the thermal comfort. Indeed, by taking inspiration from the fur of polar bears, it is possible to improve the thermal insulation of buildings, and therefore reduce their energy consumption (biomimicry and climate link).
Natural sciences have evolved and become more precise over the centuries, based on scientific and societal advances. The most recent developments are giving way to new transdisciplinary approaches, such as biomimicry.
Defining Natural Sciences, Stephen F. Ledoux (2012)