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STEM: What is Science?

Science-word A large number of STEM volunteers across the U.S. can breathe a sigh of relief this month. We recently completed another year of participating in the National Future City Competition. This includes those of us in the Arizona Region.

Almost since the inception of the Arizona Region’s Future City Competition 18 years ago, each year a few dozen teachers, parents, and other family members say to me or other volunteers, “Thank you for hosting this competition. Until now, we had no clue what engineering is all about!”

Recently, politicians, elected officials, movie stars, professional athletes, musicians (including Will.I.Am) etc. have been encouraging students to pursue STEM-related studies and careers. Yet, answering the question how to do it? or, why do it? has not been as easy. Most of the readers of this blog already know that STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math, however, if I ask you “What is science?, technology?, engineering?, or math?” what would you tell me?

As A Bridge for Business & STEM celebrates three years in the blogosphere, these questions are worthy of future conversations. Some of us make the assumption that we know, but do we really? This post takes a brief look at the definition of science. There are many definitions for science trending today. Needless to say, these definitions have changed over time.

After reviewing several definitions, the one that most resonated with me is offered by Dr. Lui Lam, a physicist at San Jose State University: Essentially, science is humans’ honest and earnest pursuit of knowledge about nature—which includes humans and (living or nonliving) nonhuman systems, i.e., all simple and complex systems—without bringing in God or any supernatural. The essence of science is its secularity and the required reality check (which differentiates science from other forms of knowledge). [Ref 1]

Science Word Cloud

Science Word Cloud

Lam explains that there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about the field of science. The nature and contents of science is an unsettled problem. Thales was recognized as the Father of Science 2600 years ago, however, the word science was introduced only in the 14th century. Therefore it would be wrong if science is understood only as modern science that started with Galileo about 400 years ago.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a modern definition of science is a way of pursuing knowledge, and not only the knowledge itself. It is often restricted to those branches of study that seek to explain the phenomena of the material universe.

Another way to characterize science is by its branches [Source: Wikipedia]:

  • physical science (e.g. physics, chemistry)
  • earth science (meteorology, geology, astronomy, etc.)
  • life science (biology and its branches, medicine and its branches, pharmacological sciences, psychology, sports science, etc.)
  • social science (e.g. history, law, politics, sociology, etc.)
  • formal science (mathematics and its branches, reasoning, logic, etc.)As the word cloud shows, there are many fields of study and topics under the science umbrella.

Now that you have been provided with a basic definition of science, a similar and separate discussion will also be provided for technology, engineering, and math. Reference:

  1. American Society for the Advancement of Science, 2015 Annual Meeting, Science in Society Science Defined, by Lui Lam, PhD, San Jose State University, http://www.aaas.org/abstract/science-defined

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.



  1. Pingback: STEM: What Is Math? | BridgeBizSTEM - March 12, 2015

  2. Pingback: STEM: What is Technology? | BridgeBizSTEM - May 12, 2015

  3. Pingback: STEM: What is Engineering? | BridgeBizSTEM - June 9, 2015

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