The Field

Biology is the science of life. The vast scope of its subject matter makes biology an extremely diverse field of study. This diversity stems not only from the tremendous variety of life forms with which we share our planet, but also from the multiple levels of organization available for biological investigation. Given an organism, a biologist might choose to investigate how it behaves, how it fits into its ecosystem, the mechanisms by which its genes shape its appearance, what its ancestors were like, how its cells divide, how it grows and develops, or how it derives energy from nourishment. Biological inquiry encompasses perspectives from the planetary to the submicroscopic.

The wide array of biological perspectives is reflected in the many subdisciplines of the field. Genetics, anatomy, physiology, ecology, ethology, botany, neurobiology, systematics, molecular biology, developmental biology, paleontology, and cell biology are just a few of the multitude of specializations that, taken together, compose biology. Given the plethora of approaches that coexist under the biological umbrella, a casual observer might believe that biology is an intellectually fragmented and diffuse endeavor. Fortunately, biology, in all of its glorious diversity, is unified by a few grand ideas. In particular, the theory of evolution provides a conceptual framework that draws together the far-flung threads of biological thought.

Like other scientists, biologists use the scientific method to develop explanations for the patterns and processes that they observe in the natural world. The practice of biology thus involves both systematic observation, often aided by sophisticated instruments, and experimentation. Biologists may work in laboratories or in the field; some of the best biological research combines data gathered in both settings.