Natural Sciences Icon

Natural Sciences Major

Natural sciences provide the foundations for understanding the natural world and for using that knowledge to solve practical problems. Scientists and engineers use theories and findings of the physical and chemical sciences as well as the biological and biomedical sciences to develop new technologies, improving the lives of millions of people around the world.

Effective decision making in many technology-oriented organizations requires a deep understanding of the natural sciences; the Natural Sciences major gives students the practical knowledge to become leaders and innovators in science and technology-based organizations.

Core Courses

In their sophomore year, Natural Sciences majors enroll in the three core courses that provide the foundation for the Natural Sciences concentrations. They also take three to five electives from core courses offered in other majors. The Natural Sciences core courses are: Fundamental Laws of Nature (NS110), Implications of Earth's Cycles (NS111) and Evolution Across Multiple Scales (NS112).

NS110 / Fundamental Laws of Nature

Discover the implications of the physical and chemical nature of matter, from the smallest particles to the structure of the universe; learn how observation, experiments, theory and new instrumentation enable asking questions not possible before.

NS111 / Implications of Earth's Cycles

Explore the origin, chemistry and role of carbon, water, silicates and metals on earth. Discover in depth the interplay of living systems (including humans) and earth's systems and how expanding sensor technologies are changing the way we investigate our earth.

NS112 / Evolution Across Multiple Scales

Evolution is the unifying principle of all biological processes. Explore in detail how the fundamental processes within cells, individuals and ecological communities are explained by the basic mechanisms of evolutionary change, including mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. Discover how the latest technologies are revealing the interconnectedness of all living systems.


In their junior year, Natural Sciences majors select a concentration, begin taking the three courses within it and begin work on their capstone projects. They also take three electives chosen from other Minerva courses (other concentration courses in Natural Sciences, core and concentration courses in other colleges). Natural Sciences offers six concentrations shown in the table below.

In the senior year, Natural Sciences majors enroll in four additional electives chosen from Minerva’s course offerings within or outside the major. Additionally, they take two senior tutorials in the major, and finish their capstone projects.

  Theoretical Foundations of Natural Science Research Analyses in Natural Science Designing Solutions
Molecules and Atoms NS142 / Analyzing and Synthesizing Matter NS152 / Advancing Chemistry and Physics NS162 / Designer Chemicals and Devices
Cells and Organisms NS144 / Genetic Blueprint to Organism NS154 / Life’s chemistry NS164 / Solutions from and for Life
Earth's Systems NS146 / Exploring Earth's Emergent Systems NS156 / Monitoring and Modeling Earth's Systems NS166 / Keeping Earth Habitable

Each row and each column of the matrix represent a different concentration, as noted above.

Molecules and Atoms

Dig deeply into the chemistry and physics of matter — the basis of all life's and earth's processes — from particles to atoms to molecules. Learn the latest analytical methods for probing this miniature world and the technologies that could solve our world's health and environmental challenges.

Career Possibilities

  • New product development engineer
  • Project or product manager
  • Chemical engineer
  • Physicist
  • Technical sales representative
  • Instrument scientist
  • Research scientist

Cells and Organisms

Dig deeply into the complexity of how cells and organisms function and learn sophisticated approaches for probing life. Learn how biotechnology and bioengineering technologies can provide solutions to the challenges facing life on earth. Also explore how the principles of biological design are stimulating engineering.

Career Possibilities

  • Medical doctor
  • Geneticist
  • Bioinformatics specialist
  • Bioprocessing engineer
  • Research scientist
  • Biotech entrepreneur
  • Marketing director

Earth's Systems

Investigate the interactions among earth's systems, including the atmosphere, terrestrial, and marine components and how the earth's biome (including humans) interfaces with the physical, chemical and geological aspects of the environment. Explore how scientists are monitoring and modeling the changes to our earth, and potential technological and social solutions to earth's challenges.

Career Possibilities

  • Research scientist
  • Geologist
  • Ecologist
  • Political consultant
  • Environmental scientist
  • Environmental engineer

Theoretical Foundations of Natural Science

Explore the latest knowledge in physical, chemical, biological and earth sciences, from the smallest scale of particles, atoms and molecules, to cells and organisms, to the complexity of earth's systems. Delve into crucial questions scientists are pursuing.

Career Possibilities

  • Environmental engineer
  • Chemist
  • Professor
  • Biofuels engineer
  • Product development engineer
  • Medical doctor

Research Analyses in Natural Science

Explore in detail how research is practiced across the molecular, cellular and earth systems levels. Learn about the latest experimental methods and practices, with a focus on how these can advance understanding and pave the way toward technological solutions to some of the world's most daunting problems.

Career Possibilities

  • Engineer
  • Biochemist
  • Biophysicist
  • Analytical chemist
  • Research scientist
  • Pharmaceutical scientist

Designing Solutions

Dig into 21st century environmental and health problems facing our world and explore potential technological solutions across multiple scales — from molecules to organisms to earth's systems.

Career Possibilities

  • Environmental engineer
  • Chemist
  • Energy engineer
  • Government staff
  • Consultant
  • Product development engineer

Concentration Courses

NS142 / Analyzing and Synthesizing Matter

Study the nature of matter and how we are beginning to create it. This course focuses on electronic structures of particles, atoms, chemical bonds and molecules, including examples of how chemicals are synthesized. Zoom in on events at microscopic scales, where interactions of energy and matter can behave differently than as predicted by classical physics.

Prerequisites: NS110, CS111

NS152 / Advancing Chemistry and Physics

Learn the research tools for studying matter and small molecules, including spectroscopy, electrophoresis, chromatography, fluorescence, electrochemical analysis, thermal analysis and mass spectrometry, and other analytical methods. Learn about analysis requirements in manufacturing quality control, apply Fermi problems, and learn what conditions may best characterize a specific process or technology. Understanding what matter is and how it can be manipulated is the gateway toward technological solutions to world challenges.

Prerequisites: NS110, CS111

NS162 / Designer Chemicals and Devices

Apply physical principles and engineering practices to contribute to the development of technological products, devices and processes. Consider the processes, including “green” chemistry for producing inorganic and organic chemicals, from the perspective of the global chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Delve into the laboratory science of microbes, including details of industrial processes that utilize these organisms.

Prerequisites: NS110, CS111

NS144 / Genetic Blueprint to Organism

Explore how genes and environment interact to determine a cell’s or organism’s properties. Investigate how cells and organisms function, including the regulation of gene expression in developmental contexts. Apply theories, approaches and concepts from molecular, cellular, developmental and computational biology to address questions of how networks across scales (molecules to organisms) contribute to the emergence of higher-level properties of complex cellular and organismal systems.

Prerequisites: NS112

NS154 / Life’s chemistry

Investigate biological systems from the perspective of molecules. Learn how the physical and chemical properties of molecular interactions within and between cells give rise to the emergent properties of life. Explore key questions about cellular functions of diverse organisms ranging from plants and animals to microbes. Learn about experimental techniques that inform our understanding of cellular function and molecular interactions—including microscopy, x-ray diffraction, stable-isotope probing, mass spectrometry, transgenic organisms—and apply them to current research questions.

Prerequisites: NS112

NS164 / Solutions from and for Life

Explore how an understanding of biological complexity is stimulating novel approaches to new materials and computing technologies. Investigate how the latest biotechnology and bioengineering approaches are being used to improve human, animal and plant health. Study regulatory and policy considerations regarding biotechnology applications.

Prerequisites: NS112

NS146 / Exploring Earth's Emergent Systems

Explore the geology of earth and how the minerals on earth chemically interact with atmospheric oxygen, carbon and nitrogen, and are affected by photosynthesis and metabolism of plants, microbes, animals and human activities.

Prerequisites: NS111

NS156 / Monitoring and Modeling Earth's Systems

Explore how researchers study and monitor earth's system, including the latest methods for ecological, atmospheric and ocean monitoring. Delve into how simulation models are used to probe earth's systems. Use this knowledge to explore how earth's systems can be influenced to tackle many of our major challenges.

Prerequisites: NS111, CS111 or CS112

NS166 / Keeping Earth Habitable

Examine environmental and natural resource issues such as pollution, deforestation, agricultural impacts and marine protection, and the potential impact of human population growth and the growing middle class. Consider systems challenges and potential technology solutions for problems in agriculture, environmental degradation, energy production, aquaculture, and manufacturing. Also consider social, political and economic levers for potentially dealing with major environmental problems.

Prerequisites: NS111

Tutorial Courses

NS181 / Fall Senior Tutorial

Discuss a topic you are passionate about with two other students and a professor. Begin by developing your own syllabus, with the professor helping you to drill deeply into your topic. Engage with the other students and professor in ways that are not possible in ordinary class.

NS182 / Spring Senior Tutorial

Discuss a topic you are passionate about with two other students and a professor. Begin by developing your own syllabus, with the professor helping you to drill deeply into your topic. Engage with the other students and professor in ways that are not possible in ordinary class.

Capstone Courses

NS195 / Natural Sciences Capstone I

Learn how to define a study topic, research it and understand the prior scientific base of knowledge and current competing theories. Select a topic for research and present it to the class in the final third of the course. The proposed project should integrate elements from the major as well as the entire curriculum, and in particular from the cornerstone courses. Develop an understanding of team-based scientific activity and the need for project management in scientific and technological progress.

NS196 / Natural Sciences Capstone Independent Study I

Conduct an original piece of research or original project in any field of natural sciences under the guidance of a faculty advisor. The work may be part of a team-based effort led by the faculty advisor or other scientists.

NS198 / Natural Sciences Capstone Independent Study II

Continue developing an original piece of research under the guidance of a faculty advisor. By the end of the course, draft a preliminary report on the project. Team-based projects require the integration of individual contributions into a coherent, self-contained draft report.

NS199 / Natural Sciences Capstone II

Revise and complete a report of the senior capstone project, which should be at a professional level. Present the report to the class and receive critiques and suggestions from student colleagues as well as feedback from expert review (typically a professional in the field).