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.

Cornerstone Courses

In their first year, Natural Sciences majors complete their Cornerstone Courses.

Core Courses

In their second year, Natural Sciences majors enroll in core courses that provide the foundation for the Natural Sciences concentrations. They also take electives from core courses offered in other majors.

NS110L / Physics of Life

We show how physics, ranging from mechanics through nuclear physics can be applied to the life sciences. Examples of applications are: fluid flow in biological organisms, electrostatics as applied to signals between neurons, and cell membrane dynamics. The course also emphasizes the development of the tools needed to describe the physical phenomena at hand.

Prerequisite: CS51

NS110U / Physics of the Universe

We use gravitational and electromagnetic interactions as the poster children" for how physics takes experimental evidence and then encodes it into a theoretical framework that can be used to make predictions and draw inferences about new phenomena. The course emphasizes the development of the tools needed to describe the physical structure of nature and then uses these tools to infer the domain of validity of theories in physics and what might lie beyond them."

Prerequisite: CS51; CS111 or Co-requisite: CS111A

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. This course provides the Foundations for, and is a prerequisite for, the Earth's Systems Concentration courses.

Prerequisite: NS51

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. This course provides the Foundations for, and is a prerequisite for, the Cells and Organisms Concentration courses.

Prerequisite: NS51


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

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

  Theoretical Foundations of Natural Science Research Analyses in Natural Science Designing Solutions
Molecules and Atoms NS142 / Quantum Nature of Matter: Theory and Applications NS152 / Analyzing Matter and Molecules NS162 / Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Applications
Cells and Organisms NS144 / Genetic Blueprint to Organism NS154 / Life's Chemistry NS164 / Solutions From and For Life
Earth's Systems NS146 / Geobiochemiphysics: Integrating Earth's 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.

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

  • Bioinformatics Specialist
  • Bioprocessing Engineer
  • Biotech Entrepreneur
  • Geneticist
  • Marketing Director
  • Medical Doctor
  • Research 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

  • Chemist
  • Consultant
  • Energy Engineer
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Government Staff
  • Product Development Engineer

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

  • Ecologist
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Geologist
  • Political Consultant
  • Research Scientist

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

  • Chemical Engineer
  • Instrument Scientist
  • New Product Development Engineer
  • Physicist
  • Project or Product Manager
  • Research Scientist
  • Technical Sales Representative

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

  • Analytical Chemist
  • Biochemist
  • Biophysicist
  • Engineer
  • Pharmaceutical Scientist
  • Research Scientist

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

  • Biofuels Engineer
  • Chemist
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Medical Doctor
  • Product Development Engineer
  • Professor

Concentration Courses

NS142 / Quantum Nature of Matter: Theory and Applications

Study the nature of matter from a quantitative standpoint using the tools provided by quantum mechanics. This course focuses on electronic structures of particles, atoms, chemical bonds and molecules, in addition to examples of technological revolutions catalyzed by quantum mechanics. Zoom in on events at microscopic scales, where interactions of energy and matter can behave differently than as predicted by classical physics.

Prerequisite: NS110 or NS110U; CS111 or CS111A

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.

Prerequisite: NS112

NS146 / Geobiochemiphysics: Integrating Earth's Systems

Explore the geology of earth and how minerals chemically interact with living organisms, the hydrosphere and the atmosphere. Consider the effects of volcanism, mountain-building, earthquakes, weathering and erosion on biotic and abiotic domains.

Prerequisite: NS111

NS152 / Analyzing Matter and Molecules

Understanding what matter is, how matter and small molecules are studied, and how they can be manipulated is the gateway toward technological solutions to world challenges. Learn principles underlying optics, chemical identification, and chemical separation and employ analytical tools for molecular and elemental analyses, chemical separation, and molecular interactions and dynamics to tackle important interdisciplinary problems.

Prerequisite: NS110 or NS110U or NS110L; CS111 or CS111A or CS112

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.

Prerequisite: NS112

NS156 / Monitoring and Modeling Earth's Systems

Explore how researchers study and monitor earth systems, including the latest methods for atmospheric, ocean and ecosystem monitoring. Delve into how models are used to understand earth systems. Use this knowledge to understand the major challenges facing the Earth system, and to inform future solutions.

Prerequisite: NS111; CS111 or CS111A or CS112

NS162 / Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Applications

Statistical Mechanics is the foundation for being able to understand an incredible amount of physics, ranging from condensed matter, through to black hole physics. It involves the statistical description of systems with large numbers of particles and is the underpinning behind the ideas of thermodynamics, such as the notion of temperature, the equation of the state of a gas or a fluid and more generally the bulk properties of materials. We will explore the various ensembles: micro canonical, canonical and grand canonical, delineating their regimes of utility and then applying these results to the description of phenomena such as magnetism, gases, various aspects of solid state physics among others.

Prerequisite: CS111 or CS111A; NS110 or NS110U

NS164 / Solutions From and For Life

Design innovative, sustainable solutions for modern day challenges by analyzing and emulating nature's time-tested strategies. Investigate how the latest biotechnology and bioengineering approaches are being used to improve human, animal and plant health. Evaluate the regulatory processes underlying the appropriate use of biotechnology and bioengineering applications.

Prerequisite: NS112

NS166 / Keeping Earth Habitable

Examine environmental and natural resource issues such as pollution, deforestation, agricultural impacts, marine degradation, and the potential impact of human population growth. Consider systems challenges and potential solutions including social, political, economic, and technological approaches to major environmental problems.

Prerequisite: NS111 or NS112

Capstone Courses

In their fourth year, Natural Sciences majors finish their Capstone Courses.