What kind of jobs do Chemists do?

March 17, 2009 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

Most chemists work in research, but not all of them work in pure research, that is, research for the sake of it. In fact, more often than not, they work in industry, doing research to develop products that can be sold to make a profit, products that will enhance or improve our lives or lifestyles. A large number work in education, sales and marketing, medical laboratories, and consultancy.

Depending on their particular areas of specialization, chemists can be involved in any number of different kinds of jobs. The four basic specializations are:


Organic chemistry – which deals with every compound on earth (and elsewhere) that has a carbon atom in it, and of course, carbon itself in all its forms. This includes every single form of life on earth, so you can see just how wide a field this is. Synthesis – that is, making new things – is the biggest responsibility of the organic chemist. New ‘things’ might include more effective drugs, better fertilizers, and safer food additives. Organic chemists would find jobs in industries like agriculture, the environment, food, medicine, petroleum, rubber, alcohol, and consumer products like soap.

Inorganic chemistry – simply put, this is the chemistry of non-living objects. They are also involved in synthesis, but in the synthesis of things like plastics, glass, ceramics, synthetic fabrics with special properties that make them ideal for certain applications. Chemists were involved with the discovery and development of both nylon and lycra. Inorganic chemists would find jobs in industries as diverse as mining and minerals, chemicals, microchips, environment, polymer technology, cosmetics, and so on.

Physical chemistry – is the area of overlap between physics and chemistry. That means you venture into this area only if you love maths almost as much as you love chemistry. Physical chemists determine the properties, both good and bad, of all kinds of substances. Spectroscopy, which is the study of the physical properties of chemical compounds using light and other forces, is a big area of physical chemistry. So is theoretical chemistry, which is, like its name, mostly about using theories and calculations to predict the existence or behaviour of something that can’t actually be proved. Physical chemists would find jobs in nuclear and atomic research labs, and in a wide range of industries that need materials scientists.

Analytical chemistry – involves deduction, reasoning and analysis. Most analytical chemists work in the area of qualitative and quantitative analysis. It is these guys who check, for instance, if the pollution levels in the atmosphere are within safe limits or not, and if not, how much beyond the safe limit they are. They would also be involved in testing water to see if it is potable, in testing food to check if it is fresh, in testing metals (like gold, for instance), to establish their purity. Analytical chemists work in forensic science departments, medical laboratories (testing blood and urine samples, for instance), in all kinds of industry (where they may work as industrial chemists, testing random samples from production lines to see if the product is up to standard), government environmental departments, and so on.

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