Chemistry Job Descriptions

Published: Nov 27, 2009


Everything around us is composed of chemicals. The products we use, the food we eat and even the bodies we live in are all collections of chemicals. Chemists have the essential task of understanding what these chemicals are, how they work together and what we can do with them. Their work has far-reaching implications, from keeping us clean to saving our lives. Chemists create medicines, invent new substances and even discover new energy sources. Their work and specializations are varied, but their job descriptions and daily duties are relatively similar.

Duties Overview

During the course of an average workday, chemists can be called upon to perform dozens of different tasks. They prepare and test reagents, solutions and compounds. They analyze a wide variety of chemical compounds, using testing methods such as chromatography or spectroscopy. They use, clean and calibrate complex laboratory equipment. Chemists are responsible for compiling, interpreting, analyzing and presenting research data. This often included writing scholarly journal articles or conducting presentations on their findings. Chemists are also responsible for evaluating and improving their research and testing methods. Chemists with managerial duties must coordinate lab test schedules, schedule staff, fill open staff positions, order supplies and even write grants and raise funds. All chemists heavily rely on computers to perform tests and to record data. There are many kinds of chemists. Most chemists chose to specialize in one particular area of interest or type of chemistry.

Analytical Chemists

Analytical chemists study elements and compounds both for what they're made of and how they react with other elements and compounds. Their work is highly valued in the photography and ink industries, where they study how chemicals react with each other, with paper and in when exposed to different lights. They study physical characteristics of drugs to determine how certain chemicals will react when placed together or mixed with a binding agent. Their work involves complex tests, such as spectroscopy, gas and liquid chromatography and electro-chromatography.

Organic and Inorganic Chemists

Organic chemists study carbon based or living things. Their work commonly explores carbon's relationship to other elements, such as oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen. They perform complex tasks like nuclear magnetic resonance tests and synthetic molecular modification. They research and classify carbons, but also manipulate carbon into new substances. Carbon compounds form the bases of items like paint, plastics and drugs. In contrast, inorganic chemists study things which are not carbon based, like metals. Their work often overlaps with organic chemistry because, for example, substances like bone are made of both organic compounds and inorganic compounds, such as metals. Their work is of high importance to the electronics industry and affects technological advances due to new discoveries about how metals interact with each other and conduct energy.

Physical and Theoretical Chemists

Theoretical chemists work with chemical reactions and try to advance things like energy and our understanding of matter. They often work with properties of matter that only exist in theory. They apply the principles of physics, specifically quantum physics, to the chemical world. They use methodologies like statistical mechanics and electronic structure analysis. Theoretical chemists apply theories such as the Density Functional Theories and force field theories. They investigate how energy works at what is the driving force behind each chemical reaction. Sometimes their work collides with philosophy and religion. Their work leads to advances in energy and major discoveries affect all of the sciences.

Materials Chemists

Materials chemists study and develop new materials to improve existing products or make new ones. In fact, virtually all chemists are involved in this quest in one way or another. Materials chemists apply different sciences, like chemistry, physics and engineering to solve problems. They synthesize organic and inorganic materials to create or improve a variety of products ranging from metals, electronics, bridges, household cleaners, fabrics, medicines and medical equipment. Increasingly, materials chemists work with nanoscience, particularly as it relates to forensic engineering and failure analysis, due to increased media coverage of these topics.

References Biotech and Pharmaceutical News & Jobs
Chemistry Career Planner
US Department of Labor

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