Chemists are scientists who research and experiment with the properties of chemical substances. They measure the effects of chemical compounds in various situations and study inter-chemical reactions. Chemists, usually working as part of a larger research team, create useful compounds for use in a wide variety of practical applications. Almost every industry benefits from the theories and chemical compounds brought about by research in the chemical sciences. Chemists also work to improve the quality of established chemical products and utilize advanced computer programs to establish new technologies in the field.
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All chemists work with simple forms of matter to either reach a greater understanding of the chemical itself, uncover the elements of unfamiliar substances or create entirely new chemical compounds for use in a variety of applications. Chemists typically specialize in one of the sub disciplines of chemistry, the most prominent of those being biochemistry, neurochemistry, nuclear chemistry, and theoretical chemistry. There are even those involved in forensic chemistry who work with law enforcement to establish evidence in criminal investigations. Some of the sub disciplines are interrelated because of the complex and widespread nature of the field.
Biochemists work only with those chemicals and reactions that occur in living organisms. Also known by its longer name, biological chemistry, the field covers all types of biomedical research. Biochemists delve deep and experiment with organic matter on a cellular level to produce new technologies in genetic engineering, pharmaceutical drugs, DNA therapies and even agricultural products. Human insulin, prenatal diagnosis of genetic conditions, DNA testing, and improvements in crop yield were all a result of the work of biochemists. Neurochemists are biochemists who specialize in the area of neurochemicals, molecules and other elements present within biological nervous systems.
Another subfield, nuclear chemistry, deals specifically with radioactivity and other properties and processes of nuclear matter. Nuclear chemists study the effects of radiation on living things in order to create medical treatments which will counteract or prevent negative outcomes on the cellular level. They may also aid in the development of new technologies to create or harness radioactive power. A nuclear chemist working at a power plant, for example, might study which chemical compound allows for the safest storage of radioactive material or investigate new and more efficient ways of extracting nuclear power.
Theoretical chemists explore scientific ideas and theories in an attempt to more fully explain chemical reactions. Scientists in this field work with advanced subjects like quantum chemistry, molecular dynamics, statistical thermodynamics and quantum mechanics in order to develop solid theories which can be applied in industrial, medical and nuclear applications. The theories they formulate underlie modern technologies like DNA analysis, advanced medical treatments and new alternative fuels.
The basic requirement for becoming a professional chemist is a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related field. Computer science, physics, mathematics and biology classes along with coursework in organic, inorganic and physical chemistry equip future chemists with the knowledge needed for a successful career. Individuals with an undergraduate chemistry degree qualify for assistant, associate or other entry-level positions. Traditionally, they perform tasks related to quality control and testing of chemical compounds or directly assist senior chemists in their research.
More advanced positions in the field of chemistry require the completion of a master's or doctoral degree. Upon enrolling in an advanced degree course, students have the option of specializing in niche areas of the discipline such as biochemistry, nuclear chemistry or forensic chemistry. Chemistry students should be careful, however, since too much specialization can limit career options after graduation.
Chemist's must also possess strong competency in computer science, since computers are used in almost every application to analyze data and create mathematical formulations relating to chemical research. In addition, chemists must exhibit strong interpersonal and team skills since most chemical scientists work as part of a larger group of researchers. Leadership skills and strong oral and written communication abilities are also important for success in this career field. Moreover, chemists must be extremely analytical and demonstrate a high degree of dedication to their research.
All chemists work indoors in laboratories and other controlled environments conducive to compromised research. They work with various types of scientific equipment, such as spectrometers and chromatographs, which allow the scientists to examine and evaluate chemicals and their compounds at a microscopic level. Chemists tend to work in teams and may have assistants or working students at their disposal. These apprentices perform more menial tasks so the chemists can focus on evaluating the results in order to create new theories and applications for chemical compounds.
Chemists typically maintain a regular work schedule and are largely self-managed during the work day due to the unpredictable nature of their work. They are employed by both governmental agencies and companies in the private sector. Some chemists work in college and university research departments and those with a doctoral degree may work in an educational setting, teaching students the fundamentals of chemistry.
Chemists typically earn between $41,000 and $52,000 per year, with the median salary being $45,960. Biochemists tend to earn more, but income ranges vary depending on whether the chemist works for a public or private company. Chemists working on critical medical and technological advancements also tend to earn a larger salary with some income ranges rising to $85,000 or more.