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From tacos to gasoline to water to earwax, every element of the environment is made up of chemicals. Chemists conduct research, develop new or improved products and processes, and test and evaluate the quality and safety of materials. They study the behavior of chemicals, particularly in industrial processes. Chemists look for and use new knowledge about chemicals. Chemical research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved synthetic fibers, paints, adhesives, drugs, cosmetics, electronic components, lubricants, and thousands of other products.

Chemists also develop processes that save energy and reduce pollution, such as improved oil refining and petrochemical processing methods. Research on the chemistry of living things spurs advances in medicine, agriculture, food processing and other fields. Chemists also work in production and quality control in chemical manufacturing plants. They prepare instructions for plant workers that specify ingredients, mixing times and temperatures for each stage in the process. They also monitor automated processes to ensure proper product yield, and test samples of raw materials or finished products to ensure that they meet industry and government standards, including the regulations governing pollution. Chemists report and document test results and analyze those results in hopes of further improving existing theories or developing new test methods.

Chemists may be involved in soil, water or air analysis, criminal investigations, pollution and corrosion control, environmental science and protection, defense or space projects, the development of new materials for the chemical, pharmaceutical, electronics, metals, food and agriculture industries, teaching, or other fields such as quality control, field production, oil refining, gas processing or pipeline transportation in the oil and gas industry. Some also work for pharmaceutical companies creating new medications and improving existing ones. They test the side effects and work to find chemical breakthroughs that cure or help cure disease and human ailments.

Those chemists who work in the quality control area often work for the government in food and health agencies or for disease control. They create policies and regulate the use of chemicals in food and drugs. For example, many food products are filled with food dyes. Some of these dyes have proven to have toxic effects on people who ingest them.
Therefore, such standardized regulations attempt to ensure that no dangerous chemicals are being used by individuals, farmers, drug companies or other industries.

Chemists often work in teams with other scientists and engineers. They may be found in offices, writing reports on the experiments they conduct or doing research about other related scientific studies. They may also be found doing safety inspections and studies on the effects of a chemical leak. The Chernobyl disaster was one example to learn from.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
What does it take to become a chemist? Chemists need good communications skills including reading and writing, and an affinity for mathematics, science and problem solving. They should be able to work independently as well as with a team, have incredible patience, and meticulousness. Chemists should also enjoy synthesizing information and finding innovative solutions to problems, working with instruments at tasks requiring precision, and directing the work of others. They should also be persistent because experiments will not always yield the desired results.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Use chemistry to understand why chemical compounds behave the way they do
  • Analyze the components of solid, liquid or gas mixtures
  • Study the chemistry of living things
  • Think of ways to make new chemical compounds
  • Develop methods and equipment to make and study chemical compounds
  • Study carbon-based elements and inorganic chemistry
  • Work with polymers and developing related materials
  • Study the physical characteristics of matter to better understand the fundamental principles of chemical structure and behavior
  • Guide research by eliminating non-feasible options and highlighting those with the best chance of success
  • Develop analytical instrumentation and related analytical methods
  • Write reports on experiments and publish articles in scientific journals
  • May lecture and supervise students
  • Chemists often work in research and development teams. They work variable hours in offices, laboratories and classrooms. Depending on their specialty area, they may be required to put in overtime hours. Those employed in research facilities, industrial plants or hospitals may be required to work shifts. Since they use complex, high-tech scientific equipment to mix chemicals and test their effects, they must use safety precautions when conducting experiments.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Chemists teach at colleges and high schools and work for the government. They are also employed by manufacturing and telecommunications companies, utilities, laboratories, hospitals, the chemical, petrochemical, pharmaceutical and pulp and paper industries, petroleum and mining companies, private consulting companies and other organizations. They may specialize within their fields.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With further education, chemists can move into related professional disciplines such as medicine, law and engineering. Some go on to become scientific writers and even journalists. With experience, they can move into more managerial and supervisory roles, training junior level scientists and guiding the work of research assistants.

  Educational Paths  
Most chemists begin their postsecondary education by taking a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. Those who wish to specialize usually continue their education to the master's or doctoral level. In general, the entrance requirement for master's degree programs in chemistry is an acceptable average in a four-year bachelor's degree program in chemistry (or equivalent). A PhD is often required for research and teaching positions.

Students planning careers as chemists should take courses in science and mathematics, and should like working with their hands building scientific apparatus and performing laboratory experiments and computer modeling.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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