Inorganic Chemist

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Inorganic Chemist


Inorganic chemists study the branch of chemistry that deals with all the elements (on the periodic table) and their compounds, except for most carbon compounds. Their work is based on understanding the behavior of inorganic elements and how the materials can be modified, separated or used, quite often in product applications. This includes developing methods to recover metals from waste streams, studying mined ores and performing research on the use of inorganic chemicals for treating soil.

Branches of inorganic chemistry include bioinorganic chemistry, coordination chemistry, geochemistry, inorganic technology, nuclear science and energy, reaction kinetics and mechanisms, solid-state chemistry, and synthetic inorganic chemistry. Inorganic chemistry is the study of the synthesis and behavior of inorganic and organometallic compounds. It has applications in every aspect of the chemical industry including catalysis, materials science, pigments, surfactants, coatings, medicine, fuel, and agriculture. Inorganic chemists are employed in fields as diverse as the mining and microchip industries, environmental science, and education.

Inorganic materials such as minerals, superconductive metals, ceramics, and other composites are the day-to-day concerns of an inorganic chemist. Their work includes basic research, but is more often oriented towards product application. Organic chemists must understand the chemical properties of such materials and manipulate them, sometimes through a reaction with other materials, to achieve particular desired properties.

Inorganic chemists compare their jobs to those of materials scientists and physicists. All three fields explore the relationship between physical properties and functions, but inorganic chemistry is the most keenly focused on these properties at the molecular level. Scientists with an artistic or creative flair have traditionally characterized the field of inorganic chemistry. Many inorganic chemists are drawn to the field in part by the interesting things that can be done in the lab. They often say the opportunities for creativity and inferential thinking are what they like best about their work.

Many inorganic chemists focus their time on research and the development of molecular compounds. Inorganic 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.
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  Interests and Skills  
What skills and characteristics does it take to become an inorganic chemist? Creativity and abstract thinking are two of the most common characteristics inorganic chemists ascribe to themselves. Most enjoy taking things apart to figure out how they work, like in engineering. They have an affinity for mathematics and science and enjoy exploring ideas in the field of problem solving.

They should be able to work independently as well as with a team, have incredible patience, and meticulousness. Inorganic 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 (non-carbon) behave the way they do
  • Study the chemistry of living things and synthetic inorganic materials
  • Devise ways to make new chemical compounds and develop equipment to produce inorganic products
  • Study non-carbon based elements as opposed to organic chemistry
  • Study the physical characteristics of matter to better understand the fundamental principles of chemical structure and behavior
  • Design inorganic products for commercial and industrial consumption and sale
  • 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
  • The majority of inorganic chemists work in the lab in active partnerships with engineers, physicists, and materials scientists. Most inorganic chemists have a basic knowledge of these other disciplines. Inorganic chemists also spend time on project management, writing proposals, and getting funding for their work. The hours are fairly standard unless more work time is needed to meet a deadline. They may also travel to different locations to perform experiments or meet with other scientists or engineers.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Inorganic chemists work for industries that produce inorganic materials such as mining companies, microchip or computer manufacturers and ceramics makers. All levels of government employ them, especially in departments of agriculture, the environment, geology and aeronautics. Inorganic chemists also teach at the pre-high school, high school, college, and university levels, depending on their level of education.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With further education, inorganic chemists can move into related chemistry fields of study or other 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 inorganic chemists begin their postsecondary education by taking a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. Those who wish to specialize in inorganic research and development usually continue their education to the master's or doctoral level. In general, the entrance requirement for master's degree programs in inorganic chemistry is an acceptable average in a four-year bachelor's degree program in chemistry (or equivalent). A PhD is often required for university research and teaching positions.

Students planning careers as inorganic 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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