15 answers

what exactly does a chemist do?

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15 answers

Samantha’s Answer

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A chemist does one (or combination) of three things: they research and create, they test samples, and/or they create/maintain methods/instruments to aid in the first two things.

A Research Chemist typically uses their chemical and industry knowledge to try to create new things (this is usually called Research and Development) and then try to determine the stability and effectiveness of what they created. Examples include: drug research, fuel research, and private products (ie: cleaning solutions, vitamins, food, sodas, ect)

A testing chemist, often called an Analytical Chemist, uses their chemical knowledge to identify and quantify materials using wet chemistry (concept of using chemical reactions and chemicals to accomplish this) and/or instrumentation (there are lots of instruments to help depending on the industry/purpose the most common are FTIR, LC-MS, ICP-MS, GC-MS, and Autotitrators). This is probably the most diverse field and includes lots of careers such as Forensics, medical testing , quality testing, mining, water chemists, food chemists, public health ect.
I am a quality chemist which means that at my company I determine the safety, content, and quality of our products using chemical principles and instrumentation.

The last type of chemist uses their chemical knowledge to make instruments and testing methods to help the first two type of chemists. Most of these people work at governing bodies or companies that make analytical instruments IE: ACS, USP, Waters, Agilent. These are the most competitive type of jobs are requires the most experience and knowledge.
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Melanie’s Answer

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A better question is what DOESN'T a chemist do! Chemistry is in everything, living and nonliving. It's in the food you eat, medicines, the clothes you wear, the cars you drive, your homes, and everything inside and outside of them. Chemists develop, test, educate, manage projects, run businesses, make things, write textbooks, write blogs, some become doctors or lawyers, some study food and nutrition, some study the environment, pollution, plants and animals, some study exercise science, some work for the government in laboratories or writing policies, some join the military … the list goes on and on. It really isn't all about what happens in a laboratory, wearing lab coats, and making things explode- although if that's what you want to do, pyrotechnic chemistry is the field for you! All chemists will need a good college foundation in math, and of course chemistry classes that include laboratory experiences. Once you have a degree in chemistry, you really have a lot of options open to you, inside and outside of the laboratory.
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Victoria’s Answer

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A chemist can do a variety of things! It really depends on where your interest lie. A chemist can do research to find out how things work together to solve problems or to cure people. There’s several industries that the chemist can work in for example, industrial industry dealing mainly with chemicals for the automotive industry, or chemical industry. There is also the biochemical/pharmaceutical industry dealing with cures for the human/animal body. There is also the environmental industry aiding in protecting our environment . Chemists also work in the cosmetics industry, and the food industry. It’s up to you to determine which industry would interest you most. I have worked in the industrial and pharmaceutical industry and I love them both. You can choose to be the one to create things or the one to test things to make sure they were made correctly. Whatever you choose, know that chemists have an exciting role in the working world!
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Adriane’s Answer

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A chemist can do lots of things depending on their specific job. Some chemists test medicine to make sure it is safe for people to use. Some chemists work in research and development and get to experiment at making new things.
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Soumya’s Answer

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Chemistry is the central science. One can branch out from chemistry to medicine, biotechnology, pharmacy or other allied health sciences. Another branch can lead to industry - petroleum or petrochemical (oil and natural gas), alternative energy (most notably, hydrogen fuel - both production and storage).
A chemist is a trained professional to do tests to find out the physical, chemical and biological properties of a substance. Depending on how far is one chemist trained, they can either perform the experiments or perform experiments and report the results or perform experiments, interpret the results and communicate the results.
Please note that reporting and communicating the results are different. For the former, one is not fully qualifies to let the results be known to everyone.
A chemist can also turn into an entrepreneur when they patent inventions that can be mass produced for common good.
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Josh’s Answer

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There are a number of different fields that utilize chemists. If you get into polymer chemistry, then that covers industries such as coatings, inks, adhesives, plastics (caste/injection molded plastics), rubbers, and pretty much anything synthetic in the world around you. Polymer chemistry is in such fields as architectural products, automotive, renewable energy, electronics, and even the fake logs in gas fireplaces.
Polymer chemistry is just the tip of the iceberg. There is also entire fields in Food Chemistry, Cosmetic chemistry, pharma research (biochemstry), metallurgy/mining (inorganic chemistry), and nuclear chemistry just to name a few. My suggestion, if you are looking for careers in chemistry, is to think of what type of chemistry interests you have, what is available in your area (if you do not want to relocate), and what type of programs are available in your area. For example, if you live in the state of Oregon, there are a lot of vineyards throughout the state. Consequently, there are a couple of programs at local universities/community colleges that offer programs in the chemistry of wine making. So there may be specialized chemistry classes offered in your area depending on local industry.
Finally, there are universities with specialized education for graduate students going into industry. One example is the University of Oregon (speaking from experience) materials research institute graduate research program. It offers an industry internship with graduate level classes in polymer chemistry, analytical chemistry, and semiconductors (the program has expanded recently, so I encourage you to look at their website if you are interested). Hopefully this was helpful, if not a little long winded, but I am happy to answer any follow up questions if there are any.
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Melanie’s Answer

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A better question is what DOESN'T a chemist do! Chemistry is in everything, living and nonliving. It's in the food you eat, medicines, the clothes you wear, the cars you drive, your homes, and everything inside and outside of them. Chemists develop, test, educate, manage projects, run businesses, make things, write textbooks, write blogs, some become doctors or lawyers, some study food and nutrition, some study the environment, pollution, plants and animals, some study exercise science, some work for the government in laboratories or writing policies, some join the military … the list goes on and on. It really isn't all about what happens in a laboratory, wearing lab coats, and making things explode- although if that's what you want to do, pyrotechnic chemistry is the field for you! All chemists will need a good college foundation in math, and of course chemistry classes that include laboratory experiences. Once you have a degree in chemistry, you really have a lot of options open to you, inside and outside of the laboratory.
Very great full thought I appreciate with I will do my best. Kapil Dev
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Paulina’s Answer

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Hi Zoe! I've just gotten my masters degree in chemistry and started my first full time job, so let me tell you what I do. I work at a university where I grow bacteria and isolate proteins from them that are useful for studying Alzheimer's disease. I have to make sure that the samples of those proteins are really really pure - so I spent a long time ensuring that with the use of modern instruments and technologies. Once I have a very clean sample, I send it to my collaborators (other chemists specialized in a different area) who try to understand the structure of those proteins and why they start "sticking together" (which is what happens in the brains of Alzheimer's patients). Generally, to know how to prevent or treat a disease, it is necessary to understand how it happens in the first place.

As others pointed out, there are many different things a chemist might do. I thought providing a very specific example might be interesting to you!

Paulina recommends the following next steps:

  • You could look into volunteering opportunities at research groups in your local university. I think the best way to understand what a chemist does is to see it first hand.
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Kapil’s Answer

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Chemist do many work related to Chemical analysis. Where we checked the proportion of material and it's quality. It's give results to use small amounts of material like rm,fm,sm which can analyse by chemical titration otherwise through Instrumentation like Hplc,Uv, Karl fisher,Dt, fraibilty, Dissolution apparatus.
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Liz’s Answer

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If you want to test components from plants, medicines or dietary supplements, you will want to be an analytical chemist. You will be working with analytical instruments to determine the identity of components and/or the amount. You must understand molecules and their properties and how they behave in acidic/basic environments to be able to do this. You must understand their structure. You likely will do no synthesis in this case.

If you want to make new compounds for food science or the pharmaceutical industry, you will want to be a synthetic organic chemist. You will be working with chemicals everyday, mixing them and purifying them. You must have a strong understanding of compound structure, properties, behavior and synthesis. You can get a B.S. degree in this field, but I would advise a Masters or greater. Also, the pharmaceutical companies are moving more to immuno-products so a dual major in microbiology would be helpful.

If you want to make plastics or components for daily use, you would be a polymer chemist. Believe it or not, there aren't a whole lot of colleges that focuses on polymer chemistry when you are a chemistry major, so likely you will need a chemical engineering degree.

Finally, if you want to make chemicals and reagents for other chemists to use, you will want to be a synthetic organic chemist but also you will want to acquire knowledge working with and transforming enzymes as the industry is more and more using enzymes to make new desired chemical products, especially natural products. So again, you would want a biology background that focuses on enzymes.

I know this is mostly about career choices, but I hope from this perspective it helps you to better understand why we need chemists and what we do.

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James’s Answer

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Chemists perform many different phases of the science field. They may be analytical bench in which they provide hands on analysis of complex matrices, they may be research where they provide in depth knowledge in finding solutions to questions of almost any nature. A plant chemist becomes an expert in the field of a specific plant process. A radiochemist studies the action and behaviors of the radiochemical process. A chemist is essentially an expert working in the science of atomic and molecular science to bring about a simple solution or process to a complex issue.
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Laura’s Answer

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With a degree in Chemistry I’ve done a number of things: Calibration/Maintenance on chemistry and lab equipment, Research for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (where I was published), Method Development for human genomic testing, Quality Assurance for a number of different companies.

Instrumentation is very important. Get as much experience on as many different instruments as you can learn. This will help your career a lot.

Also, my university did not require I take any biology for my degree, I would highly suggest taking some biology courses. It can only help.
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Waqas Ahmad’s Answer

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It's a tricky question but honestly A chemist is a scientist who researchs chemical substances with the help of chemistry.
Simple Chemist study of nature.
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Nikisha’s Answer

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My day goes like this in a manufacturing plant lab. Come to work, chat with colleagues and be friendly. Then off with the lab coats and goggles. Ask for turnovers and unfinished task that needed to be done. Confirm the process if there are any unplanned events like equipment breakdown, production process issues, etc. If a sample arrives. i test it accordingly and in a safe manner. If the sample results are needed on a rush I expedite the testing process and give full attention, otherwise I multitask with other testing ongoing at the moment. Always wear PPE. Huge respirators, goggles, gloves, lab coat, safety shoes. After im done I clean up. Eat lunch. Come back to the lab and do more test. Sometimes i issue notice to production when results are off the charts. Then when the day is done I wait for the next shift to arrive and advise them what happened during the day and go home. Repeat the next day. Hope for zero unplanned events so everything runs smoothly. I love my job.
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Andrei’s Answer

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In society, chemists are contributing to produce pretty much everything that is based on materials. Plastics, pharmaceuticals, metals, electronics etc. To help creating all these, chemists need to be able to assemble them from atoms/molecules (perform chemical synthesis), analyze them so they understand the properties of these materials (perform chemical analysis) and in a responsible and sustainable manner to use them and finally to dispose them (environmental- or geo-chemistry). There are other type of chemistries used for forensics, different applications of materials etc. And finally chemists are teaching chemistry to others. Now, all these materials and activities have a life cycle in the way they are produced and started-up: chemists start by performing fundamental research (in academia and research institutes), Research and Development (R&D, in private industries). Next they scale up chemical processes (usually these are the chemical engineers who perform "pilot" chemical batches of production) to bring them to the large scale industry. And finally there are a variety of chemists and chemical engineers and other professionals who take care of the day-to-day production (manufacturing) of the chemicals: these people are chemical technologists and engineers, Quality control and application chemists etc.

Andrei recommends the following next steps:

  • What do you need to do if you want to become a good chemist?
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