What Is A Chemist?

Chemists are scientists who study the basic structure of matter, what substances are made of, their properties and how they act and interact. Chemistry helps us learn about the material in the world around us, from the smallest particles to the largest objects in the universe.

What Do Chemists Do?

There are various specializations of chemistry from which to choose. They include:

  • Water-purification chemists—analyze the filtered water in purification plants and test samples from various points along the distribution system to make sure it meets prescribed standards. They also determine and monitor the amounts of chemicals needed to purify and soften the water to make it drinkable.
  • Wastewater-treatment plant chemists—investigate the efficiency of wastewater treatment processes to ensure that water pollution control requirements are met. They test samples of streams, raw and treated wastewater, sludge and other substances.
  • Instrumentation chemists—examine the wastewater discharged by industries using municipal wastewater treatment plants to ensure that it meets pollution control standards.
  • Chemical laboratory chiefs—direct laboratory staff, and plan and carry out programs for research, product development, improvement of manufacturing processes, and analysis and testing of substances, compounds, liquids and gases.
  • Laboratory supervisors—train, assign and oversee workers who perform chemical and physical tests to ensure the quality of products. A supervisor may develop tests, solve testing problems and compile test information related to the operation of equipment or processes.
  • Food chemists—develop and improve foods and beverages by analyzing methods of cooking, canning, freezing and packaging, and study the appearance, taste, aroma, freshness and vitamin content of food products. They also experiment with new foods, additives and preservatives.
  • Formulation chemists—develop color formulas to match customer specifications for printing textile and plastic materials. They coordinate color shop activities with the production schedule of the printing department. Formulation chemists may also develop formulas for perfumes and other aromatic products. They test fragrances for odor, body, harmony, strength, and permanence by smelling samples in an air-filtered room.
  • Assayers—determine the value and properties of ores and minerals, and separate metals from the impurities and conducts tests involving spectrographic analysis, chemical solutions, and a variety of chemical and laboratory equipment.
  • Organic chemists—determine the structure, composition, and other physical and chemical properties of animal and vegetable matter. This work may lead to the development of new products such as deodorants, compact discs, gasoline or plastics.
  • Biochemist—examine the chemical reactions of living organisms and the effect of chemicals on life processes.
  • Analytical chemists—analyze the chemical composition of substances and tests to determine quality, purity and other characteristics.

Where Do Chemists Work?

Half of the chemists in the United States work conducting research. About 10 percent of all chemists are in production, and the remainder are employed in education, marketing, sales, computer programming, law or libraries. Others are employed in nontraditional fields, such as patent lawyers, science writers, editors, consultants and art conservators.


A Bachelor's degree in chemistry is the minimum requirement for a beginning chemist. Approximately 20 percent of all working chemists have Bachelor's degrees in chemistry. About 18 percent of chemists have master's degrees and 60 percent doctorates. Students interested in this field should have an aptitude for math and natural sciences.

For more information visit: The American Chemical Society

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