Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

What is this job like?

Chemicals are a big part of the physical world around us. Everything is made of chemicals. Chemists and materials scientists find ways to make chemicals useful to us. They also try to improve things that people use daily, such as paint, medicine, and cosmetics, as well as cars and airplanes. Chemists also search for new chemicals in nature. They search for ways to save energy and reduce pollution. Their research on living things helps doctors, farmers, and food preparers do their jobs better.

Part of a chemist's job is to search for new facts about chemicals. Some chemists watch what happens when they mix two or more chemicals together. They explain what they might see, smell, or feel. Chemists use computers to conduct experiments and analyze the results. They write down the results and report them to others. From their research, they can create new products. Chemists can also improve products we already have and show us new ways to use them. Chemists specialize in one of the many different types of chemistry.

Some chemists and materials scientists work in factories. They tell plant workers which ingredients to use to make a chemical. They also tell the workers how long to mix chemicals, and how hot or cold the mixture should be. They watch the whole process to make sure that they get the right product at the end. They test samples to make sure they meet industry and government rules.

Chemists and materials scientists usually work regular hours in offices and laboratories. Labs have all sorts of equipment to do experiments. Research chemists spend most of their time in labs. Sometimes they work in offices when they have to write reports on their lab work. Some of the large labs have factories or places where workers make examples of the real products. For example, materials scientists may work closely with engineers and other workers in manufacturing facilities. Chemists may also do some of their research in a factory or outdoors. For example, when they go outside, they can get samples of the air to test for pollution. Some chemists work around dangerous chemicals. They have to wear protective clothing and follow rules to keep them safe on their jobs.

How do you get ready?

To become a chemist, a person needs to have a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related subject. Materials scientists need a college degree in materials science, or chemistry, physics, or electrical engineering. However, chemists and materials scientists usually need a Ph.D. for research jobs.

Students who want to become chemists or materials scientists tend to enjoy science and math in school. They also like to build things with their hands and experiment with different objects. Students must be willing to work hard and independently, ask a lot of questions, and focus on details. They must be willing to work by themselves. Students should learn how to work on the computer.

Some employers need chemists and materials scientists who know about other subjects in the business field. They also need persons who can be leaders. Reading, writing, and speaking skills are also important.

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

See also: Notable Chemists.

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