Chemistry as a Profession

In its many facets, the study of chemistry deepens and enriches our understanding of the natural world, and in doing so it draws on the knowledge of the other major sciences. Chemists study systems of atoms and molecules from temperatures near absolute zero to temperatures as high as those found on the sun. They study the properties of matter at the very low pressures that are encountered in interstellar space and at the very high pressures found in the center of the earth. Nuclear chemists study the structure and changes that occur in the nucleus of atoms, while biophysical chemists deal with very large molecules that are the building blocks of life.

Student in LabChemists analyze the mechanism or the steps in the process by which atoms can form a molecule upon collision, molecules react to form other molecules, or by which many identical molecules act as ingredients to make a polymer. They bring these atoms or molecules together in unique ways to form substances that have never been prepared before, and at the same time develop techniques to characterize the composition, bonding, structure, and reactivity of these new compounds and materials.

Today, research in chemistry is hugely diverse and involves areas as different as the monitoring and removal of pollutants from the atmosphere; the study of chromosomes, genes, and DNA replication; investigation of polysaccharides that decorate the surface of cells; elucidation of the role of small molecules in cell signaling; the production, conversion, and storage of energy; research on photosynthesis; the development of fertilizers that help produce rich harvests; and the continuing research on the creation of new materials for nanotechnology and for medical applications.

The many applications of chemistry in our lives have created a broad range of opportunities for employment. Chemistry is an integral part of the nation's economy, and the central discipline in several major industries. With either a B.A. or a B.S. degree in chemistry or a B.S. degree in chemical biology, students may find a research or technical position in a variety of industries such as oil, chemical, food processing, agriculture, photography, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, mining, and others. In addition to the research, manufacturing, and diagnostic side of private employment, graduates with knowledge of chemistry work in sales and plant development, quality control, customer relations, and many other aspects of modern business. Students who combine a strong basic background in chemistry with further studies in business administration will find many opportunities in management, development, and administration available to them.

Combining the bachelor's degree in chemistry or chemical biology with a higher degree in another field can lead to many unique and rewarding careers. The B.A. in chemistry or B.S. in chemical biology is particularly useful for those who are interested in medicine and a professional career in medical research. A chemistry B.A. with a law degree can create a career in environmental or patent law. For studenst who wants to make research in chemistry a primary occupation, however, a higher degree in chemistry is essential. A Ph.D. in chemistry can lead to careers in academics, private industry, and government research laboratories.

The nation's concern about energy, the environment, and the detection of hazardous substances has added to the government's need for informed technical opinions on these subjects. The large national laboratories and many smaller ones provide constant opportunities for Ph.D. chemists to help shape the country's future in these crucial areas.