Chemists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which substances react with each other. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.
Many chemists work in basic and applied research. In basic research, chemists investigate the properties, composition, and structure of matter. They also experiment with combinations of elements and the ways in which they interact. In applied research, chemists investigate possible new products and ways to improve existing ones. Chemistry research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved drugs, plastics, cleaners, and thousands of other products.
Chemists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instrumentation for modeling, simulation, and experimental analysis. For example, some chemists use three-dimensional (3D) computer modeling software to study the structure and other properties of complex molecules.
Most chemists work as part of a team. An increasing number of scientific research projects involve multiple disciplines, and it is common for chemists to work on teams with other scientists, such as biologists and physicists, computer specialists, and engineers. For example, in pharmaceutical research, chemists may work with biologists to develop new drugs and with engineers to design ways to mass produce the new drugs.
Chemists often specialize in a particular branch of the field. The following are examples of some types of chemists:
Inorganic chemists study the structure, properties, and reactions of molecules that do not contain carbon, such as metals. They work to understand the behavior and the characteristics of inorganic substances. Inorganic chemists figure out how these materials can be modified, separated, or used in products, such as ceramics and superconductors.
Analytical chemists determine the structure, composition, and nature of substances, by examining and identifying their various elements or compounds. They also study the relationships and interactions between the parts of compounds. Some analytical chemists specialize in developing new methods of analysis and new techniques for carrying out their work. Their research has a wide range of applications, including food safety, pharmaceuticals, and pollution control.
Medicinal chemists research and develop chemical compounds that can be used as pharmaceutical drugs. They work on teams with other scientists and engineers to create and test new drug products. They also help develop new and improved manufacturing processes to produce new drugs on a large scale effectively.
Physical chemists study the fundamental characteristics of how matter behaves on a molecular and atomic level and how chemical reactions occur. Based on their analyses, physical chemists may develop new theories, such as how complex structures are formed. Physical chemists often work closely with materials scientists, to research and develop potential uses for new materials.
Theoretical chemists investigate theoretical methods that can predict the outcomes of chemical experiments. Theoretical chemistry encompasses a variety of specializations itself, though most specializations incorporate advanced computation and programming. Some examples of theoretical chemists are computational chemists, mathematical chemists, and chemical informaticians.
Organic chemists study the structure, properties, and reactions of molecules that contain carbon. They also design and make new organic substances that have unique properties and applications. These compounds have, in turn, been used to develop many commercial products, such as pharmaceutical drugs and plastics.