What you need to know
Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and analyze the ways in which the substances interact with one another. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.
Chemists and materials scientists typically work in laboratories and offices, where they conduct experiments and analyze their results.
In addition to working in laboratories, materials scientists work with engineers and processing specialists in industrial manufacturing facilities. Some chemists also work in these facilities and usually are responsible for monitoring the environmental conditions at the plant.
Some of the things a chemist or material scientist might do:
- Plan and carry out complex research projects, such as the development of new products and testing methods
- Instruct scientists and technicians on proper chemical processing and testing procedures, including ingredients, mixing times, and operating temperatures
- Prepare solutions, compounds, and reagents used in laboratory procedures
- Analyze substances to determine their composition and concentration of elements
- Conduct tests on materials and other substances to ensure that safety and quality standards are met
- Write technical reports that detail methods and findings
- Present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues
- Analytical skills: Chemists and materials scientists carry out scientific experiments and studies. They must be precise and accurate in their analyses because errors could invalidate their research.
- Communication skills: Chemists and materials scientists need to communicate clearly with team members and other scientists. They must read and write technical reports and give presentations.
- Interpersonal skills: Chemists and materials scientists typically work on interdisciplinary research teams and need to work well with others toward a common goal. Many serve as team leaders and must motivate and direct other team members.
- Math skills: Chemists and materials scientists regularly use complex mathematical equations and formulas, and they need a broad understanding of math, including calculus, algebra, and statistics.
- Organizational skills: Chemists and materials scientists need to document processes carefully in order to conform to regulations and industry procedures. Disorganization in the workplace can lead to legal problems, damage to equipment, and chemical spills.
- Perseverance: Scientific research involves substantial trial and error, and chemists and materials scientists must not become discouraged in their work.
- Problem-solving skills: Chemists and materials scientists research and develop new and improved chemical products, processes, and materials. This work requires a great deal of trial and error on the part of chemists and materials scientists before a unique solution is found.
- Time-management skills: Chemists and materials scientists usually need to meet deadlines when conducting research. They must be able to manage time and prioritize tasks efficiently while maintaining their quality of work.
The average pay for chemists and material scientists in the United States ranges from $42,960 to $130,560.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Overall employment of chemists and materials scientists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Environmental research will offer many new opportunities for chemists and materials scientists. Materials scientists work to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing facilities. Chemists also will continue to be needed to monitor pollution levels at manufacturing facilities and to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal environmental regulations.
A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field is needed for entry-level chemist or materials scientist jobs. Research jobs require a master’s degree or a Ph.D. and also may require significant levels of work experience. Chemists and materials scientists with a Ph.D. and postdoctoral experience typically lead basic- or applied-research teams.
Laboratory experience through internships, fellowships, or work-study programs in the industry is also useful. Graduate students studying chemistry commonly specialize in a subfield, such as analytical chemistry or inorganic chemistry.
Discover some of the courses you will take pursuing a degree in Chemistry.