Duties: Analyze material (air and soil) samples to gain an understanding of their chemical composition in relation to potential pollution effects from coal-mining procedures
Alternate Title(s): Environmental Chemist; Research Chemist
Salary Range: $35,000 to $90,000 or more
Employment Prospects: Fair
Advancement Prospects: Poor to Fair
Education or Training - Bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related discipline is minimum requirement; many research jobs require at least a master’s degree, and often a Ph.D.
Experience - Three to five years background as an analytical chemist in both laboratory and field environments
Special Skills and Personality Traits - Ability to utilize sophisticated measurement instruments; accuracy, preciseness, and patience, with a propensity for detail; excellent laboratory and problem-solving skills; good oral and written communication talents; solid computer proficiency
Chemist >> Analytical Chemist >> Consulting Chemist; Senior Researcher
Chemistry is the study of matter, its composition, structure, properties, and reactions along with the energy changes associated with those reactions. Among the branches (or disciplines) within the field is that of analytical chemistry. Analytical Chemists determine the structure, composition, and nature of substances by examining and identifying their various elements or compounds. They perform qualitative (investigation and identification) and quantitative (determination of the presence of a given element or inorganic compound in a sample) analysis. They use the science of sampling, defining, isolating, concentrating, and preserving samples, setting error limits, and validating results through calibration and standardization procedures. They develop analytical techniques and new ways to make measurements, interpreting data in proper context, and communicating their documented results.
Analytical Chemists analyze organic and inorganic compounds to determine their chemical and physical properties, composition, structure, relationships, and reactions, utilizing chromatography (a method of determining the identity and concentration of molecules within a mixture), and spectroscopy (studying matter by investigating light, sound, or particles that are emitted, absorbed, or scattered by the matter under investigation). They apply their knowledge of chemistry, instrumentation, and statistics to solve problems in almost all areas of chemistry. They use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instrumentation for modeling and simulation in their work. For those Analytical Chemists employed by the coal mining industry, they and their measurements are used to assure compliance with environmental and other regulations.
Chemical environmental analysis is involved in monitoring levels of toxic and hazardous substances (at the site of coal-mining operations, for example). The investigation typically consists of analyzing air, water, soil, and other samples using expensive, complex instrumentation in climate- controlled laboratories. This process is both costly and time-consuming, particularly as the analysis of large numbers of samples for the most minute quantities of toxic pollutants must follow strict accountability guidelines to maintain the integrity and homogeneity of the samples investigated, and to meet regulatory requirements.
One advance in the field of chemical environmental analysis is the ongoing development of immunochemical sensors to study and evaluate the release of pollutants into the environment. These sensors are designed to detect and accurately determine the level of specific pollutants, immediately applicable to the coal-mining industry. These sensors can be built into portable and highly automated instruments that can be used at hazardous waste sites, such as mine slag deposits.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual earnings of chemists, generally, in May 2004 were $56,060. The middle 50 percent earned between $41,900 and $76,080, and the lowest 10 percent earned about $33,170. The highest 10 percent had incomes of more than $98,010. Salaries also depended greatly upon the level of educational degrees that chemists had. The American Chemical Society (ACS) reported in 2004 that the median annual salary of its members with bachelor’s degrees was $62,000, whereas those with master’s degrees earned a median salary of $72,300, and for those with Ph.D. degrees the median salary was $91,600.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006–07 Edition, employment of chemists in general is expected to grow more slowly than the average rate for all occupations through 2014. Employment in the non-pharmaceutical segments of the chemical industry is expected to decline due to the increased use of automated methodologies. However, there is the ongoing need to monitor and measure air and water pollutants to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal environmental regulations. Thus, Analytical Chemists with experience and training in using a range of instruments for a wide assortment of analyses remain in demand.
Increasingly, analytical methods have been automated, using robots and instrumentation designed to prepare and analyze samples. In addition, powerful personal computers and workstations are enabling the development and use of sophisticated techniques for interpreting instrumental data. As this instrumentation does more analysis, fewer Analytical Chemists are required to prepare samples and interpret the data. However, the demand for increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques, new generations of instrumentation, automation and computerization, and compliance with regulatory requirements have opened up fresh opportunities for Analytical Chemists in other areas of the field.
Quality assurance specialists are required to validate that analytical laboratories and the chemists working there follow documented and approved procedures. New instrumentation and laboratory information management systems have opened up opportunities for chemists with solid technical and computer skills, and corporate downsizings have provided the impetus for entrepreneurial Analytical Chemists to start their own consulting businesses.
Education and Training
A solid educational background in chemistry and good laboratory, computer, and communication skills are critical in handling a wide variety of chemical measurements. Because analytical chemistry is a service discipline (particularly as applied to the evaluation of mining pollutants), combining the skills of an Analytical Chemist with knowledge of the problems of other chemical disciplines (such as organic, polymer, inorganic, and environmental chemistries) is a valuable asset.
Analytical Chemists looking to work on environmental issues should take courses in ecological studies and become familiar with current legislation and regulations. They should include courses in atmospheric chemistry, water chemistry, soil chemistry, and energy, as well as statistical techniques. In addition, some educational background in customer service, business, and management is becoming increasingly important for Analytical Chemists who must interact with both the public and with members of the industry (in this case, coal mining) for which they work.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Because Analytical Chemists are increasingly expected to work on interdisciplinary teams, some understanding of other disciplines, such as marketing or economics, is desirable. A background either in academic laboratories or through internships, fellowships, or work-study programs in industry is useful as well.
Good laboratory and mechanical skills and the patience to perform sometimes tedious procedures is necessary for precise and accurate measurements. Analytical Chemists should be proficient in oral and written communication, and should display a degree of leadership ability. Their abilities to learn about and keep up with the latest techniques, instrumentation, and technology are essential. They must have excellent computer know-how and be familiar with development environmental, graphics, and photo-imaging software. Their knowledge of chemical composition, structure, and properties of substances and of the chemical processes and transformations that they undergo must be exemplary. They must be adept at gathering, processing, and analyzing data or information, including evaluating that data to determine compliance with set standards and regulations. They need to be highly organized and be expert at entering, transcribing, recording, and maintaining information in both written and computer storage forms.
Unions and Associations
The primary association for all chemists is the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Tips for Entry
1. Investigate paying or nonpaying internships, fellowships, and co-op industry work experience in the chemical industry as a good way to gain hands-on job experience.
2. Include mathematics (particularly statistics) in your curriculum.
3. Work on your computer skills: practice writing software; setting up functions; entering, transcribing, recording, storing, and maintaining data; and processing information.