A chemist (from Greek chēm (ía) alchemy; replacing chemist from Medieval Latin alchimista) is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms. Chemists carefully measure substance proportions, reaction rates, and other chemical properties. The word 'chemist' is also used to address Pharmacists in Commonwealth English.
Chemists use this knowledge to learn the composition and properties of unfamiliar substances, as well as to reproduce and synthesize large quantities of useful naturally occurring substances and create new artificial substances and useful processes.
History of chemistry
The roots of chemistry can be traced to the phenomenon of burning. Fire was a mystical force that transformed one substance into another and thus was of primary interest to mankind. It was fire that led to the discovery of iron and glasses. After gold was discovered and became a precious metal, many people were interested to find a method that could convert other substances into gold. This led to the protoscience called alchemy. The word chemist is derived from the New Latin noun chimista, an abbreviation of alchimista (alchemist). Alchemists discovered many chemical processes that led to the development of modern chemistry. Chemistry as we know it today, was invented by Antoine Lavoisier with his law of conservation of mass in 1783. The discoveries of the chemical elements has a long history culminating in the creation of the periodic table by Dmitri Mendeleev. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry created in 1901 gives an excellent overview of chemical discovery since the start of the 20th century.
Jobs for chemists usually require at least a bachelor's degree, but many positions, especially those in research, require a Master of Science or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD.). Most undergraduate programs emphasize mathematics and physics as well as chemistry, partly because chemistry is also known as "the central science", thus chemists ought to have a well-rounded knowledge about science. At the Master's level and higher, students tend to specialize in a particular field. Fields of specialization include biochemistry, nuclear chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, polymer chemistry, analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, theoretical chemistry, quantum chemistry, environmental chemistry, and thermochemistry. Postdoctoral experience may be required for certain positions.
Workers whose work involves chemistry, but not at a complexity requiring an education with a chemistry degree, are commonly referred to as chemical technicians. Such technicians commonly do such work as simpler, routine analyses for quality control or in clinical laboratories, having an associate degree. A chemical technologist has more education or experience than a chemical technician but less than a chemist, often having a bachelor's degree in a different field of science with also an associate degree in chemistry (or many credits related to chemistry) or having the same education as a chemical technician but more experience. There are also degrees specific to become a chemical technologist, which are somewhat distinct from those required when a student is interested in becoming a professional chemist. A Chemical technologist is more involved in the management and operation of the equipment and instrumentation necessary to perform chemical analyzes than a chemical technician. They are part of the team of a chemical laboratory in which the quality of the raw material, intermediate products and finished products is analyzed. They also perform functions in the areas of environmental quality control and the operational phase of a chemical plant.
In addition to all the training usually given to chemical technologists in their respective degree (or one given via an associate degree), a chemist is also trained to understand more details related to chemical phenomena so that the chemist can be capable of more planning on the steps to achieve a distinct goal via a chemistry-related endeavor.
It is important that those interested in a Chemistry degree understand the variety of roles available to them (on average), which vary depending on education and job experience.
In comparison, chemists who have obtained a Master of Science (M.S.) in chemistry or in a very related discipline may find chemist roles that allow them to enjoy more independence, leadership and responsibility earlier in their careers with less years of experience than those with a bachelor's degree as highest degree.
Chemistry typically is divided into several major sub-disciplines.
- Analytical chemistry is the analysis of material samples to gain an understanding of their chemical composition and structure. Analytical chemistry incorporates standardized experimental methods in chemistry. These methods may be used in all subdisciplines of chemistry, excluding purely theoretical chemistry.
- Biochemistry is the study of the chemicals, chemical reactions and chemical interactions that take place in living organisms. Biochemistry and organic chemistry are closely related, for example, in medicinal chemistry.
- Inorganic chemistry is the study of the properties and reactions of inorganic compounds. The distinction between organic and inorganic disciplines is not absolute and there is much overlap, most importantly in the sub-discipline of organometallic chemistry. The Inorganic chemistry is also the study of atomic and molecular structure and bonding.
- Medicinal chemistry is the science involved with designing, synthesizing and developing pharmaceutical drugs. Medicinal chemistry involves the identification, synthesis and development of new chemical entities suitable for therapeutic use. It also includes the study of existing drugs, their biological properties, and their quantitative structure-activity relationships.
- Organic chemistry is the study of the structure, properties, composition, mechanisms, and chemical reaction of carbon compounds.
- Physical chemistry is the study of the physical fundamental basis of chemical systems and processes. In particular, the energetics and dynamics of such systems and processes are of interest to physical chemists. Important areas of study include chemical thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, electrochemistry, quantum chemistry, statistical mechanics, and spectroscopy. Physical chemistry has a large overlap with theoretical chemistry and molecular physics. Physical chemistry involves the use of calculus in deriving equations.
- Theoretical chemistry is the study of chemistry via theoretical reasoning (usually within mathematics or physics). In particular, the application of quantum mechanics to chemistry is called quantum chemistry. Since the end of the Second World War, the development of computers has allowed a systematic development of computational chemistry, which is the art of developing and applying computer programs for solving chemical problems. Theoretical chemistry has large overlap with condensed matter physics and molecular physics. See reductionism.
All the above major areas of chemistry employ chemists.
Chemists may belong to professional societies specifically for professionals and researchers within the field of Chemistry, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom, or the American Chemical Society (ACS) in the United States.