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This article is about a scientific profession. For other uses, see Chemist (disambiguation).
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The Apothecary or The Chemist by Gabriël Metsu (c. 1651–67)

A chemist 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. Chemists may specialize in any number of subdisciplines of chemistry. Materials scientists and metallurgists share much of the same education and skills with chemists. The work of chemists is often related to the work of chemical engineers, which are primarily concerned with the proper design, construction and evaluation of the most cost-effective large-scale chemical plants and work closely with industrial chemists on the development of new processes and methods for the commercial-scale manufacture of chemicals and related products.

History of chemistry

Main article: History of chemistry
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Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev - author of the first modern periodic table of elements
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Antoine Lavoisier (1743–94) is considered the "Father of Modern 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 .


Jobs for chemists usually require at least a bachelor's degree, but many positions, especially those in research, require a Doctor of Philosophy. 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, theoretical chemistry, quantum chemistry, environmental chemistry, and physical chemistry. 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, repetitive analyses for quality control or in clinical laboratories.


The three major employers of chemists are academic institutions, industry, especially the chemical industry and the pharmaceutical industry, and government laboratories.

Chemistry typically is divided into several major sub-disciplines. There are also several main cross-disciplinary and more specialized fields of chemistry. There is a great deal of overlap between different branches of chemistry, as well as with other scientific fields such as biology, medicine, physics, radiology, and several engineering 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.
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A chemist prepares a new fuel cell for testing.
  • 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. 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 organic 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.

All the above major areas of chemistry employ chemists. Other fields where chemical degrees are useful include astrochemistry (and cosmochemistry), atmospheric chemistry, chemical engineering, chemo-informatics, electrochemistry, environmental science, forensic science, geochemistry, green chemistry, history of chemistry, materials science, medical science, molecular biology, molecular genetics, nanotechnology, nuclear chemistry, oenology, organometallic chemistry, petrochemistry, pharmacology, photochemistry, phytochemistry, polymer chemistry, supramolecular chemistry and surface chemistry.

Professional societies

Chemists may belong to professional societies that specialize in chemist members, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom, or the American Chemical Society (ACS) in the United States.

Honors and awards

The highest honor awarded to chemists is the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded since 1901, by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

See also