Chemists and Materials Scientists

Summary

chemists and materials scientists image
Chemists and materials scientists perform experiments that require creative problem solving and detailed recordkeeping.
Quick Facts: Chemists and Materials Scientists
2014 Median Pay $74,720 per year
$35.92 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 98,400
Job Outlook, 2014-24 3% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 2,600

What Chemists and Materials Scientists Do

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and 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.

Work Environment

Chemists and materials scientists work in laboratories and offices. They typically work full time and keep regular hours.

How to Become a Chemist or Materials Scientist

Chemists and materials scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field. However, a master’s degree or Ph.D. is needed for many research jobs.

Pay

The median annual wage for chemists and materials scientists was $74,720 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of chemists and materials scientists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Chemists and materials scientists with an advanced degree, particularly those with a Ph.D., are expected to have better opportunities.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for chemists and materials scientists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of chemists and materials scientists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about chemists and materials scientists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Chemists and Materials Scientists Do About this section

Chemists and materials scientists
Most chemists and materials scientists work as part of a team.

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and 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.

Duties

Chemists and materials scientists typically do the following:

  • Plan and carry out complex research projects, such as the development of new products and testing methods
  • Direct technicians and other workers in testing and analyzing components and the physical properties of materials
  • 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

Some chemists and materials scientists work in basic research. Others work in 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, and cleaners, as well as thousands of other products.

Materials scientists study the structures and chemical properties of various materials in order to develop new products or enhance existing ones. They determine ways to strengthen or combine materials, or develop new materials, for use in a variety of products. Applications of materials science include inventing or improving ceramics, metallic alloys, and superconducting materials.

Chemists and materials scientists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instrumentation for modeling, simulation, and experimental analysis. For example, some chemists use three-dimensional computer modeling software to study the structure and properties of complex molecules. 

Most chemists and materials scientists work as part of a team. The number of scientific research projects that involve multiple disciplines is increasing, and it is common for chemists and materials scientists to work on teams with other scientists, such as biologists, 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. For more information, see the profiles on biochemists and biophysicists, microbiologists, zoologists and wildlife biologists, physicists and astronomers, computer and information technology occupations, and engineering occupations.

Chemists often specialize in a particular branch of the field. The following are examples of types of chemists:

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 among 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.

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, such as ceramics and superconductors, can be modified, separated, or used in products.  

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.

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 in turn, have been used to develop many commercial products, such as pharmaceutical drugs and plastics.

Physical chemists study the fundamental characteristics of how matter behaves on a molecular and atomic level and how chemical reactions occur. On the basis of 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, although most specializations incorporate advanced computation and programming. Some examples of theoretical chemists are computational chemists, mathematical chemists, and chemical informaticians.

Materials scientists tend to specialize by the material they work with most often. A few examples of materials in which these scientists specialize are ceramics, glasses, metals, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), polymers, and semiconductors.

A growing numbers of chemists work in interdisciplinary fields, such as biochemistry and geochemistry. For more information, see the profiles on biochemists and biophysicists and geoscientists.

Many people with a chemistry background become professors or teachers. For more information, see the profiles on high school teachers and postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment About this section

Chemists and materials scientists
Chemists must wear protective clothing such as gloves and goggles when handling hazardous chemicals.

Chemists and materials scientists held about 98,400 jobs in 2014; about 91,1000 were chemist jobs and 7,300 were held by materials scientists.

The industries that employed the most chemists in 2014 were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 18%
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 16
Testing laboratories 10
Federal government, excluding postal service 7
Basic chemical manufacturing 5

Most materials scientists work in manufacturing and in scientific research and development. The industries that employed the most materials scientists in 2014 were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 27%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 9
Basic chemical manufacturing 6
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 5
Management of companies and enterprises 5

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. Chemists and materials scientists who work for manufacturing companies may have to travel occasionally, especially if their company has multiple facilities. Others may work outdoors to collect samples and conduct onsite analysis of air, soil, or water.

Chemists and materials scientists typically work on research teams. They need to be able to work well with others toward a common goal. Many serve in a leadership capacity and need to be able to motivate and direct other team members.

Injuries and Illnesses

Chemists and materials scientists may be exposed to health or safety hazards when handling certain chemicals, but there is little risk if they follow proper procedures, such as wearing protective clothing when handling hazardous chemicals.

Work Schedules

Chemists and materials scientists typically work full time and keep regular hours. Occasionally, they may have to work additional hours to meet project deadlines or perform time-sensitive laboratory experiments during off-hours.

How to Become a Chemist or Materials Scientist About this section

Chemists and materials scientists
Chemists and materials scientists conduct experiments in laboratories.

Chemists and materials scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field. However, a master’s degree or Ph.D. is required for many research jobs.

Education

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or in a related field is needed for entry-level chemist or materials scientist jobs. Although some materials scientists hold a degree in materials science, most have a degree in chemistry, physics, or engineering. Many 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.

Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in chemistry that are approved by the American Chemical Society. There are few programs specifically in materials science, but the number of programs is gradually increasing. Some colleges offer materials science as a specialization within their chemistry programs, and some engineering schools offer degrees in the joint field of materials science and engineering. High school students can prepare for college coursework by taking chemistry, math, and computer science classes.

Undergraduate chemistry majors typically are required to take courses in analytical, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. In addition to chemistry coursework, they take classes in mathematics, biological sciences, and physics. Computer science courses are essential, because chemists and materials scientists need computer skills to perform modeling and simulation tasks, manage and manipulate databases, and operate computerized laboratory equipment.

Laboratory experience, either at a college or university, or through internships, fellowships, or work–study programs in industry, is also useful.

Graduate students studying chemistry commonly specialize in a subfield, such as analytical chemistry or inorganic chemistry. For example, those interested in doing research in the pharmaceutical industry usually develop a strong background in medicinal or organic chemistry.

Important Qualities

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 with team members and other scientists. They must be able to read and write technical reports and give presentations.

Critical-thinking skills. Chemists and materials scientists carefully evaluate their own work and the work of others. They must determine if results and conclusions are based on sound science.

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 be able to 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 mathematics, 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.

Advancement

Chemists typically receive greater responsibility and independence in their work as they gain experience. Greater responsibility also is gained through further education. Ph.D. chemists usually lead research teams and have control over the direction and content of projects, but even Ph.D. holders have room to advance as they gain experience. As chemists become more proficient in managing research projects, they may take on larger, more complicated, and more expensive projects.

Some chemists and materials scientists become natural sciences managers.

Pay About this section

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Median annual wages, May 2014

Materials scientists

$91,980

Physical scientists

$76,260

Chemists and materials scientists

$74,720

Chemists

$73,480

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for chemists was $73,480 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,560, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $126,220.

The median annual wage for materials scientists was $91,980 in May 2014. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $47,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $143,960.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for chemists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows: 

Federal government, excluding postal service $103,380
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 85,460
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 73,130
Basic chemical manufacturing 69,350
Testing laboratories 55,800

In May 2014, the median annual wages for materials scientists in the top industries in which they worked scientists were as follows: 

Basic chemical manufacturing $114,960
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 95,660
Management of companies and enterprises 90,280
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 79,120
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 57,150

Chemists and materials scientists typically work full time and keep regular hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Physical scientists

7%

Total, all occupations

7%

Materials scientists

3%

Chemists and materials scientists

3%

Chemists

3%

 

Employment of chemists and materials scientists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Many chemists and materials scientists are employed in manufacturing industries that are projected to decline.

Employment of chemists is projected to grow 3 percent as they continue to be needed in scientific research and development (R&D) and to monitor the quality of products and processes.

Employment of materials scientists is projected to grow 3 percent as demand increases for cheaper, safer, and better quality materials for a variety of purposes, such as electronics, energy, and transportation.

Chemists research and solve a wide range of problems and are employed in a similarly wide range of industries. About a third of all chemists are employed in chemical manufacturing industries; the remainder work at colleges and universities, in government, and for independent testing and research laboratories. Some chemical manufacturing industries, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, increasingly may be outsourcing their R&D activities, rather than doing the research in-house. This outsourcing strategy is likely to cause faster growth in the employment of chemists in small, independent research-and-development firms than in the more traditional large manufacturers. However, as the economy improves and the expansion in domestic natural gas production lowers the cost of energy and raw inputs, manufacturers may have less of an incentive than they had in the past to outsource their R&D activities.

Environmental research will offer many new opportunities for chemists and materials scientists. For example, chemical manufacturing industries will continue to develop technologies and processes that reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency at 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.

Job Prospects

In addition to job openings resulting from employment growth, some job openings will result from the need to replace chemists and materials scientists who retire or otherwise leave the occupations.

Chemists and materials scientists with advanced degrees, particularly those with a Ph.D. and work experience, are expected to have better opportunities. Large pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms provide openings for these workers at research laboratories, and many others work in colleges and universities. Furthermore, chemists with advanced degrees will continue to fill most senior research and upper-management positions. For more information, see the profile on natural sciences managers.

Employment projections data for chemists and materials scientists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Chemists and materials scientists

98,400 101,000 3 2,600

Chemists

19-2031 91,100 93,500 3 2,400 [XLSX]

Materials scientists

19-2032 7,300 7,500 3 200 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of chemists and materials scientists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2014 MEDIAN PAY Help
Agricultural and food scientists

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Bachelor's degree $60,690
Biochemists and biophysicists

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, heredity, and disease.

Doctoral or professional degree $84,940
Chemical engineers

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.

Bachelor's degree $96,940
Environmental scientists and specialists

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.

Bachelor's degree $66,250
Geoscientists

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.

Bachelor's degree $89,910
High school teachers

High School Teachers

High school teachers help prepare students for life after graduation. They teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college and to enter the job market.

Bachelor's degree $56,310
Materials engineers

Materials Engineers

Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a wide range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.

Bachelor's degree $87,690
Natural sciences managers

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists. They direct activities related to research and development, and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production.

Bachelor's degree $120,050
Physicists and astronomers

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Some physicists design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers.

Doctoral or professional degree $109,290
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $70,790

Contacts for More Information About this section

For information on career opportunities, earnings, and education for chemists and materials scientists, visit

American Chemical Society

American Chemistry Council

ASM International

Materials Research Society

National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education

For more information about certified degree programs in chemistry, visit

American Chemical Society Committee on Professional Training

To find job openings for chemists and scientists in the federal government, visit

USAJOBS

O*NET

Chemists

Materials Scientists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Chemists and Materials Scientists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/chemists-and-materials-scientists.htm (visited February 06, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. This tab may also provide information on earnings in the major industries employing the occupation.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's Career InfoNet.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,540.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,547.