Introduction to Chemistry

Chemistry is everywhere. Anything that can be detected by the human five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing) involves chemistry and chemicals. In other words, chemistry is essentially in what we eat and drink, in what we breathe, in what we are and in how we live. It is at the heart of life. Chemistry is the explanation for things in everyday life, like why laundry detergent works better in hot water or how baking soda works, why not all pain relievers work equally well on a headache, or why surgery is endurable with the application of anesthesia.

Chemistry is frequently defined as the study of matter and the reactions that matter undergoes. In simplest terms, chemistry is the science of matter and is literally the very essence of sustainable life. It is the science about substances, their composition, structure, properties, and interactions. Matter exists in three primary states namely solid, liquid and gas.  All matter is composed of various combinations of these basic elements.

Sub-Disciplines of Chemistry

Chemistry forms the indispensable foundation of disciplines such as biology, medicine, and materials sciences.The four common sub-disciplines within chemistry include inorganic (elements other than carbon), organic (carbon compounds), analytical (methods used to separate and identify compounds), and physical chemists.Many more specialized disciplines have emerged in recent years: neurochemistry is the chemical study of the mind, biochemists try to understand and apply the chemistry of biological processes, materials chemists attempt to synthesize new materials such as superconductors or artificial skin, environmental chemists study the chemistry of the environment and monitor and solve environmental problems, while forensic chemists apply chemistry to the solution of crimes. Fields that are interlinked with chemistry include biochemistry, geochemistry, chemical physics, chemical engineering, and even biogeochemistry.

Chemistry and Its Role in Our Lives

One of the goals of chemistry is the development of novel substances and materials, and their production by the rearrangement of the atoms of known substances. Chemical research has discovered and developed new synthetic fibers (e.g Kevlar), plastics (e.g polyethylene and Teflon), and commercial fertilizers just to name a few. Chemists play a key role in the development of drugs, which are helping to cure and alleviate diseases and prolong life span. Chemists are involved in biochemistry and genetic engineering. For example, there is much interest in producing new bacterial strains, which can synthesize useful products such as human insulin or interferon. Chemists are also at the forefront of developing fields such as nanotechnology. They are actively involved in environmental issues and are helping to tap new sources of energy to replace the earth’s finite reserves of petroleum. In addition, the synthesis of organic materials from inorganic ones, which was once believed to be exclusively produced by living things, is now made possible with the breakthroughs of chemistry. The development of a catalytic converter for motor vehicles is simply an improvement to the exhaust system of motor vehicles. With the help of the device, the highly poisonous gas, carbon monoxide (chemical symbol CO) is changed into the less harmful molecule carbon dioxide (chemical symbol CO2).

A Career in Chemistry

Upon graduation, a student with a degree in chemistry is well-equipped to pursue a career in a wide array of sectors and fields. It opens windows of employment opportunity ranging from marine chemistry to chemical engineering; food chemistry to neurochemistry; molecular biology to biotechnology; textile science; plastics industry; environmental chemistry to biological chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry and beyond. These careers offer a wide variety of paths for both entry and advancement.

Below is a list of career positions that are related to the chemistry degree:

  • Analytical chemist
  • Clinical biochemist
  • Forensic scientist
  • Research and development scientist
  • Industrial research scientist
  • Scientific journalist
  • Scientist, process and product development
  • Materials engineer
  • Chemical engineer
  • Toxicologist
  • Quality assurance manager
  • Chemical marketing and sales
  • Plant chemist
  • Laboratory technician
  • Environmental consultant
  • Patent agent
  • Teacher or lecturer in college and university

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Chemist

  • Curiousity and desire to explore the unknown
  • Analytical & problem-solving skills
  • Team player
  • Good communication skills
  • Computer modeling programs
  • Able to work independently without supervision

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