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Education And Training, Salary, Help Wanted: Chemistry Technician, Outlook, For More Information

Chemistry is no longer the glamour field it once was, but good jobs are still available. If you enjoy concocting, brewing, cooking, and experimenting, chemistry is a field to investigate. There are two basic types of chemistry: organic and inorganic. Organic chemistry is based on compounds containing carbon. They make up most of commercial chemistry. Inorganic chemistry is concerned with the elements, metallic and nonmetallic.

Most chemical technicians work in research and development (R&D) labs for large multinational corporations that process food, make plastics, develop medicines, produce commercial cleaning products, or manufacture industrial and agricultural chemicals. These companies fund research in the hope of striking it rich with a new, profitable product.

Chemical technicians assist professional chemists in analyzing complex substances and running experiments on new combinations of chemicals. As in any recipe, some combinations are better than others. A cosmetic that makes a woman look beautiful but smells like decaying garbage is not going to sell. Chemists think that their failures are as important as their successes. Failures tell them what not to do.

An important part of the organic chemistry business is the quest for new ways to synthesize products. This is especially true in the pharmacy industry. A naturally occurring antibiotic may be very expensive to produce and may not be able to be produced in large quantities. If scientists can determine the structure of molecules in the antibiotic and copy it synthetically, the company can mass-produce it, bringing down the cost to consumers. While they are synthesizing molecules, chemists can also modify them, eliminating undesirable side effects and enhancing their power.

Chemical technicians are often responsible for setting up experiments and taking care of equipment, which may be as simple as glass beakers and pipettes, or as complex as gas analyzers that perform several functions at once. They must keep everything clean and in good working order.

Technicians must be math and computer literate. Using formulas, they measure the characteristics of liquids and gases—volume, density, temperature, and volatility (the speed of evaporation). After carefully recording the results, they present their findings and conclusions to chemists.

Organic chemical technicians are also in demand in environmental agencies, where they monitor and assess water and air quality. This is a growing field and will become more specialized in the years ahead.

Inorganic chemical technicians are likely to work in heavy industry, in metals-testing laboratories or metals-processing plants. Some industrial chemicals are inorganic, such as battery acid or various salts. Industrial ceramics is beginning to attract the attention of scientists and industry and is predicted to be a growing field over the next ten years, as will the highly specialized area of superconductive metals—metals used in electronics applications.

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