Bureau of Labor Statistics

Chemists and Materials Scientists

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
2020 Median Pay $80,680 per year
$38.79 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2020 92,400
Job Outlook, 2020-30 6% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2020-30 6,000

Summary

What Chemists and Materials Scientists Do

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and analyze the ways in which the substances interact with one another.

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 was $79,300 in May 2020.

The median annual wage for materials scientists was $99,460 in May 2020.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of chemists and materials scientists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 9,100 openings for chemists and materials scientists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

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

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 analyze 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
  • 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, fertilizers, flavors, batteries, and cleaners, as well as thousands of other products.

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

If a chemist specializes in green chemistry, he or she will design chemical processes and products that are environmentally sustainable. Green chemistry processes minimize the creation of toxins and waste.

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.

Because 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.

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.

Forensic chemists analyze evidence for clues to help solve crimes. These chemists aid in criminal investigations by testing evidence, such as DNA, and interpreting their findings. Not only is human DNA evidence tested; DNA evidence can be used to exonerate animals suspected of having killed people or other animals. These chemists work primarily in laboratories, though they sometimes testify in court.

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 effectively produce new drugs on a large scale.

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. From 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, 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 number 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 postsecondary teachers or high school teachers.

Work Environment

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

Chemists held about 85,400 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of chemists were as follows:

Chemical manufacturing 33%
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 14
Testing laboratories 11
Federal government, excluding postal service 7
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 4

Materials scientists held about 7,100 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of materials scientists were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 25%
Chemical manufacturing 15
Management of companies and enterprises 14
Computer and electronic product manufacturing 10
Architectural, engineering, and related services 7

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.

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

Chemists and materials scientists
Laboratory experience through internships, fellowships, or work–study programs in industry is useful.

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

Chemists and material scientists typically need a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related physical science field. Research 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. Combined programs, which offer an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemistry, also are available.

Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in chemistry that are approved by the American Chemical Society. 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, they take classes in math, 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 through internships, fellowships, or work–study programs in industry is also useful. Some universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain work experience while pursuing a degree.

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 clearly with team members and other scientists. They must read and write technical reports and give presentations.

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 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 math, 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

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Median annual wages, May 2020

Materials scientists

$99,460

Physical scientists

$83,250

Chemists

$79,300

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

The median annual wage for chemists was $79,300 in May 2020. 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 $44,970, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $139,650.

The median annual wage for materials scientists was $99,460 in May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $165,290.

In May 2020, the median annual wages for chemists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $116,990
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 92,410
Chemical manufacturing 77,760
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 66,700
Testing laboratories 59,380

In May 2020, the median annual wages for materials scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Management of companies and enterprises $116,000
Computer and electronic product manufacturing 114,930
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 100,470
Chemical manufacturing 90,710
Architectural, engineering, and related services 83,360

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

Job Outlook

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Total, all occupations

8%

Physical scientists

7%

Chemists

7%

Chemists and materials scientists

6%

Materials scientists

4%

 

Overall employment of chemists and materials scientists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 9,100 openings for chemists and materials scientists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

In pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, chemists will be needed to develop nanotechnology for medicinal uses. And in chemical manufacturing, these workers will be needed for improving environmental safety in the workplace and community.

Materials scientists will be needed to develop cheaper, safer, and better quality materials for a variety of uses, such as in electronics, energy, and transportation.

Employment projections data for chemists and materials scientists, 2020-30

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

Occupational Title

Chemists and materials scientists

SOC Code19-2030
Employment, 202092,400
Projected Employment, 203098,400
Percent Change, 2020-306
Numeric Change, 2020-306,000
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Materials scientists

SOC Code19-2032
Employment, 20207,100
Projected Employment, 20307,300
Percent Change, 2020-304
Numeric Change, 2020-30300
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Chemists

SOC Code19-2031
Employment, 202085,400
Projected Employment, 203091,100
Percent Change, 2020-307
Numeric Change, 2020-305,700
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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

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 2020 MEDIAN PAY
Biochemists and biophysicists Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes.

Doctoral or professional degree $94,270
Chemical engineers Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the use of fuel, drugs, food, and many other products.

Bachelor's degree $108,540
Chemical technicians Chemical Technicians

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to assist chemists and chemical engineers.

Associate's degree $49,820
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.

Bachelor's degree $73,230
Forensic science technicians Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence.

Bachelor's degree $60,590
Geoscientists Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth.

Bachelor's degree $93,580
High school teachers High School Teachers

High school teachers teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college and to enter the job market.

Bachelor's degree $62,870
Materials engineers Materials Engineers

Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a wide range of products.

Bachelor's degree $95,640
Natural sciences managers Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists.

Bachelor's degree $137,940
Postsecondary teachers Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a variety of academic subjects beyond the high school level.

See How to Become One $80,560

Contacts for More Info

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

For information about academic programs in green chemistry, visit

American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Academic Programs

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

USAJOBS

CareerOneStop

For a career video on Chemists, visit

Chemists

O*NET

Chemists

Materials Scientists

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Chemists and Materials Scientists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/chemists-and-materials-scientists.htm (visited October 07, 2021).

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/ooh Contact OOH

View this page on regular www.bls.gov

Permanently disable mobile site