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Career In Chemistry

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The great value of the work of the chemist is just beginning to be properly appreciated in this country. The contributions he is making to the advancement of science and industry are of the greatest importance. Medicine, agriculture, manufacturing and mining are among the sciences and industries which owe to the chemist much of their recent growth and development. Whether the chemist is engaged in a government position or not, he is always rendering public service of a most necessary and productive kind. His work contributes directly to the maintenance of the health and the production of the wealth of the nation. The examination of foods and drugs, the reclamation of exhausted soils, the invention of new production processes and of altogether new products are all included in chemical practice, and are all essential to the continued prosperity of a country.

There are numerous kinds of professional chemists, but they may be roughly classified under a few types. Chemists of the academic type are engaged in teaching chemistry and carrying on chemical research in university laboratories. Government chemists in federal, state or municipal positions do analytical and research work of various kinds. Most people first became aware of the existence of government chemists during the war, when the invention of poison gases, bombs and gas masks were matters of general interest, but much work of a more lasting and constructive nature is annually done by the same chemists who devised new instruments of war. Agriculture has been greatly helped by their work in the chemistry of soils and fertilizers; public health is protected by their analysis of foods and drugs and industry is promoted by their experimental work with various chemical agents.

Perhaps the largest subdivision of the chemical field is that of industrial chemistry. The industrial chemist may either engage in private practice or he may be employed by some large industrial concern. There is plenty of room and opportunity for various types of workers in industrial chemistry. First, might be named the analytical chemist, who analyzes the raw material or finished product of a concern, in order to deter-mine the quality of the former and the possibility of saving in the production of the latter. These chemists save millions of dollars by their investigations. They may, for instance, discover that ore taken from a certain mine contains two different metals, and thus save the promotors of the mining operations from the mistake of discarding as waste what may be a source of large income.

Then there are research chemists in industry. These men work in the laboratory along several lines. They experiment with various materials in an attempt to produce from them new products of commercial value. Thus they help to eliminate waste, for they utilize the waste material resulting from the manufacture of one product in the making of "by products." The large meat packers, for instance, have various factories which, as a side line, manufacture buttons and combs, chewing gum, gelatin and many other products from the hoofs, horns and other parts of the animal which cannot be used for meat.

The chemical engineers are usually the men who devise the proper mechanical apparatus for carrying out the production processes invented by the research chemist. The field of chemical engineering has wonderful openings for men who combine business ability with scientific knowledge. Not only do they design industrial plants and supervise their erection and equipment, but they frequently rise to positions of control of an entire industry, because of their threefold ability as chemists, engineers and business men.

All chemists, of whatever type they may be, need a good general education, besides a thorough grounding in the principles of chemistry. They should have some knowledge of history and literature, should be acquainted with other sciences as well as chemistry, should have a thorough training in higher mathematics, and as much knowledge of French and German as possible, since a great deal of the most important chemical literature is written in these languages. The university courses are generally considered good preparation for the chemist, for, besides training in the fundamentals of chemistry, they give the student a general cultural background and, in most cases, a knowledge of chemical literature, which later on will prove a great time-saving factor in the solution of practical problems.

Laboratory work is, of course, an important part of the chemistry course in every school, but some schools have made special arrangements whereby chemistry students may go into actual industrial laboratories and there devote themselves to the solution of whatever chemical problems are at the time under consideration. This type of training is of the greatest value to the young man who plans to become an industrial chemist, because it makes him realize the importance of doing his work quickly as well as accurately, and because it gives him a chance, very often, to come in contact with factory conditions and large-scale methods of procedure.

Some men have become industrial chemists without having taken courses in a university or high grade technical school, but by having served an apprenticeship in an industrial laboratory. Such men, however, usually have not sufficient knowledge of chemistry to be able to attain the highest positions. Of course, university training alone cannot fit a man for an immediate executive position. As lawyers, doctors and other professional men find that on leaving school they had best go in with some older man in order to gain experience, so the chemist finds that he must go through a period of further training under the direction of experienced men before he is sufficiently accustomed to the ways of the industrial laboratory to be able to do original work.

The demand for competent chemists insures that money spent on technical training is well spent. A thoroughly trained man may receive as his initial salary from $100 to $150 a month, and after several years, if he proves himself a capable and original worker, his earnings may be from $5,000 a year up. Some "consulting chemists," acknowledged experts in their fields, have a yearly income of as much as $50,000, but these are, of course, the rare exceptions. Government chemists do not average even $3,000 a year, but they enjoy the advantages peculiar to all government positions.

There are certain necessary qualifications, besides the one of technical knowledge, which the man who is to be a successful chemist should have. He needs, first of all, a scientific type of mind keenness, good powers of observation and a strong reasoning faculty. Then he needs imagination, originality, self-reliance and initiative. The man without these qualities will never amount to much as a research worker or as a chemical engineer, for both must be able to foresee difficulties and methods of overcoming them, and to go ahead with work on their own responsibility. Intellectual capacity and a love for study are necessary too, not only for a mastery of the fundamentals of chemistry, but for later work in experimentation and research. Business ability will be of great value to the chemist, especially to the industrial chemist who looks forward to an executive position; and absolute honesty and trustworthiness are essential, for, without these, the most capable, energetic, enthusiastic and original chemical worker will be useless to his employers.

The young man with all the qualifications mentioned, with sound training and with a desire to get ahead, will find many advantages in the profession of chemistry. Practically the only disadvantage lies in the fact that the chemist must sometimes work out some important problem in a very limited time, but the trained man will know how to overcome this difficulty. There might be mentioned also the fact that there is an occasional accident in a chemical laboratory, but this occurs very infrequently, and safety devices of all sorts minimize the danger. To counterbalance these slight disadvantages there are numerous good points about the profession. It is, first of all, not a crowded one, and so offers opportunity and scope for advancement to many young men. Then the salaries are good, and the work itself fascinating. But besides the interest which his work affords him, the chemist has the satisfaction of knowing that he is per-forming tasks of the greatest value to humanity, whether he is preserving the fertility of the soil, guaranteeing pure foods by his analysis, utilizing hitherto waste products in manufacture or doing any other of the useful things connected with his profession.


FINDLAY, ALEXANDER: "Chemistry in the Service of Man," Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1916.

HENDRICK, ELWOOD: "Opportunities in Chemistry," Harper & Bros., New York and London, 1919.

MARTIN, GEOFFREY: "Industrial and Manufacturing Chemistry," Crosby Lockwood & Son, London, 1918.

SLOSSON, E. E.: "Creative Chemistry," The Century Co., New York, 1919.

TILDEN, WILLIAM A.: "Famous Chemists; the Men and Their Work," G. Routledge & Sons, Ltd., London, 1921.


Chemical Abstracts, American Chemical Society, Easton, Pa.

Chemical Age, McCready Publishing Co., New York.

Journal of the American Society, American Chemical Soc., Easton, Pa. Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, American Chemical Soc., Easton, Pa.

Metallurgical and Chemical Engineering, McGraw-Hill Co., Inc., New York.

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