Modern life is highly dependent on polymers, large molecules composed of repeating simple molecules. These microscopic chemicals form the basis for some of the most widely used and important materials and products in daily life, from plastics to food proteins. Polymer chemists are scientists who study these complex molecules, using their knowledge and expertise to develop new products and processes.
Polymer chemists are chiefly responsible for researching, developing and understanding processes related to the creation of plastic and rubber products. Generally, these scientists study the molecular properties of chemicals used in synthesizing or creating new polymers. For example, a polymer chemist can study naturally occurring polymers found in plants to synthesize products like plastics or rubber. As polymer science is a multi-disciplinary field, polymer chemists often work in conjunction with engineers, physicists, biologists and other scientists to conduct research. They plan and conduct experiments, supervise production of new polymer materials, manage laboratories, or perform any of the tasks required in the research and development process.
Education and Training
Most employers require applicants have at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry or related field, though many require master's or doctoral degrees. Polymer chemists must be very knowledgeable about laboratory procedures and experiments, and need an excellent grasp of computer modeling and analysis software systems.
Polymer scientists need to have a natural curiosity about the world, wanting to learn and create. The creation of new products or processes requires a certain amount of creativity as well. The ability to communicate complicated scientific findings or concepts orally and in writing requires good communication skills. Working with other chemists and scientists also requires the ability to work in a team or cooperative setting.
Polymer chemists tend to work a typical 40-hour workweek, either in an office or laboratory setting. Longer work hours are not uncommon, especially when involved in an experiment or process requiring constant supervision. A polymer chemist can work independently, but typically operates as part of a team of chemists and other scientists.
Jobs and Salary
While specific numbers on polymer chemists are hard to determine, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates there were about 86,400 chemist jobs in 2008. These workers earned a mean annual salary of $66,230, with the top 10 percent earning more than $133,000 per year.
- Photo Credit petroleum distilation image by Heng kong Chen from Fotolia.com
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