Chemical physics is an area of chemistry that is focused on molecules and atoms, and their relation to chemicals. Students who major in chemical physics experiment with chemical reactions and use knowledge and research to improve the use of chemicals for materials, energy and medicine. Those who posses a chemical physics major have the chance to work in a number of careers and jobs. Different career paths lead to a range of salaries.
A chemist typically continues the kind of research and experimentation done during formal education for the purpose of developing the use of chemicals in products. In 2009, about 79,910 chemists worked in the U.S. and earned a mean annual wage of $72,740 a year, based on a report by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bottom 10th percentile of wages were less than $38,890 while those in the top 10th percentile earned more than $114,880 a year. The federal government was the highest paying employer at an average salary of $102,090, and correspondingly Washington D.C. was the highest paying area of the country, averaging $110,810 a year in chemists wages.
Some chemical physics majors go on to be material scientists and study natural or man-made substances such as metal and rubber. In 2009, the average salary of a materials scientist was $82,350 a year. The bottom 10th percentile reported at less than $43,820 while the top 10th percentile of wages was more than $125,760 annually. The federal government was the highest paying employer with an annual mean wage of $123,230, but Connecticut had the highest salaries of any state at $119,980 a year.
Chemical engineers apply knowledge of chemistry, engineering and physics to create products such as gasoline, plastics and paper. The bureau report states that the average salary of a chemical engineer in 2009 was $91,670 a year. The lowest wages, representing the bottom 10th percentile, were less than $56,090 a year while the top 10th percentile earned wages of more than $132,980 a year. Alaska was the highest paying area with an annual mean wage of $125,820 a year for chemical engineers, and oil and gas extraction companies paid the most of any employer at $115,570 a year.
Chemical physics majors with only a bachelor's degree, or less experience, can become a chemical technician. They assist scientists and chemists in the laboratory. According to the bureau report, the average wage of a chemical technician in 2009 was $43,900 a year, with the bottom 10th percentile of wage earners making less than $26,170 a year and those in the top 10th percentile making more than $65,490 a year. The highest paying state in the U.S. for chemical technicians was Delaware with an annual mean wage of $53,990, and the highest paying industry was electric power generation, transmission, and distribution, providing $58,420 a year on average.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Chemists and Materials Scientists, 2010-11
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Chemists Wages, May 2009
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Materials Scientists Wages, May 2009
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Chemical Engineer Wages, May 2009
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Chemical Technician Wages, May 2009
- Photo Credit Michael Blann/Lifesize/Getty Images