A chemical technician could...
|Evaluate a new food additive to find out if it improves the texture of a breakfast cereal.||Test oil additives to see if they improve engine lubrication.|
|Test ingredients in order to help develop a new tear-less baby shampoo.||Analyze water samples for pollution to ensure the public's health.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||The role that the chemical technician plays is the backbone of every chemical, semiconductor, and pharmaceutical manufacturing operation. Chemical technicians conduct experiments, record data, and help to implement new processes and procedures in the laboratory. If you enjoy hands-on work, then you might be interested in the career of a chemical technician.|
|Key Requirements||Critical thinking, information ordering, attention to detail, and the ability to communicate effectively|
|Minimum Degree||Vocational or Associate's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra, English; if available: algebra II, pre-calculus, applied technology|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)|
|Interview||Read this interview with Cliff Bridges, chemical technician with Bayer Corporation.|
Training, Other Qualifications
Most chemical technicians need an associate's degree or a certificate in chemistry or chemistry-related technology. Chemical technicians with a high school diploma and no college degree typically begin work as trainees under the direct supervision of a more-experienced technician, and eventually earn a 2-year degree in science technology.
Chemical technician positions in research and development also often have a bachelor's degree, but most chemical process technicians have a 2-year degree instead, usually an associate's degree in process technology. In some cases, a high school diploma is sufficient. These workers usually receive additional on-the-job training. Many with a high school diploma eventually earn a 2-year degree in science technology, often paid for by their employer. Entry-level workers whose college training encompasses extensive hands-on experience with a variety of diagnostic laboratory equipment generally require less on-the-job training.
Whatever their degree, chemical technicians usually need hands-on training, either in school or on the job. Most can get good career preparation through 2-year formal training programs that combine the teaching of scientific principles and theory with practical hands-on application in a laboratory setting, with up-to-date equipment. Graduates of bachelor's degree programs in chemistry who have considerable experience in laboratory-based courses, have completed internships, or have held summer jobs in laboratories are also well-qualified for chemical technician positions and are preferred by some employers.
Education and Training
There are several ways to qualify for a job as a chemical technician. Many employers prefer applicants who have at least 2 years of specialized training or an associate's degree in chemistry or chemistry-related technology. Because employers' preferences vary, however, some chemical technicians have a bachelor's degree in chemistry or have completed several science and math courses at a 4-year college.
People interested in careers as chemical technicians should take as many high school science and math courses as possible. Chemistry courses taken beyond high school, in an associate's or bachelor's degree program, should be laboratory-oriented, with an emphasis on bench skills. A solid background in chemistry, physics, and math is vital.
Communication skills are important because technicians are often required to report their findings both orally and in writing. In addition, technicians should be able to work well with others. Because computers often are used in research and development laboratories, technicians should also have strong computer skills, especially in computer modeling. Organizational ability, an eye for detail, and skill in interpreting scientific results are important as well, as are a high mechanical aptitude, attention to detail, and analytical thinking.
Nature of the Work
Chemical technicians use the principles and theories of chemistry and mathematics to solve problems in research and development, and to help invent and improve products and processes. Chemical technicians work with chemists and chemical engineers, developing and using chemicals and related products and equipment. However, their jobs are more practical than those of chemists and chemical engineers.
Generally, there are two types of chemical technicians: research technicians who work in experimental laboratories and process control technicians who work in manufacturing or other industrial plants. Many chemical technicians working in research and development conduct a variety of laboratory procedures, from routine process control to complex research projects. For example, they might collect and analyze samples of air and water to monitor pollution levels, or they might produce compounds through complex organic synthesis. Often, chemical technicians who work in plants focus on quality assurance, monitoring product quality or production processes, and developing new production techniques. A few work in shipping to provide technical support and expertise.
As laboratory instrumentation and procedures have become more complex, the role of chemical technicians in research and development has expanded. In addition to performing routine tasks, many technicians, under the direction of scientists, now develop and adapt laboratory procedures to achieve the best results, interpret data, and devise solutions to problems. Chemical technicians must develop expert knowledge of laboratory equipment so that they can adjust settings when necessary and recognize when equipment is malfunctioning.
Chemical technicians work under a wide variety of conditions. Most work indoors, usually in laboratories, and have regular hours. Some occasionally work irregular hours to monitor experiments that cannot be completed during regular working hours. Chemical technicians who work in manufacturing facilities often work in 8-hour shifts, around the clock.
Advances in automation and information technology require chemical technicians to operate more-sophisticated laboratory equipment. Chemical technicians make extensive use of computers, electronic measuring equipment, and traditional experimental apparatus.
Some chemical technicians may be exposed to hazards from equipment, chemicals, or toxic materials. Chemical technicians sometimes work with toxic chemicals or radioactive isotopes.
On the Job
- Monitor product quality to ensure compliance to standards and specifications.
- Set up and conduct chemical experiments, tests, and analyses using techniques such as chromatography, spectroscopy, physical and chemical separation techniques, and microscopy.
- Conduct chemical and physical laboratory tests to assist scientists in making qualitative and quantitative analyses of solids, liquids, and gaseous materials.
- Compile and interpret results of tests and analyses.
- Provide technical support and assistance to chemists and engineers.
- Prepare chemical solutions for products and processes following standardized formulas, or create experimental formulas.
- Maintain, clean, and sterilize laboratory instruments and equipment.
- Write technical reports or prepare graphs and charts to document experimental results.
- Order and inventory materials to maintain supplies.
- Develop and conduct programs of sampling and analysis to maintain quality standards of raw materials, chemical intermediates, and products.
- Direct or monitor other workers producing chemical products.
- Operate experimental pilot plants, assisting with experimental design.
- Develop new chemical engineering processes or production techniques.
- Design and fabricate experimental apparatus to develop new products and processes.
Companies That Hire Chemical Technicians
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Soluble Separation Solution
- Are Enzymes in Laundry Detergents Effective Stain Removers?
- Are You Gellin'? ®
- Balloon Morphing: How Gases Contract and Expand
- Big Pieces or Small Pieces: Which React Faster?
- Boyle's Law: Pressure vs. Volume of a Gas at Constant Temperature
- Bring on the Heat! Investigating Exothermic Reaction Rates
- Burning Calories: How Much Energy is Stored in Different Types of Food?
- Cabbage Chemistry
- Can You Change the Rate of a Chemical Reaction by Changing the Particle Size of the Reactants?
- Candy Chromatography: What Makes Those Colors?
- Charles's Law: Volume vs. Temperature of a Gas at Constant Pressure
- Chemistry of Baking Ingredients 1: How Much Baking Powder Do Quick Breads Need?
- Chemistry of Baking Ingredients 2: Can Baking Soda Substitute for Baking Powder in a Recipe?
- Chemistry of Ice-Cream Making: Lowering the Freezing Point of Water
- Cold Pack Chemistry: Where Does the Heat Go?
- Colorful Chemistry Creations: Make Your Own Sun Print with Color and Sunlight!
- Column Chromatography: Can you Separate the Dyes in Grape Soda Using Space Sand™?
- Crazy Crystal Creations: How to Grow the Best and the Largest Crystals
- Crime Scene Chemistry—The Cool Blue Light of Luminol
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Chemical Technician that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Sloan Career Cornerstone Center. (n.d.). Profiles of Chemists: Cliff Bridges, Chemical Technician. Retrieved September 30, 2009, from http://www.careercornerstone.org/chemistry/profiles/bridges.htm
- Moving Traffic, Inc. (2009). Chemical Technicians: Schools and Careers. Retrieved September 30, 2009, from http://www.citytowninfo.com/employment/chemical-technicians
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