Nuclear chemists are detail-oriented, focused and disciplined. They have an aptitude for chemistry, biochemistry, and statistics. They also have a keen interest in understanding radioactive substances and nuclear processes.

Typical Job Functions

Nuclear chemistry deals with nuclear reactions, or reactions that happen inside atoms. Nuclear chemists may be found in different areas of research, including nuclear imaging (in medicine) or nuclear engineering (in power generation). They often work to improve the efficiency and safety of nuclear power sources and the methods of storing and disposing of radioactive materials.

Nuclear chemists conduct basic, applied, or theoretical research. They often work in laboratories and may be responsible for operating, maintaining, and repairing state-of-the-art instrumentation. They are also responsible for maintaining sample preparation supplies and equipment and ensuring the safe use and disposal of samples and other materials used in the lab.

Typical work duties of a nuclear chemist include:

  • Conducting laboratory research in industrial, nonprofit institution, government, or academic laboratories
  • Developing mathematical models and computer simulations of nuclear phenomena
  • Teaching classes and mentoring student researchers in a university setting
  • Developing methods for simulating, monitoring, and dismantling nuclear weapons and for monitoring treaty compliance
  • Developing nuclear power sources for public utilities, submarines, or satellites and other spacecraft
  • Developing medical imaging and therapeutic treatments using radioactive materials
  • Developing treatments for injuries and illnesses caused by exposure to radiation
  • Developing and deploying detection methods for monitoring radioactivity in the environment

Career Paths

Nuclear chemists may pursue a teaching and/or research career in academia, or they may oversee a laboratory in industry or for a government agency or national laboratory. They may also support and train facility users, or develop new capabilities for collecting and analyzing data.

After gaining several years of postgraduate experience, nuclear chemists may move into managing a suite of laboratories, or they may direct research programs.

Getting Started

Following are education requirements to become a nuclear chemist:

  • Laboratory technician: Bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology, geology, physics, or a related field.
  • Research positions: Typically require a Ph.D.; often require postdoctoral fellowship experience.
  • University teaching positions: Doctoral degree and several years of postdoctoral experience.

These skills and abilities are useful for a successful career in nuclear chemistry:

  • Problem-solving skills and an interest and ability to solve basic and applied research problems
  • Critical thinking and analytical skills to design experiments, troubleshoot processes, and analyze data collected
  • Mathematical ability
  • Computer skills, including familiarity with computer modeling and statistical analysis

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