If you’re looking for a job that blends practical and theoretical chemistry and enjoy the continual process of learning, improving, and evolving chemical and manufacturing processes simultaneously, process chemistry may be a good fit for you.
Typical Job Functions
Process chemists take compounds that were discovered by research chemists and turn them into commercial products. They “scale up” reactions by making larger and larger quantities, first for testing, then for commercial production. The goal of a process chemist is to develop synthetic routes that are safe, cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and efficient.
Process chemistry requires a blend of theoretical and practical knowledge. They divide their time between the laboratory and the plant. At the bench, they test new reactions on small scales; in the plant they help to implement successful outcomes at larger scales.
Typical day-to-day duties of a process chemist include:
- Developing synthetic plans, and designing and running test experiments for large-scale use
- Using a variety of analytical methods to monitor reaction processes
- Troubleshooting existing processes
- Experimenting with multiple variables simultaneously and identifying acceptable ranges for all operational parameters
- Improving existing processes to reduce cost and increase reliability, purity, and safety
- Using simulation or modeling software to determine how changes in process affect the final product
- Maintaining familiarity with federal regulations
One advantage of working in process chemistry is that you are working on products further along the development chain, so the odds of working on a product that makes it to market is quite high. Many process chemists get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing a product they helped develop on store shelves.
Process chemists generally start out as interns (or other entry-level positions) where they learn from more senior scientists. With experience, they are given more responsibility and begin training new process chemists. A process chemist might move into management, but the majority continue working in process chemistry.
While much manufacturing has moved overseas, a lot is still being done in the United States. With the growth of small chemical companies, there is a need for process chemists in specialty and small-volume chemicals.
Process chemists may have a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degree. There are few schools that offer degrees in process chemistry specifically; most process chemists learn on the job. The best preparation is a strong understanding of synthesis and thermodynamics, and chemical engineering courses.
Other useful background skills include:
- Knowledge of software systems to design, analyze, and troubleshoot flow systems
- Knowledge in design of experiments and statistical analysis
- Experience with flow chemistry and taking analytical measurements under flow conditions