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Major Fields in Chemistry
Jul 13, 2017

Major Fields in Chemistry

This is not an exhaustive list, as there are many other niche fields in chemistry.


Analytical chemistry is the study of chemical compounds to identify them and determine their properties. Analytical chemists use different types of analysis depending on what particular type of chemical or property they want to identify, including:
• Gravimetric analysis, which is finding out how much of a compound or material is present
• Qualitative analysis, which is testing to find out whether a certain chemical is present or not
• Thermal analysis, which is testing the interaction of a material with heat
• Volumetric analysis, which is titrating a chemical to find an equivalence point (where the chemical is neutral), to find out its concentration
These analyses can be done using different tests, including:
• Calorimetry- seeing at what point a compound melts at to test its purity
• Chromatography- separating a material into its components to determine its complexity
• Spectroscopy- seeing how the molecules interact with electromagnetic radiation, to help learn the structure and identify the chemical


Biomolecular chemistry is the study of chemical processes and reactions in living things. This includes learning how biological molecules, including carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids and proteins work and enable the processes that happen in the cells of living things. This particular type of chemistry has helped scientists shape the knowledge of our world and explain things like DNA replication, genetic crosses and how genes work. Some of the techniques biomolecular chemists use include microscopy, which is examining things under a microscope, and x-ray crystallography, which is producing a 3D image of how electrons are arranged in a crystal. X-ray crystallography was used by Rosalind Franklin, whose research largely contributed to the discovery of the DNA double helix.


Cereal chemistry is the study and research of the properties, composition, structure and transformations of wheat and grains. This type of chemistry is becoming increasingly important as grains and cereals such as wheat and rice are the basis of the world’s food supply. The analyses cereal chemists perform vary in technicality- some simply analyse the biochemical components of grains and cereals, where others, especially in food companies, focus on the practical aspect of food production, quality control and product development. This type of chemistry is more predominant in areas with high agricultural production, where it is important to improve and maintain high quality yields.


Environmental chemistry is the study of chemical phenomena in nature. This includes the sources, reactions, transport and effects of chemical species in air, soil and water. It also includes the effects of human activities upon these natural environments. Environmental chemists use many of the same techniques as analytical chemists to analyse the chemical composition of their samples. While environmental chemists do not necessarily research pollution and how humans can reduce it, they do investigate contamination in the environment of things like heavy metals. Environmental chemists work alongside many other types of scientists and engineers, including environmental engineers and green chemists.


Electrochemistry is the study of the interchange between chemical and electrical energy. This is done by researching what happens in solution between an electron conductor and ion conductor, and the reactions that happen through the flow of electrons, driven by reduction and oxidation reactions. Some examples of these types of reactions are batteries- from the cell batteries that power television remotes to car and laptop batteries, they all use electrochemistry to generate electricity. Electrochemistry is becoming quite popular as it provides potential ways to power our lives without fossil fuels and minimising pollution to the environment, through producing electricity from the energy given off in chemical reactions. Electrochemists conduct research into projects such as electrochemical cells, fuel cells and electroplating- that is, coating materials with a layer of metal.


Industrial chemistry is the hands-on application of many chemical principles and procedures. It includes the analysis of raw chemicals, and uses thermodynamic principles and computer modelling to simulate the operations of a chemical plant. Industrial chemists test theories and processes for product development in a wide range of industries, from chemical production to paint formulation, oil refining and milk pasteurisation. They also work on optimising complex chemical processes, and the effects of the processes on the environment, particularly in the petrochemical and energy production fields. Industrial chemists work alongside a vast range of other professionals, including chemical engineers, process engineers, analytical chemists and polymer chemists.


Inorganic chemistry is the study of properties and behaviour of inorganic compounds, which are all compounds that are not carbon-based. It also involves the study of ionic compounds, as many inorganic compounds are ionic. Inorganic chemistry also encompasses coordination chemistry, which is the study of how metals bind to groups with spare lone pairs of electrons (called ligands) and the study of transition metals and their unique properties. It often uses thermodynamic principles to determine the properties of compounds. Inorganic chemistry has applications in virtually every part of the chemical industry, including the medical, industrial and environmental fields, where it can discover how to modify, separate and use materials in new ways.


Materials chemistry focuses on the design and synthesis of new materials. It uses the principles of chemistry and applies them at the molecular level to create new and novel materials with sensory, mechanical, biological, electronic and magnetic properties. They also study the interactions from organising molecules, polymers and clusters, and how they can be manipulated and optimised. Materials chemistry has a variety of applications, including drug delivery, electronic materials, biomedical devices, paints and cosmetics.


Organic chemistry is the study of the structure, properties, composition, preparation and reactions of carbon-based compounds. These compounds can contain many other elements including hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, phosphorus, silicon and sulphur. Such compounds are considered organic, and are the basis of most earthly life. They are also crucial in many products including plastics, drugs, petrochemicals, food, explosives and paints. Organic chemists use many different techniques to learn about these compounds and research how they interact. Some of the more common ones include:
• Mass spectrometry, which is a way to find out the weight of components of a compound
• Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, which is a way to find magnetic properties of an element, and any isotopes it may have
• Crystallography, which is a way to learn how atoms are arranged in solids


Physical chemistry is the study of atomic, subatomic and particle phenomena in chemical systems. This type of chemistry applies some of the principles and practices of physics to explain things such as chemical equilibrium, intermolecular forces and how they affect the physical properties of materials, the rate of reactions and kinetics, and the electrical conductivity of materials. Often computer modelling is used to explore and study these phenomena. Physical chemists also use other technology to test their theories, including Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to determine the charges and magnetic spin of isotopes, and Infrared spectroscopy, which uses particular frequencies of light to learn what bonds are in compounds and help determine their structure.


Polymer chemistry is the study of chemical synthesis and the properties of polymers and macromolecules. These chemicals can include biopolymers produced by living organisms, such as proteins, including keratin and collagen, enzymes, hormones, polysaccharides and nucleic acids. Polymer chemistry also encompasses synthetic polymers used in plastics, including fibres, paints, and materials like Teflon, polystyrene, Kevlar, epoxy, rubber and silicone. Polymer chemists can work alongside materials chemists and industrial chemists, as well as chemical engineers, to optimise and improve the properties of polymers, make them more environmentally friendly, and make them more useful.