Polymer Scientist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements
Polymers are chains of small molecules linked together to make larger chemical particles. Chemists who manipulate these particles to make them more useful are called polymer scientists. Most often, polymer scientist's work in creating useful materials that have unique properties. Scientists generally need a graduate level degree and some work experience to operate in this high-tech industry.
Polymer Scientist Job Description and Duties
Polymer scientists use chemical polymers to build useful and unique materials such as Kevlar, Teflon, biodegradables, fiberglass, polyester and nylon among countless others. While some scientists work on designing and creating new polymer materials, many polymer scientists continue adjusting previous designs such as making Kevlar armor more lightweight and durable.
To perform these kinds of tasks, scientists use knowledge organic chemistry, structural patterns and sometimes computer modeling programs to help plan the polymer synthesis. Commonly, scientists work in many disciplines since polymers may be synthesized for a variety of environments from nicotine patches to paints and adhesives.
Requirements for Polymer Scientists
While a few select jobs only require a bachelor's degree in polymer science for employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2011 a majority of employers desire applicants to have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in polymer science, or a related field, to work full-time in a research capacity (www.bls.gov). The path to a Ph.D. involves completion of an undergraduate program in general chemistry focused toward organic chemistry. This type of degree focuses students toward polymer structure and function by combining general organic and inorganic chemistry with chemical and physical properties of polymers classes.
Specializing in a Ph.D. program in polymer science, organic or materials chemistry, gives polymer scientists the educational tools to construct, design and understand the structures of polymers. Graduate degrees in these fields focus on research, teaching, examinations, seminars and work specialization.
Many employers require prospective polymer scientists to have experience working in a relevant setting such as an organic chemistry laboratory. Generally, completion of a Ph.D. program in either organic chemistry or material chemistry requires students to work in a lab setting. Some companies, such as Goodyear Tires, offer internship opportunities related to polymer synthesis for graduate students (www.goodyear.com).
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for materials scientists, including polymer scientists, was $88,990 as of May 2012. The BLS projects that jobs for materials scientists will increase by 10%, which is about as fast as average, during the 2010-2020 decade. Additionally, BLS May 2012 statistics showed that over 40% of materials scientists worked in the scientific research and development services industry.
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