Divisions of Chemistry

When chemists talk about chemistry, they often refer to a a specific type of chemistry – and many university classes are organized this way, too. For example:

Analytical Chemistry

Analytical chemistry is the study of measurement (analysis) of chemicals. This could involve developing methods and techniques for measurement, studying reactions to understand what factors can introduce error into the measurements, or developing instruments to perform these measurements.

Inorganic Chemistry

A very broad field, inorganic chemistry is the study of chemicals that are primarily made of non-carbon-based molecules. This includes metals and non-metal elements such as phosphorus and sulphur. Inorganic chemists might work on developing catalysts to support reactions, new materials for applications like solar cells, or on studying how the atoms in these materials come together to form structures.

Organic Chemistry

Organic chemists focus on using carbon-based molecules. They are often synthetic chemists, finding new ways to build molecules that are used in drugs, materials, and industry. Organic chemists may also work “backwards”, starting with an existing molecule (for example, a newly discovered molecule found in a plant extract) and determining its chemical structure – and often, how to create it in the lab.

Physical Chemistry

Physical chemists study the inner workings of molecules: they may be experimental chemists who use measurement techniques to discover more about how molecules form and interact, or theoretical chemists, using chemical knowledge to simulate molecular behaviour and predict how atoms and molecules will behave under certain conditions.

Interdisciplinary Chemistry

Much of what chemists do is interdisciplinary – it involves knowledge and skills from more than one area. For example, biochemistry is the study of chemical processes in living organisms (requiring knowledge of both biology and chemistry). Chemists also work in nanotechnology – chemistry of very small structures, which begins to rely even more on physics and quantum processes. Environmental chemistry studies how chemical processes occur in the complex natural world. Chemistry really is “the central science” – it can be related to just about any field – even arts! (e.g. conservation, forgery analysis, pigment identification… )