Chemistry specialisms

Chemistry specialismsMost chemistry degrees will involve choosing a specialism. Find out about some of the possibilities.

Analytical chemistry

Analytical chemistry is all about identifying the chemicals that make up a material and what proportion they are in. This involves a wide variety of techniques, from modern spectroscopy using specialist equipment to simple tests like observing the colour of a flame. It also requires statistical understanding to ensure that you are interpret the data correctly.

Analytical chemistry has a huge number of applications, such as:

  • testing the purity of medicines
  • determining pollution levels
  • working out how old archaelogical artifacts are
  • identifying toxic chemicals

Because of this, analytical chemists can work in many different industries and are very employable.

Forensic chemistry

Forensic chemists use chemistry to solve crimes or work out what happened during accidents. Chemistry can be used to work out what an unknown substance found at the scene contains, or to detect trace amounts of blood.

Although there are obvious career options for people who have studied forensic chemistry, there are lots of possibilities beyond working in forensics. Many forensic chemistry graduates work in toxicology, pharmaceuticals or environmental chemistry, and there’s lots of crossover with analytical chemistry, too.

Pharmaceutical chemistry

Pharmaceutical chemistry looks at how chemistry can be used to develop new drugs, or make existing ones more efficiently. Because it’s about creating new substances and new techniques, it involves a lot of experimentation. It also requires knowledge of biology and physiology.

Pharmaceutical chemists need to work closely with people in other disciplines such as biology and medicine. There is plenty of demand for pharmaceutical chemists, but you’ll also learn lots of skills that can be used elsewhere.


As the name suggests, biochemistry looks at the chemical processes that take place in living things, whether that’s how food is broken down for energy, how signals are passed through the nervous system or how snake venom works. It has a role in almost all areas of biology and involves a huge range of chemical processes, meaning that biochemists’ work is very diverse.

Biochemists have plenty of career opportunities in both the public and private sectors. For example, the NHS employs clinical biochemists, as do private pharmaceutical companies. It’s also a busy research area, and many biochemistry students go on to further study.

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