ChemistThe chemist is often portrayed as a wild-eyed maniac in a white lab coat, producing explosions and foul-smelling concoctions in his laboratory. Nothing could be further from reality – the range of work that a chemist may be called upon to do is as diverse as the environments in which he or she may find themselves.

Chemists find themselves at the forefront of the design of new and exciting products. Chemistry is an integral part of the study of new materials. The paint and tyre industries are two examples of industries which require chemists to do develop new products to meet the needs of evermore demanding performance requirements. However, not all is heavy machinery. If you find the scent of perfumes alluring, why not make it a career. The cosmetic industry would not be where it is today without the contribution of chemists. Chemists are also responsible for ensuring the quality of the water we drink and the food we eat. The packaging and processing industries rely heavily on the skills taught at university to the chemistry student.

The medical world is vitally dependent on the contribution of chemistry. Chemists will play a significant role in designing and manufacturing every drug on the market.

Chemistry is also a field which is ready to meet the challenges of society facing a new millennium. In fields as far apart as crime control and environmental protection, chemists are living up to their social responsibility. Have you ever thought of science and police work as mutual partners? Forensic chemistry involves the detection of compounds such as gunpowder or smuggled drugs to further the ends of justice. Chemical compounds are responsible for many of the environmental problems of the modern world. However, chemists are needed to ensure that new compounds are used responsibly and also to rectify the errors of the past. Chemists find themselves responsible for the detection of minute quantities of pollutants as well as advising on the strategies necessary to restore our environmental heritage. Chemistry allows us to understanding the basic fabric of the world around us and thus to make it a better place.

Chemists don't find themselves only in the conventional scientific workplace. Chemists are also responsible for maintaining safety and health standards in a variety of South African industries. A combination of chemistry and a further qualification in law, has allowed some chemists to become experts in patent law. Don't forget every new material discovered is potentially big business which needs protecting. The centrality of chemistry to the scientific endeavour makes it ideal for those interested in teaching science. Some of those trained in chemistry are thus able to make a contribution to our nation’s future growth at grass roots level.

The Chemistry Department at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University has supplied graduates for all of the above careers as well as a host of others. The diversity of the options facing any new graduate means that today's chemist doesn’t just wear a white coat!