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Polymer chemists perform investigative research and laboratory experiments to learn about the properties of polymers, groups of molecules that create strong, flexible chains. The majority of polymer chemist jobs are found in research and development divisions of manufacturing plants. Some chemists are employed by universities to conduct experimental studies on new chemicals. In addition, many professionals work for pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology firms to explore the possibilities of polymer technology in health-care.
Scientists who hold polymer chemist jobs in manufacturing generally work in sophisticated laboratories. They often work in teams to research different polymers and determine how they may be useful in industry. A team of chemists may be interested in designing new plastics, packaging materials, inks, paints, or any number of other products that rely on polymer technology. They also seek to improve upon existing polymer products, experimenting with ways to make them lighter, stronger, or more flexible.
Polymer chemist jobs in biotechnology firms typically entail research on organic polymers that are implicated in biology or medicine. Many professionals conduct genetic research, learning how biologic polymers such as proteins, enzymes, and DNA are produced and replicated. They study the chemical structure of polymers to discover how and why they contribute to biological processes. The work of dedicated polymer chemists consistently adds to the collective scientific understanding of evolution and development.
Pharmaceutical and medical technology companies employ polymer chemists to develop new medications and prosthetic devices. Chemists apply their knowledge of polymer bonds and properties to investigate new drug delivery and release methods. Some scientists construct plastics and synthetic fibers that can be used to build sturdy, lightweight limb replacements and artificial organs.
Researchers at universities typically enjoy a greater deal of freedom in the type of studies they conduct. Instead of focusing on improving a particular technology, a chemist can explore novel properties and functions of polymers. Many university scientists split their time between conducting research and teaching chemistry classes at the graduate and undergraduate level.
A Ph.D. degree is needed to qualify for most polymer chemist jobs, especially those in academia and medicine. After earning a degree, a new scientist typically participates in a postdoctoral research fellowship to gain firsthand training and lab experience. Many regions and private companies require chemists to pass licensing exams before they start working independently as well. Public safety and quality control are essential elements in industry, and licensing tests ensure that individuals are fully prepared for polymer chemist jobs.