Studying Chemistry – The Science of What

Global Ed

Think Chemistry and the image that comes to mind is of scientists bent over their tubes of chemicals, buried in their research at labs. That, of course, is an appropriate image that fits part of what the study involves. But, there’s more to Chemistry than being confined to lab work.

Here’s a look at what it means to study one of the most fundamental of sciences, and its outcomes.


  • The Basics
  • Why Study Chemistry
  • Top Universities to Study Chemistry

Chemistry 101 - The Basics

Chemistry is a natural science that governs the study of substances and their structures, properties and compositions. A central science, it helps to understand the fundamentals of applied and pure sciences. Some may define chemistry as the study of atoms and their properties and how the knowledge about these atoms can be used in a variety of applications based on the requirements.

Chemistry is divided into many branches of study. A few of them are discussed here.

Organic chemistry is the study of carbon-based compounds. The field was initially used to denote the study of the chemical composition of living organisms but was later extended to include artificially manufactured substances as well.

Inorganic chemistry is the type of chemistry that deals with the study of inorganic compounds, or non-carbon compounds, including metals, organometallic compounds and minerals. These studies are helpful in industries including agriculture (chemical fertilizers and pesticides), paint manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and many others.

Analytical chemistry is where the chemists obtain different samples, analyse these samples and gain understanding about the compositions and structures of the different materials. It is generally applied in quality control, assuring compliance with safety standards, and disease diagnosis.

Physical chemistry studies the properties of atoms and their physical basis when it comes to chemical processes. The applications of this discipline can be seen in astrochemistry, chemical kinetics, electrochemistry etc.

Biochemistry involves the study of chemical processes and how different living organisms are affected by it. A combination of biology and chemistry, the discipline aims to understand how chemical processes take place in living beings so that these processes may be controlled or replicated to produce different results.

Neurochemistry is the study of the chemical processes involved in the nervous system. This can help in understanding how the chemicals in the nerves help to transmit information, modify, and maintain the behaviour of the nervous system.

Why study chemistry

In order to interpret what the world around us is made up of and how it works, we need to study chemistry. While physics helps us to understand how matter behaves in a physical sense (motion and behaviour) and biology helps in understanding the processes of living organisms, chemistry helps to form conclusions about how atoms behave with each other. From understanding why iron rusts to how certain elements in nature occur in different forms, chemistry plays a much more important role in our lives than we tend to see.

The subject is focussed in developing explanations for the way different materials behave, appear and interact with other substances. Chemistry is used to identify the behaviour of naturally occurring substances and to alter their behaviour or to combine them in order to create new substances (example: mining gold to make ornaments). In fact, it is believed that more than 8 million artificial and naturally occurring chemical substances have been produced and characterized.

Chemistry is quickly becoming an area-specific field of study where students can choose the branch of chemistry they would like to focus on. Organic chemists can be hired in industries that are involved with biotechnological processes including agriculture, healthcare, biofuels etc. They are also hired by industries that are involved in the consumer industry where raw materials like textiles, petroleum, rubber etc, are converted into consumables through various processes. Petroleum, for instance, is used in such diverse applications including producing fuels, production of plastic, pharmaceuticals etc, that it requires the expertise of organic chemists that have experience in dealing with such materials.

Inorganic chemists learn how the non-carbon based substances behave and learn their compositions to understand how they can be modified to form other compounds or how they can be extracted from their original sources. This means that they work closely with industries that are involved in mining, recovering metals from different sources, using inorganic material to manufacture fertilizers etc.

It is clear that the different branches of chemistry cater to the modification, production and maintenance of different substances that are used in our daily lives. One must understand which branch does what and the roles associated with the corresponding branch to land jobs that fit them best. Students who graduate in chemistry can find jobs in industries related to biochemistry, forensic chemistry, petroleum, pharmacology, consumer products, molecular biology, astrochemistry, academics, medicinal chemistry, toxicology, water chemistry, scientific writing, research and development and many more. Let us take a look at some of the best universities to study chemistry and the different courses they offer.

Top universities to study Chemistry

The top universities to study chemistry have been listed by QS rankings.

Serial No. University Country
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Cambridge, U.S.A
2 Stanford University Stanford, U.S.A
3 Harvard University Cambridge, U.S.A
4 University of Cambridge Cambridge, U.K
5 University of California, Berkeley (UCB) Berkeley, U.S.A
6 University of Oxford Oxford, U.K
7 National University of Singapore (NUS) Singapore
8 Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU) Singapore
9 ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland
10 EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland


  1. MITs department of chemistry offers four undergraduate programs including

The department of chemistry also offers a PhD program.

MIT’s chemical engineering department (ChemE) offers four undergraduate courses including

The ChemE department also offers graduate courses such as Ph.D/Sc.D, Ph.D.CEP and M.S.CEP.

The department of chemistry also has a doctoral program in chemistry for those looking to pursue a career in academics, research and development. The department of chemical and systems biology offers doctoral and postdoctoral programs in interdisciplinary research involving biological and physical sciences.
The chemical engineering department (ChemE) at Stanford offers a

The Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS) offers PhD programs in

In both MPhil and PhD, the students can choose from five areas of chemistry including biological chemistry, materials chemistry, physical and atmospheric chemistry, synthetic chemistry, and theoretical chemistry.

The department of chemical engineering and biotechnology offers an undergraduate program in chemical engineering. The department also offers three master’s programs including

Four research programs are also offered that include

The graduate programs offered by the department of chemistry include

PhD Chemical Biology

Master of Molecular Science and Software Engineering

PhD in Chemistry

The faculty of the department of chemistry are involved in research areas that include green chemistry, nuclear, theoretical and others.

The Future

We are in a time where the discovery and development of sustainable resources are of utmost importance. Although the study of chemistry does involve working in a lab, not all chemistry related jobs revolve entirely around it as some require a lot of field work, academic expertise or even office work. Chemistry can help in various capacities such as solve environmental issues, improve agricultural practises, and even help develop drugs that are capable of fighting pandemics. This can play a pivotal role in maintaining international relations and regulating socio-economic policies of countries. By taking up Master’s or doctoral programs, one can specialise in their area of interest and thereby improve one’s scientific proficiency.

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Global Ed


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