Forensic chemists analyze non-biological trace evidence found at crime scenes in order to identify unknown materials and match samples to known substances. They also analyze drugs/controlled substances taken from scenes and people in order to identify and sometimes quantify these materials.
Working in a lab, they run tests on samples collected by investigators. They use a variety of techniques, including microscopy, optical analysis (such as UV, infrared, X-ray), gas chromatography and other technologies. They carefully document their findings and write reports that are used to support criminal investigations. Forensic chemists may also testify to their findings in court.
Forensic chemists usually work in a laboratory setting, often as employees of local, state or federal government. They often stand or sit for long periods of time, perform repetitive tasks and use highly technical equipment.
They must follow strict procedures regarding the handling and documentation of evidence, as well as scientific protocols to ensure the quality and reliability of tests and equipment.
The pressure from law enforcement personnel to speed results can be intense, so the forensic chemist must be able to prioritize well and work efficiently while ensuring that the results are accurate.
Testifying in court requires strong communication skills, including the ability to remain calm in the face of cross-examination and explain complex scientific procedures in a manner juries can understand.
About Health Care Careers
Note: The American Academy of Forensic Sciences reviewed this profile.
Twenty Years Later: What I Know Now That I Wish I Had Known Then
Part 1: Anxiety and Its Impact on Performance
Part 1: Accreditation Matters
Applying for Financial Aid (Part II)
Are You Credit Ready and Credit Worthy?
Why Diversity Matters in the Health Professions
Start Preparing for Your Health Care Career in High School
Reconciliation Act of 2010 Includes Significant Student Aid Provisions
Healthcare Reform 101
Keep Past Mistakes from Limiting Your Future Health Care Career
Making a Major Decision
Top 10 Reasons to Pursue a Health Career Now
Start Your Health Career While You’re Still in School
Explore the Fascinating Field of Forensic Science
A forensic chemist generally has a bachelor's degree in chemistry, clinical chemistry or another related scientific field. Some universities now offer master's degrees and even doctoral (Ph.D.) degrees in forensic chemistry.
Be sure any program you choose is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
In High School
Search for funding opportunities related to this career
Search for enrichment programs related to this career
Search for academic degree and certificate programs related to this career
Last updated: April 29, 2016
©2012 American Dental Education Association