Why Is Milk White?: & 200 Other Curious Chemistry Questions (2013)
To someone fascinated with chemistry, the idea of being a chemist naturally comes to mind. But what does a chemist do all day? How is a chemist different from another kind of scientist? And how is chemistry used in other professions? Doctors, pharmacists, detectives, mechanics, janitors, farmers, firefighters—all kinds of people use chemistry every day, and they depend on their knowledge of chemistry to do their jobs and keep us safe, keep us fed, and keep things moving.
What are some things chemists do?
Some chemists study chemical reactions, such as the scientists who monitor both the ozone layer that protects us from the sun and the molecules that destroy ozone in the atmosphere. Other chemists create new kinds of molecules, either to cure diseases such as cancer or to make new plastics or new fibers for the latest fashions. There are millions of other examples, since chemistry is a very broad field.
Vicki Finkenstadt went to school on a basketball scholarship and became a chemist making plastics from corn starch. Mario Molina won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on the decomposition of ozone. Dianne Gates studies how to clean up radioactive waste, such as that from the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was damaged by the 2011 tsunami in Japan. In studying how nuclear material is spread by weapons, she worked with explosives experts to set off a small bomb and examine the dispersal patterns of the debris.
Ean Warren works for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park, California, where he studies the chemistry of ocean “dead zones” and how microbes once made a house explode. Lucy Yu is a food chemist who studies the natural antioxidants in whole wheat muffins and how to make healthier pizza crusts with more dietary fiber.
Joseph Francisco worked to discover how to make new superconducting materials before deciding to become a professor of chemistry. Haile Mehansho studies nutrition to find out how to eliminate problems that cause mental retardation and stunted growth. Katherine Glasgow researches plastics for new products. Bernard Gordon is president of his own chemical company, which designs water-degradable fishing line, reducing the environmental impact of sport fishing. Louis Rubens designs plastic foams and the reactions that create the gases in the foams.