Exploring this Job
You can explore this field by joining high school science clubs or organizations such as the Technology Student Association (http://www.tsaweb.org) and taking part in extracurricular activities. Science contests are a good way to apply principles learned in classes to a special project. You can read the American Chemical Society's (ACS) ChemMatters (https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters.html), a magazine for students taking chemistry in high school. Examples of topics covered in the magazine include the chemistry of lipstick, suntan products, contact lenses, and carbon-14 dating. The ACS also has a division for chemical technicians; visit https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/careers/college-to-career/chemists/job-type/chemical-technology.html.html?_ga=1.24961849.2006407400.1462976240 for more information. Also, qualifying students can participate in Project SEED (http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/students/highschool/seed.html), a summer program designed to provide high school students from economically disadvantaged homes with the opportunity to experience science research in a laboratory environment.
Consider participating in the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, a chemistry competition for high school students that is sponsored by the ACS. Visit https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/students/highschool/olympiad.html for more information.
Once you are in college, you can join the student affiliates of professional associations such as the ACS and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Membership allows students to experience the professionalism of a career in chemistry. You can also contact the ACS or AIChE local sections to talk with chemists and chemical engineers about what they do. These associations may also help students find summer or co-op work experiences.
Most chemical technicians who work in the chemical industry are involved in the development, testing, and manufacturing of plastics, paints, detergents, synthetic fibers, industrial chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Others work in the petroleum, aerospace, metals, electronics, automotive, and construction industries. Some chemical technicians work in universities and government laboratories.
They may work in any of the fields of chemistry, such as analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, organic, physical, or any of the many subbranches of chemistry. Chemical engineering, which is a combination of chemistry and engineering, develops or improves manufacturing processes for making commercial amounts of chemicals, many of which were previously produced only in small quantities in laboratory glassware or a pilot plant.
Within these subfields, chemical technicians work in research and development, design and production, and quality control. In research and development, chemical laboratory technicians often work with Ph.D. chemists and chemical engineers to set up and monitor laboratory equipment and instruments, prepare laboratory setups, and record data.
Technicians often determine the chemical composition, concentration, stability, and level of purity on a wide range of materials. These may include ores, minerals, pollutants, foods, drugs, plastics, dyes, paints, detergents, chemicals, paper, and petroleum products. Although chemists or chemical engineers may design an experiment, technicians help them create process designs, develop written procedures, or devise computer simulations. They also select all necessary glassware, reagents, chemicals, and equipment. Technicians also perform analyses and report test results.
In the design and production area, chemical technicians work closely with chemical engineers to monitor the large-scale production of compounds and to help develop and improve the processes and equipment used. They prepare tables, charts, sketches, diagrams, and flowcharts that record and summarize the collected data.
They work with pipelines, valves, pumps, and metal and glass tanks. Chemical technicians often use their input to answer manufacturing questions, such as how to transfer materials from one point to another, and to build, install, modify, and maintain processing equipment. They also train and supervise production operators. They may operate small-scale equipment for determining process parameters.
Fuel technicians determine viscosities of oils and fuels, measure flash points (the temperature at which fuels catch fire), pour points (the coldest temperature at which the fuel can flow), and the heat output of fuels.
Pilot plant operators make erosion and corrosion tests on new construction materials to determine their suitability. They prepare chemicals for field testing and report on the effectiveness of new design concepts.
Applied research technicians help design new manufacturing or research equipment.