Analytical scientists test and analyse substances. They help to ensure the safety and quality of food and drink; protect public safety and the environment; diagnose disease; create pharmaceutical products; and increase the safety and efficiency of manufacturing processes. Analytical science is a combination of chemistry, physics, biology, maths and engineering.
Analytical scientists usually work on samples that have been collected and brought to the laboratory by others, for example, water samplers in the water industry. However, some analytical scientists leave the laboratory to collect samples themselves. They often lead teams of technicians who collect the data and look after the day-to-day running of the laboratory.
Analytical scientists use a wide variety of methods and sophisticated technology in their analyses. The methods and equipment they choose will depend on the complexity and size of the task.
Generally, analytical scientists use automated technology when they have a large number of similar samples to test. They load samples into automated testing machines. This allows them to save time by analysing hundreds of samples at once, and, sometimes, by running tests overnight.
Other tests are more intricate and time-consuming, involving sophisticated techniques such as gas chromatography to separate compounds in a sample. They can also link testing equipment to computers to monitor, display and interpret the results.
Analytical scientists work in a wide variety of settings. For example, in the food and drink industry, they ensure quality and safety by analysing raw materials. They investigate samples taken during the production process and also test finished food and drink products. Their work also involves analysing and working out the nutritional content of food and drink products. This information appears as nutritional labelling on the product's packaging.
Analytical scientists also work for Fera (The Food and Environment Research Agency). Here, their work includes testing the safety of pesticides and monitoring their residues in food, making sure food does contain the advertised ingredients ('food authenticity') and investigating the possible poisoning of wildlife by chemicals used in farming.
In the water industry, analytical scientists monitor the safety and efficiency of processes. They regularly monitor water samples for pesticides and other harmful compounds, and ensure that sewage has been properly treated.
A related area is environmental analysis and monitoring. This is divided into three main areas: air, water and soil. For example, analytical scientists monitor the air for pollutants such as sulphur dioxide. When a disused industrial site is developed for other uses, they need to ensure that the soil is free from toxic substances.
Analytical scientists play an important part in manufacturing industries, including chemicals, polymers and pharmaceuticals.
For example, in pharmaceutical research and development, their tests help to establish the quality, effectiveness, stability and safety of new drugs and medicines. In other industries, they play a vital role in quality control, routinely checking the standard of raw materials and making sure chemical products are being developed as they should be.
Other areas of work include forensic science, biomedical science, consultancy, university lecturing and research.
There is always a need to develop new analytical technologies and methods. This is the role of the analytical researcher, working in industrial research laboratories, and university and government laboratories.
While a large part of an analytical scientist's work might be taken up with routine testing and analyses, perhaps working on their own, they are also likely to have contact with many other specialists.
For example, they might need to discuss their findings with toxicologists, pharmacologists, quality managers, equipment manufacturers, regulatory bodies and journalists.
Analytical scientists often have to wear protective clothing such as laboratory coats, gloves and safety glasses, because they can be working with dangerous chemicals.
Personal Qualities and Skills
- A logical, methodical approach to your work.
- An enquiring mind, and observation skills.
- Strong problem-solving skills.
- Accuracy and attention to detail. You must take precise measurements and keep careful records.
- Strong communication skills to work with other scientists and technicians.
- The ability to explain your results clearly, including to people from a non-scientific background.
- Writing skills, to produce reports.
- Mathematical and statistical skills to analyse data.
- Willingness to perform routine tasks and procedures, and to work on your own for long periods.
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of analytical scientists
Employers include a wide range of companies, especially in the food and drink, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Analytical scientists also work in hospitals, central and local government departments and water companies.
The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), employs analytical scientists to promote the safe and efficient production of food, and to protect the environment.
Entry routes and training
Usual entry is with an honours degree in analytical chemistry/analytical science or chemistry (as long as it has a significant analytical chemistry content).
There are a number of specialist BSc (Hons), MChem and MSci degrees in analytical chemistry, usually in combination with chemistry.
Some entrants are graduates in other sciences, especially biosciences and environmental sciences, where the degree included some analytical chemistry/science.
Some universities offer courses with a foundation year. This is an extra year for students who don't have the specified science A levels / Highers for entry.
Entry requirements for degrees vary for it is important to check with individual universities.
Some employers might prefer you to have a postgraduate qualification, such as an MSc or PhD in analytical chemistry; postgraduate qualifications can help to enhance your career development.
Entry to a research position, for example, at a university or research centre, is usually with a postgraduate research qualification such as a PhD.