Chemical Engineer Vs. Physicist

Chemical engineers and physicists can perform some similar tasks but there are a number of differences between these professions that are explored in greater detail in this article.

Comparing Chemical Engineers to Physicists

Chemical engineers and physicists can both be involved in research and equipment design. Physicists work theoretically and experimentally with the physical laws of the universe, while chemical engineers apply their knowledge of chemical processes to diverse industries that make use of or produce chemical products.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Chemical Engineers Bachelor's degree $98,340 8%
Physicists Doctoral degree $115,870 14%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Chemical Engineers vs. Physicists

Chemical engineers can be involved with the production of a wide range of chemical-based products and are responsible for scrutinizing the processing systems in place and determining how to improve manufacturing systems from a chemical standpoint. They typically work with hazardous materials and are responsible for establishing safety standards. They may create design plans for equipment that's used for manufacturing items.

Physicists are scientists who conduct extensive research and experimental tests. Their focus is on matter and energy as fundamental properties of the universe. Physicists may also be involved in designing equipment, such as lasers. Some focus exclusively on conducting research. Others focus on applied research and use their studies to produce things like medical treatments or medical equipment.

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers typically work for companies that focus on manufacturing or research. They create and modify equipment that's used to process products such as drugs, plastics and electronics, as well as a wide range of other items. They work in laboratories and offices and may also spend time working in factories and refineries. Travel and overtime work is common. With experience and a Professional Engineer (PE) license, they can pursue advancement to managerial roles. They need to have strong technical skills in areas such as math but must also be creative so that they can come up with new ways to process materials and produce goods.

Job responsibilities of a chemical engineer include:

  • Developing specific products
  • Evaluating processes for environmental compliance
  • Creating processes for separating chemical components
  • Evaluating equipment and systems
  • Compiling financial data related to project costs


Physicists focus on understanding and using the natural laws that govern matter. Research companies and academic institutions are two of the largest employers of physicists. While the typical educational requirement is a doctoral degree in physics, some physicists may work for the government after earning a bachelor's degree.

Physicists spend a lot of time working in an office environment, although some tasks are performed in laboratories. It's possible for physicists to pursue advancement and become a natural sciences manager once they've acquired extensive experience in their field. Physicists need strong mathematical skills, analytical skills and they need to be disciplined because they may need to spend extensive amounts of time reviewing data.

Job responsibilities of a physicist include:

  • Developing theories
  • Drafting research proposals
  • Applying for funding
  • Designing scientific equipment
  • Presenting conclusions from their research

Related Careers

Those considering becoming a chemical engineer may want to explore what industrial engineers do since they also work to improve production methods. Aspiring physicists may be interested in learning about the work of nuclear engineers since nuclear engineers develop equipment used to produce nuclear energy.

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