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Toxicologist Vs. Chemist

Both chemists and toxicologists work with molecular compounds, but the applications of their work is different. While a chemist is concerned with human safety, this is the primary focus of a toxicologist. Read more for further comparisons.

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Comparing Toxicologist to Chemist

Both toxicologists and chemists research the properties of molecules, but toxicologists focus on how those molecules adversely affect humans. Chemists work in a much broader field that can include food safety, criminal investigations, industrial manufacturing, and theoretical studies. Both professions require knowledge of the safe handling and manipulation of chemical compounds.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Toxicologist Doctoral or professional degree $80,530 13% (medical scientists, except epidemiologists)
Chemist Bachelor's degree $73,740 6%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of a Toxicologist vs. a Chemist

Both toxicologists and chemists work in labs and perform tests using chemical compounds. They both use protocols to minimize the risk of contaminating themselves, the lab and the environment with toxic substances. Tests preformed by toxicologists include living tissue and focus on changes to the physiology of living organisms. Chemists may work with organic compounds (those found in living organisms), but they typically make new compounds for use in the pharmaceutical industry. Toxicologists study how to prevent chemical substances from poisoning or otherwise harming people, while chemists may develop drugs for disease treatment.

Toxicologist

The amount and type of harm that chemical compounds can produce in human bodies is the main focus of a toxicologist. Chemical molecules found in nature as well as those produced as industrial by-products can affect human organs, but the damage is related to the dose and each compound is different. Therefore, toxicologists perform tests to help determine the threshold for danger and then monitor the environment to prevent exposure to dangerous levels of the target compound. To complete these tests, toxicologists must have a detailed understanding of human anatomy and physiology plus knowledge of molecular structure and chemical reactivity. The studies they complete may require manipulation of human or animal tissues in sterile laboratory conditions which also requires following ethical guidelines on the use of living specimens.

Job responsibilities of a toxicologist include:

  • Providing information to local health departments on public health concerns
  • Working with farmers who use genetically modified products
  • Reporting findings to state and federal officials
  • Using specialized laboratory equipment to analyze chemical compounds
  • Evaluating immunization strategies

Chemist

Chemists research how combining different elements gives matter different properties. This research can be for the purpose of understanding atomic structure or it can be applied to the development of specific products. A high concentration of chemists work in chemical manufacturing, which can be useful in agriculture, energy storage, artificial flavoring, environmental viability, medicine and material science. Chemists can also work in testing labs and help analyze crime scene samples. Regardless of the purpose, chemists use analytical skills and sophisticated scientific equipment to determine the structure and composition of chemical compounds.

Job responsibilities of a chemist include:

  • Dissolving compounds in a liquid solution for testing
  • Interpreting data produced from spectroscopic analysis
  • Manipulating compounds with the addition of heat or light
  • Modeling chemical structures with computer software
  • Working with other scientists to mass produce new compounds

Related Careers

If you are interested in how compounds move through natural systems like a toxicologist, then you may also like working as an ecologist. If you are like a chemist and interested in the relationship between chemical composition and human taste, then a career as a food scientist may be worth exploring.

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