Nuclear Chemistry

Nuclear chemists work with various isotopic forms of elements to study fission and fusion processes, or they delve into the effects of ionizing radiation on materials, living organisms (including people), and the environment.
Nuclear chemists may work in laboratories, or they may do theoretical work—and often, they do some of both. Nuclear chemists may work in academic or government laboratories doing basic, applied, or theoretical research. They may also work in private industry, at nuclear power plants, or in medical facilities that offer radiation treatments and medical imaging.
Technicians in this field monitor equipment, measure radiation levels, and collect samples for environmental testing.

Typical work duties

  • Conduct laboratory research in industrial, nonprofit institution, government, or academic laboratories.
  • Develop mathematical models and computer simulations of nuclear phenomena.
  • Teach classes and mentor student researchers in a university setting.
  • Develop methods for simulating, monitoring, and dismantling nuclear weapons and for monitoring treaty compliance.
  • Develop nuclear power sources for public utilities, submarines, or satellites and other spacecraft.
  • Develop medical imaging and therapeutic treatments using radioactive materials, or develop treatments for injuries and illnesses caused by exposure to radiation.
  • Develop and deploy detection methods for monitoring radioactivity in the environment.

Technical Skills

  • Problem-solving skills and an interest and ability to solve basic and applied research problems.
  • Critical thinking and analytical skills to design experiments, troubleshoot processes, and analyze data collected.
  • Written and oral communication skills to explain findings and share results with scientists and nonscientists.
  • Computer skills, including familiarity with computer modeling and statistical analysis.
  • Mathematical ability.
  • Ability to use laboratory equipment.

Career Path

Graduates with bachelor’s degrees can find employment as laboratory technicians or research assistants. It is common for bachelor’s-level graduates to receive on-the- job training after discovering an interest in nuclear chemistry during their early years on the job.
Students or recent graduates with an interest in research may do one or more internships in preparation for selecting an area of specialization for a graduate degree. Research and supervisory positions generally require a doctoral degree, often with postgraduate experience. Postdoctoral fellowships are one way to gain this experience.
Nuclear chemists may pursue a teaching and/or research career in academia, or they may oversee a laboratory in industry or for a government agency or national laboratory. They may also support and train facility users or students or develop new capabilities for collecting and analyzing data.
After gaining several years of postgraduate experience, nuclear chemists may move into managing a suite of laboratories, or they may direct research programs.

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