Chemists examine the composition, structure and properties of different materials, as well as the processes and changes they undergo. They work in research and development, as well as production and inspection.

In the research and development field, the properties, the composition of matter and the laws that govern the combination of elements are investigated. Chemists use research findings to help create or improve products. They analyse organic or inorganic compounds to determine their chemical or physical properties, composition, structure, relationships or reactions, using chromatography, spectroscopy or spectrophotometry techniques. They induce changes in the composition of substances by introducing heat, light, energy or chemical catalysts for quantitative or qualitative analysis.

They maintain the laboratory instruments to ensure proper working order and troubleshoot malfunctions when needed.  For this, they compile and analyse test information to determine process or equipment operating efficiency or to diagnose malfunction.  They develop, improve or customise products, equipment, formulas, processes or analytical methods.

Chemists conduct quality-control tests and prepare test solutions, compounds or reagents for laboratory personnel to conduct steps.  They write technical papers or reports or prepare standards and specifications for processes, facilities, products or tests, and confer with scientists or engineers to conduct analyses of research projects, interpret test results or develop non-standard tests.

They are instrumental in the development of new products, for instance, paint or drug products. In the fields of production and inspection, instructions are prepared for plant workers, specifying the kind and quantity of ingredients to use and the mixing time for each stage in the process. In the inspection area, chemists test samples to make certain that industry and government standards are met. They study the effects of various methods of processing, preserving or packaging on the composition or properties of foods.

Chemists may specialise in one or more of the following disciplines: organic, inorganic, physical, analytical and theoretical chemistry, as well as biochemistry and industrial chemistry. Some chemists work as teachers and lecturers while others are consultants or technical journalists.

Most work in modern, well-equipped laboratories or classrooms.  However, the actual work setting depends on the type, size, location and financial resources of the employer.  Safety regulations have to be observed to avoid injury from highly explosive or caustic chemicals.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

  • National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
  • National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course
Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: A 3-year BSc degree in Chemistry is offered at all universities - RU, NWU, UJ, UP, UKZN, UZ, UCT, UNISA, UWC, UFS, NMMU, UFS, UV.

Diploma: Various universities of technology offer diplomas for technicians and technologists in Analytical Chemistry - e.g. CPUT, DUT and VUT. Persons in possession of a N.Dip. Analytical Chemistry may register as an associate member of the SA Chemical Institute, and a person with a N.H.Dip. Chemistry may register as a professional chemist at the SA Chemical Institute.

Post-graduate study: Further training can be undertaken at UZ, UNISA, and NMMU.

A masters degree or doctorate is needed for higher positions in lecturing, research, and administration.

A person with a BSc (Hons) degree in Chemistry may register as a corporate member and professional chemist at the SA Chemical Institute.


  • chemical or other manufacturing industries
  • educational institutions
  • research institutes
  • SABS
  • Council for Mineral Technology
  • Sasol, AECI
  • CSIR
  • government departments
  • self-employment, as a consultant

Further Information

South African Chemical Institute
School of Chemistry
University of the Witwatersrand
Private Bag X3
Wits, 2050
Tel: (011) 717-6741 (from 8am -1pm)
Fax: (011) 717-6779

Getting Started

  • take courses where laboratory experience can be obtained
  • arrange to speak to chemists and visit laboratories and chemical plants

Programmes by Study Institutions