Analytical Chemistry | All You Need To Know

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With the ever-growing complexity of the world we live in, it is becoming increasingly important for chemists to be able to analyze and understand the composition of materials. This process of analyzing the composition of a material is called analytical chemistry.

It is vital in many fields, such as environmental science, forensics, and medicine. It is used to help determine a substance’s identity, purity, and concentration.

In this article, we will take a closer look at analytical chemistry, including what it is, its impact, and its importance. We will also explore the different methods used in this field of study. Let’s get started.

analytical chemistry

What is Analytical Chemistry? – Definition & Impact

To first understand analytical chemistry, it’s important to understand chemistry in its simplest form, which is the study of matter, since analytical chemistry is a discipline within this field of study. 

Analytical chemistry is the quantitative and qualitative analysis of the matter, i.e., what is present and the amount. This definition of analytical chemistry is why many argue that analytical chemistry isn’t a sub-discipline of chemistry. Rather, it’s the same, according to David Harvey, a professor of chemistry at DePauw University.

Harvey explains, however, that analytical chemistry isn’t the same because analytical chemists don’t conduct routine analyses on routine samples. Instead, an analytical chemist is a process of “improving established methods, extending existing methods to new types of samples, and developing new methods for measuring chemical phenomena.”

So, in the simplest terms, analytical chemistry defines what matter is and how much (the mass) of said matter exists. It’s especially important in pharmaceutical companies for quality assurance and routine analysis.

Which Techniques Are Used?

Many different techniques can be used in analytical chemistry, each with advantages and disadvantages. The most common methods are:

  • Mass Spectrometry: Mass spectrometry is used to identify a compound’s molecular weight and determine its elemental composition. It can also be used to measure isotopic ratios. This technique is very sensitive and can detect very small amounts of a compound.
  • Gas Chromatography: Gas chromatography separates and analyzes volatile compounds at room temperature. The sample is injected into a column of heated gas, carrying it through it. The compounds in the sample are separated based on their boiling point, and they are then detected and quantified.
  • High-Performance Liquid Chromatography: It is similar to gas chromatography, but the sample is injected into a liquid column instead of gas. This technique is used to separate and analyze compounds that are not volatile at room temperature.
  • Infrared Spectroscopy: Infrared spectroscopy is used to identify functional groups in a compound. The sample is exposed to infrared light, and the absorption spectrum is recorded. The absorption peaks can be matched to known functional groups, which allows the compound to be identified.
  • Ultraviolet-Visible Spectroscopy: Ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy is used to measure the concentration of a solution. The sample is exposed to ultraviolet light, and the absorbance of the light is measured. The absorbance is directly proportional to the concentration of the solution.
laboratory functions

Analytical Chemistry’s Impact

The discipline of analytical chemistry is highly influential to our perception of the physical world and for the progress of other scientists’ studies. These studies provide the world with knowledge and tools for further understanding physical objects, which, in turn, has had a phenomenal impact on society. 

For example, a popular breakthrough was a way for doctors to diagnose or see signs of a future diagnosis of diabetes through the measure of glucose.

What is an Example of Analytical Chemistry? 

We can illustrate analytical chemistry with an example from a U.S. Department of Commerce publication regarding an overseas U.S. Air Force base using powdered milk for meals. 

Powdered milk needs to be rehydrated, so this base used the local water and received complaints of foul-tasting milk, finding that something was polluting the water. An analytical chemist can analyze the water by isolating and identifying the pollutants in the water and, thus, finding the source of pollution.

The analytical chemist’s job is to develop a solution to isolate the chemical compounds in the water. For example, high-performance liquid chromatography can determine pollutants in liquids. In the end, the chemist’s findings showed that upstream chemical plants caused the polluted water.

What Do Analytical Chemists Do?

In modern analytical chemistry, analytical chemists solve problems by measuring the chemical composition of chemical compounds through qualitative and quantitative analysis. Their mission is to answer these four questions of an element: What is it? Where is it? How much exists? And what are its structure and composition? 

Process of Analysis

The typical process of analytical sciences uses a five-step approach. Those steps are identifying, designing, experimenting, analyzing, and sharing the solution.

1. Identify

The identification phase is the process of an analytical chemist identifying the problem they’re attempting to solve. It also entails determining the type of tests to use, i.e., qualitative, quantitative, structure, or fundamental.

At this stage, chemical analysts determine the required accuracy of their results, the budget, and the time frame. 

2. Design

The experiment design is selecting a method, strategy, and sample. A chemical analyst needs to know what tools and techniques are already available for the problem they’re looking to solve. 

3. Experiment

After defining the problem and designing the experiment, the chemical analyst experiments using the appropriate instruments and equipment in their laboratory

Experiments requiring chemical separation may involve distillation, precipitation, solvent extraction, solid-phase extraction, high-performance liquid chromatography, or electrochemical analysis. In this stage, the purpose is to gather data from the experiment.

4. Analyze Data

Next, the chemical analyst analyzes the data with statistical analysis for reliability, verification of accuracy and limitations, and interpreting their findings for the client. The chemist repeats the second, third, and fourth steps to confirm a solution. 

5. Sharing the Solution

After the analysis is complete and the solution has been found, it’s time to share those results with the people who need to know. This is where peer review comes in, as other professionals in the field will check the work to ensure it is up to par. It also means creating a report, giving a presentation, or sharing the data in another way.

practical applications

Types of Chemical Analyst Employers

Several industries employ analytical chemists; some of the most popular fields are:

  • Pharmaceutical industry experts
  • Government agencies
  • Industrial industry
  • Testing laboratories
  • Biological industry
  • Environmental sector
  • Drug manufacturing companies
  • Energy and Petrochemical companies
  • Nonprofit organization

Typical Hours of Work

Chemical analysts are always in the laboratory environment, working a standard 40 hours a week or longer. One responsibility of analytical chemists is to meet deadlines, which may require working over 40 hours a week.  

Chemical Analyst Average Salary 

According to GlassDoor, an analytical chemist makes an average annual salary of $52K, while wages for senior-level and leadership positions range between an average of $86,143 and $89,451.

academic study

How Many Years Does it Take to Study Analytical Chemistry? 

Aspiring analytical chemists should attain a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, engineering, or chemistry. In addition, they should conduct assisted research and complete a chemical internship. 

Chemists who graduate from a four-year university are on their way to becoming a chemist. Still, those wanting to research or a higher average salary should consider continuing higher education for a master’s degree.


  • High School diploma
  • Bachelor’s degree with a focus on courses in math, chemistry, physics, etc.
  • Research and/or laboratory technician internship in a laboratory environment
  • Masters or Ph.D. to teach or work for analytical chemistry companies like analytical chemistry labs in South Africa
  • Join a scientific organization like ACS chemists (American Chemical Society) to stay updated in the scientific community.

Skills And Knowledge

  • Advanced general and organic chemistry knowledge
  • Mathematics (Calculus)
  • Computer skills and engineering
  • Mass spectroscopy
  • High-performance liquid chromatography 
  • Advanced communication skills
  • The logic, reason, and solving problems
  • Analytical techniques
  • Data analysis
  • Gravimetric analysis

The duration of studying to become an analytical chemist is at least four years, and two to six additional years for a master’s or Ph.D.

experimental error


1. What Are The Duties And Responsibilities Of Analytical Chemists?

Analytical chemists are responsible for performing chemical analyses to identify the composition and properties of substances. They use various analytical methods and instruments to study samples of materials, such as air, water, soil, and foods. Their work is essential for quality control in many industries, including pharmaceuticals, environmental science, and forensics.

2. What Skills Are Needed To Be An Analytical Chemist?

Analytical chemists need strong analytical and problem-solving skills. They must be able to design experiments, collect and interpret data, and draw conclusions based on their findings. They must also communicate their results effectively, both in writing and verbally.

3. What Are Some Examples Of Analytical Chemistry Techniques?

There are many different analytical chemistry techniques, but some of the most common include chromatography, spectroscopy, and titration. These techniques can identify substances, measure concentrations, or determine chemical reactions.

4. What Are The Different Fields Of Analytical Science?

Analytical chemistry has significant contributions to various fields and clinical applications, including environmental science, forensics, and pharmaceuticals. Analytical chemists play an important role in quality control and research in each field.

Final Thoughts: What is Analytical Chemistry in Simple Terms?

Analytical chemistry is a discipline within the field of chemistry. It is the process of defining matter by defining what it is and the amount in existence. The practice is a complex profession of chemists working to advance the scientific field and further understand properties in the physical world. 

 With analytical chemistry, scientists can understand the structure and behavior of matter by analyzing its parts. This information helps us to understand our world better and how it works. Learning more about analytical chemistry can improve our ability to make new products and solve problems.


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