Natural Products Chemistry

Natural products chemistry focuses on improving health and well-being through the creation of ecologically pure products. Learn about career options and salary info, in addition to degree programs and class topics.

Is Natural Products Chemistry for Me?

Career Overview

Natural products chemistry derives substances from nature for human use in several ways, including the identification of new substances and methods for synthesizing them. In one area of natural products chemistry, pharmacognosy, scientists study molecules found in nature for use in drugs, processed foods, natural pesticides and household products.

Natural products chemistry is also a basis for applying environmental standards to personal care, home care and nutritional products. For example, the Natural Products Association defines a 'natural' product as one with 95% natural ingredients from flowers, animals or minerals. It can contain no petroleum compounds and must originate from a renewable source (www.npainfo.org).

Employment Options

If you're interested in natural products chemistry, there are several possible career paths, such as those of chemists, materials chemists, materials scientists or biologists. In these jobs, you could work in the personal care and home care industries, creating products like cosmetics or laundry soap. If improving human health is your interest, you might study the botanical ingredients in the foods and herbal remedies of indigenous cultures.

With a refined sense of taste and smell, you could become a flavorist, creating natural flavor enhancers through chemistry, or a food scientist, whose responsibilities may include improving the quality of processed foods or determining the nutritional content of foods. In any of these careers, you'll need an aptitude for math and the tenacity to test, analyze and evaluate microscopic molecules and compounds.

Salaries and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth in the natural products chemistry professions is expected to vary during the 2012-2022 decade (www.bls.gov). Employment growth for chemists is expected to be slower than average, at 6%. Biochemists should experience job growth around 19%, while food scientists and technologists should see growth of 11%.

The BLS also reports that in 2012, chemists, including flavorists, earned an average annual salary of $76,870, materials scientists made $89,740, food scientists averaged $64,140 and biochemists took home $89,470. Chemical lab technicians earned an average annual salary of $46,130 during the same year.

How Can I Work in Natural Products Chemistry?

Undergraduate Education

You may be able to get started in natural products chemistry as a chemical technician with an associate's degree. To advance in the field, however, you'll need to have at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry or biology. At this level of education, you may find opportunities to support the activities of research chemists, including through an internship before you graduate.

Graduate Programs

A Master of Science degree could provide specialized knowledge and a competitive advantage when seeking work. To lead and perform independent research, you must obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in a field like chemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry or pharmacognosy. To help you find the right college or university, look for faculty research programs with projects in your area of interest.

Topics of Study

As a student of natural products chemistry, your coursework may include organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, microbiology, microscopy or molecular biology. You'd focus elective coursework on your specialty area. If you're a budding flavorist or food scientist, you'd study fermentation processes, flavor chemistry and aroma chemistry. Courses supporting an interest in human health may include botany, ethnobotany, ethnomedicine, herbal medicine and immunology. Preparation for pharmaceutical drug development focuses on pharmaceutical science, pharmacology, toxicology and taxonomy.

Certification

Although certification is not required for employment in this field, you could seek to have any ecologically pure products that you develop certified through the Natural Products Association.

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