Study Chemistry

What is chemistry?

Chemistry is a STEM science with principles and applications that are relevant in a wide scientific context.

In essence, chemistry is the study of matter, both organic and inorganic. It is the science concerned with the study of the properties and interactions of matter and their associated energies. Chemistry involves analysis through either quantifying or characterising substances, and synthesis (transforming substances).

A complex and engaging field on its own, the study of chemistry also lays the foundations for the pursuit of knowledge in a range of other scientific disciplines including biological, biomedical, earth and environmental science.

Chemistry is considered the ‘central science’ because of its foundational role in the pursuit of knowledge in other scientific disciplines. These include the STEM areas of biology, earth and environmental sciences, biomedical and materials science, as well as allied professions such as engineering.

The chemical industry is vital to the Australian economy, contributing $38 billion annually to Australia’s GDP. Chemistry is pivotal in developing new technologies and accordingly, it strongly influences all areas of human activity.

Students and practitioners of chemistry may specialise in one of the four major branches: inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry and analytical chemistry. However, the boundaries between the branches within the discipline are often indistinct. There are numerous and widespread opportunities for cross-disciplinary work from a foundation in chemistry.

Although many of us might simply associate chemistry with learning the periodic table in high school, chemistry is everywhere and essential to daily life on many levels.

Discover JCU's
Bachelor of Science

Explore the fundamentals of matter and energy and consider the widespread applications of your work across industry as a chemist with the Bachelor of Science.

What does a chemist do?

The list of potential vocations you might hold while working in chemistry is extensive. As the broadest of all scientific disciplines, the work carried out by chemists is equally wide-ranging.

The stereotypical image of scientists in white lab coats does (in some cases!) apply, but there is so much more to being a ‘chemist’.

Your days may comprise a mix of lab work and field work, as well as time spent behind a desk writing reports and drafting funding applications, presentations or research papers.

As an organic chemist, you will understand the significance of organic reactions and reaction mechanisms. Within a laboratory, you may be required to utilise experimental and instrumental techniques to determine the structure and interactions of various elements and compounds. Organic chemistry has strong applications to the resources industry, particularly within petrochemicals. Here, you may find yourself devising strategies to effectively extract, treat and transport oil and gas, or be involved in the use of these products for manufacturing.

Working within physical chemistry, you’ll create, examine and manage chemical reactions, as you explore why elements and compounds interact in various ways, and the wider applications of these interactions. Hone your mathematical skills and you perform complex calculations to account for results and explore the potential for new compounds. Physical chemists may be called on in a variety of industries that rely on chemical reactions, including defence, medicine and food and beverages.

Inorganic chemists consider chemistry within both nature and industry. The field has a wide variety of applications including metallurgy, chemical manufacturing and even environmental engineering.

What jobs are there in chemistry?

Chemistry roles will vary greatly depending on the industry in which you work, and the area in which you decide to specialise. However, the technical knowledge and practical skills gained through studying Chemistry at JCU will set you up for success in multiple fields.

People are often surprised at the number of different industries or professions that require chemistry skills. Opportunities may exist in pharmaceuticals, medicine, environmental and sustainability consulting, forensics and criminal investigations, mining and metallurgical discovery and more.

When you study a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Chemistry at JCU, you may qualify for work across a range of fields, both nationally and internationally, which include:

  • Chemical analytical services (council, commercial and mine laboratories)
  • Basic chemicals (industrial chemicals, fertilizers, industrial gases, resins, paints, adhesives etc.)
  • Specialty chemicals (explosives, rubbers, plastics, construction chemicals)
  • Consumer chemicals (pesticides, soaps and detergents, cosmetics, medicinal and pharmaceutical, flavours and fragrances)
  • Fine chemicals (highly pure substances produced in limited quantities for specific purposes)
  • Energy conservation and storage (improving solar energy devices, batteries)
  • Mining (development of mineral analysis and extraction processes, explosives)
  • Medical (diagnostic agents for human health, new drug discovery)
  • Forensics (customs, sports anti-doping, police and allied law enforcement)
  • Textiles (production of dyes, synthetic fabrics, mould or odour preventatives, water repellents)
  • Environmental sciences (advisory roles, remediation of contaminated areas, conserving natural resources through new extraction processes and alternative materials)
  • Agrichemical (increasing productivity through the use of pesticides and fertilizers, measurement of pollutants, compliance with legislated limits)
  • Food and water quality and control
  • Waste management (sewerage and run-off water treatment)
  • Legal (patent attorney, government regulatory agencies, scientific advisor to law firms)
  • Military (forensics, production and storage of ordnance)
  • Teaching (secondary or tertiary)
  • Research (Universities, CSIRO, Government departments, commercial industry and NGO’s)
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Technical sales
  • Toxicology (government forensic laboratories)
  • Fire prevention
  • Automotive (petrochemical production, additives, production of tyres, catalytic converters, development of alternative fuels)
  • Art and archaeological preservation and fraud detection
  • Science writing and communication.

Why study Chemistry at JCU?

JCU Chemistry has been accredited by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. When you study Chemistry through the JCU Bachelor of Science, you will benefit from small class sizes and the personalised approach of our lecturers.

Gain relevant and up-to-date skills within your chosen field and enjoy practical sessions and task-based assessments delivered by teachers who are well connected and respected within local and international professional networks. You will receive a solid grounding in all areas of chemistry based on a combination of theory and experimental work which is carried out in new state-of-the-art facilities in the Science Place.

A key to the student experience in Chemistry at JCU is the valuable problem solving skills students gain as they progress through their degree. You’ll reap the benefits of hands-on learning experiences, and opportunities to connect with our industry partners, both in class and in the laboratory.

Due to the specialised laboratory nature of the degree, Chemistry is currently only offered on-campus at JCU Townsville. Cairns based students can commence their first year in Cairns and transfer to Townsville in second year.

If you’re passionate about research, you can choose to extend your study with an Honours degree. Research and identify a key challenge within your field, and then conduct supervised experiments to account for observations and propose solutions. Your personal research project will prepare you for Higher Degree Research opportunities, including Masters and PhD.

Please note: Mid-year entry is not available for the Chemistry major.

5 Stars for full-time employment1
Strong growth Expected for Natural and Physical Science professionals in Australia in the next five years2
5 Stars for student teacher ratio1
2024 Good Universities Guide 22022 Job Outlook
Angus Shephard standing next to a whiteboard with chemical equations on it.

Angus Shephard


Bachelor of Science (Honours), majoring in Chemistry

"JCU has a great range of facilities which have allowed me to collect research data and gain hands-on experience in a variety of relevant skills and techniques. I’ve had many great opportunities, whether it be attending conferences to present my research to spending time overseas to collaborate on research projects."

Discover Chemistry at JCU

Learn more, explore your options.