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Where matter is supreme

Chemistry concerns itself with particles — its properties, composition and structure — and takes you beyond the mundane. Your material success will, however, depend on the kind of education you get reports AK Bakhshi

education Updated: Jul 14, 2010 10:25 IST
AK Bakhshi
AK Bakhshi
Hindustan Times

Everything in this universe is matter. Matter is anything that can be touched, tasted, seen, smelt or felt. Chemistry in the simplest terms is the science, which mainly deals with the properties, composition and structure of this matter and also with the changes that take place within the matter. Chemistry is a very vast, universal and dynamically changing subject and it is, therefore, not possible to confine it to a single fixed definition. Chemistry can be approached in different ways, each yielding a different, valid, (and yet hopelessly incomplete) view of the subject. Chemistry can thus be viewed from multiple standpoints ranging from the purely theoretical to the eminently practical.

What’s unique about chemistry?
The most fascinating part of chemistry, which distinguishes it from other sciences, is that chemists not only describe and explain our world as it is but are also changing and extending it by producing or making new chemical substances, ie matter. According to an estimate, there were a few hundred chemical substances in the year 1800, compared to more than 30 million today and if the growth rate remains the same we shall have about 5 billion chemical substances by the end of this century. It makes chemistry the most productive and diversified of all sciences. In view of the growth of this subject, many branches of chemistry, such as physical, inorganic, organic, analytical, industrial or biochemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, geochemistry, agricultural chemistry, medicinal chemistry, solid-state chemistry, etc. are studied and this list is expanding by the day.

Chemistry after 10 + 2
An understanding of chemistry is necessary to all other sciences from astronomy to zoology. If you are interested in chemistry after 10+2, BSc ( Hons) chemistry is the course for you. There are about 20 colleges in Delhi University, which offer the BSc (Hons.) chemistry programme. The course content of BSc (Hons.) chemistry is equally divided among three branches, viz. physical, organic and inorganic chemistry. Most of the topics are further in-depth extensions of what you have learnt at the plus-2 level and include, among others, atomic structure and chemical bonding, thermodynamics, chemistry of various elements, various classes of organic compounds, electrochemistry, coordination chemistry, quantum mechanics and spectroscopy etc. To facilitate in-depth understanding of the various concepts learnt in theory classes and to give them hands-on experience, students also have to do experiments relating to all the three branches of chemistry in each year of the BSc (Hons) course. In the new scheme of practical examination 50 per cent marks in each practical paper shall be based on continuous evaluation of the students. To ensure holistic learning of a student, the marks in theory papers are inclusive of the internal assessment of the candidate, which includes tutorials, class tests, assignments, presentations and projects etc. BSc (Hons) chemistry students also study the applications of computers in chemistry, analytical methods in chemical analysis, biochemistry and environmental chemistry besides learning phys- ics, mathematics and biology.

With a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a student can go for Master’s in the same and then PhD. At the Master’s level, you may specialise in any branch of your choice viz. physical, inorganic, organic, analytical or biochemistry. A related field of interest is BTech (chemical engineering).

Tips for students
If you really want to enjoy learning chemistry, you can very easily do so by changing your strategy of learning. Avoid rote learning and try to achieve conceptual clarity of the subject. Whenever you are studying a new topic, try to find answers to the following questions: (i) Why do we need this topic and what would we have missed had this topic been not there? Answers to these will provide the importance of the topic and also provide the gap in knowledge that it attempts to fill. And (ii) How does the study of the topic help in achieving the desired objectives? Answer to this will help you in building in a very systematic and logical manner the road map to the goals that the topic plans to achieve. This will make you more analytical, practical and creative. While following the above strategy, my advice to all the students would be to read less, but think more, try to get answers to the questions still bothering you and once you feel that you have understood the topic well, gain more insight into the topic and its intricacies through solving more problems and exercises. All this will help you in building strong foundation of chemistry and will prove to be a big asset.

Some useful skills for chemistry students
Along with a chemistry degree, you must also acquire many other valuable general skills and take certain courses outside of chemistry that can prove very useful in the long run and help you reach your career goals. Ability to communicate effectively is one such essential skill. Since reports, papers and presentations are all part of life for chemists, consideration should be given to taking courses that involve writing and public speaking. Courses in computer science may also be useful for those interested in applying computers to solving chemical problems. If you are interested in a career in sales, marketing, management, or other business related field within chemical industry, consider taking business courses or obtaining a MBA degree. Certain mathematics courses, including Statistics, might also be very useful to your career.

The aforementioned skills are also precisely the skills required in many areas of managerial and administrative work, in business, commerce, finance, banking or the civil service, and it is not surprising that many chemists move easily into occupations in these areas. Thus a chemistry degree will prepare you for a career in chemistry, if that is what you wish, but it will not restrict you to chemistry and can be a stepping-stone to many other opportunities.

Road ahead: career options
Studying chemistry puts you in an excellent position to choose from a wide variety of useful, interesting and rewarding careers. However your employment options depend on how far you have taken your education in chemistry. A bachelor’s degree in chemistry, for example, is sufficient for entry-level positions in industrial and government laboratories but limits the career advancement up the ‘corporate ladder.’ This degree followed by BEd is necessary to teach at the school level as a TGT. A Master’s degree in chemistry opens up far more options. A degree, such as a PhD, leaves the field of opportunity wide open.

The list of career possibilities for people with training in chemistry is long and varied.
Some of the areas where chemists are to be found include:
. All areas of industry, from the oil, chemical and pharmaceutical companies to a host of smaller enterprises producing new and specialist products
. In public health and environment-protection sectors
. In research in universities, government institutes, industry and private agencies
. In teaching at all levels
. In patent agencies, scientific journalism
. In forensic sciences
. In occupations which make use of scientific knowledge.

The author is head, Department of Chemistry, University of Delhi, where he holds Sir Shankar Lal Chair of Chemistry. He is also the director of the Institute of Lifelong Learning (ILLL), University of Delhi.

First Published: Jul 13, 2010 15:39 IST