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What does a Geochemist do?

Angie Bates
Angie Bates

A geochemist is a type of scientist who uses both geology and chemistry to study the earth. Working primarily with rocks and minerals, geochemists study the chemical make up of and interaction between various substances found in the earth. They work with oil companies, the government, and environmental agencies, and as researchers and teachers.

Geochemists may work in the public or private sector, but their main goal is generally to find ways to minimize or repair damage to the environment due to human interference. They spend much of their time in the field, traveling nationally or worldwide to study sites, gather and analyze samples, and conduct research. Usually a geochemist will work with teams of other scientists while on the job.

A geochemist may need to hike to a research site.
A geochemist may need to hike to a research site.

Though some of their time is spent in the lab, most of it is spent outdoors. They often need to hike or climb to sites, and may even camp at the sites. They either study objects far underground, such as the interior of volcanoes, or closer to the surface. Their field work includes a lot of puzzle solving, using logic and reason to fill in the gaps in the gathered hard data.

A geochemist must have a background in math.
A geochemist must have a background in math.

Many geochemists are employed by oil companies. When working with these companies, a geochemist's primary duty is to find the greatest amount of oil with the least amount of damage to the environment. These geochemists are also sometimes called petroleum geologists.

Still others are employed as government employees or in private sectors. The Environmental Protection Agency, particularly, hires geochemists to help develop green technology and combat current threats to the environment. Other private organizations interested in green technology also routinely hire geochemists. Additionally, a geochemist may teach at the university level or conduct research for science organizations.

A geochemist will spend some time in a lab setting.
A geochemist will spend some time in a lab setting.

Depending on the job, geochemists might draw more heavily on their geology background or on their chemistry background. For example, some geochemists analyze abandoned mines to predict the environmental impact of these mines and advise in the safest clean-up efforts. Though they use their geology expertise, these geochemists rely more on their chemistry background to determine this type of environmental effect.

A geochemist usually has strong skills in organic and inorganic chemistry as well as geology. They generally also have backgrounds such diverse subjects as math, geography, and even English. Often geochemists will have a Bachelor's degree in geology, with a chemistry minor, but their Bachelor's can be in a variety of math or science fields. They will normally have advanced degrees in geochemistry, and those that teach will usually have PhDs.

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Discussion Comments


What are the advantages to becoming a geochemist?


@umbra21 - People have to do what makes them happy. I know I'd never be happy working in a geochemist job, particularly if it was for an oil company. I had a friend who was studying geology and geochemistry and he essentially changed subjects because he didn't think there was any way he could escape working for an oil company and he hated the idea.


@bythewell - I did actually hear on the news recently that they've started trying to encourage kids to go into science and mathematics rather than into the arts. It's unfortunate that the sciences don't seem to have the mystery and magic around them that they used to. I think kids associate geochemistry with boring homework and their music and English classes with being a pop-star or a famous author.

And it's too bad because the world would be better off if more people understood basic science. That way, when geochemists tell them that they have tested ice cores and their findings are that we really need to stop polluting everywhere, people would be more inclined to listen.


Even though there's a lot of money in the oil industry, I think it's going to start being more about soil science in the future. Whether or not you believe that oil is going to become scarcer and more difficult to find in the next few decades, most people do realize that there is a huge motion to start using cleaner fuels.

At the same time the population is still going up and we need to find ways of feeding all these people. There are huge tracts of land that have become useless because they have been mismanaged and I think that people who have the understanding of soil to start to rehabilitate those lands are going to end up being able to name their price in the future.

I think that applied geochemistry is going to become one of the more exciting fields to be in soon and I wish I was free to go and study it myself.

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    • A geochemist may need to hike to a research site.
      By: blas
      A geochemist may need to hike to a research site.
    • A geochemist must have a background in math.
      By: kolett
      A geochemist must have a background in math.
    • A geochemist will spend some time in a lab setting.
      By: nandyphotos
      A geochemist will spend some time in a lab setting.