Field of Study: Geochemistry
Geochemistry prepares people to use chemistry to understand the Earth and how it works. Students learn about chemical elements found in rocks, soils, and water. They learn about the distribution and movement of these elements. They also learn how human activities can change the chemistry of soils and water.
Did you know that rubies and sapphires are the same mineral, but geochemical processes make one red and one blue? Did you ever wonder why some volcanoes erupt with flowing lava while others explode with tiny specs of glass or ash? Heat, pressure, and composition change everything.
As you study this program, you learn about chemical compositions, structure, and properties. You learn about processes and transformations. You learn about chemicals and their interactions. You also learn about the chemistry of seawater, and the chemical reactions that cause acid rain from air pollution.
You can use this knowledge to find new mineral deposits. It is also useful to tell whether oil shales contain enough oil to make it worthwhile to develop. Environmental consulting firms use geochemists to help advise industries about safe disposal of toxic wastes, among other things.
About 20 colleges in the U.S. offer a bachelor's degree in geochemistry. This interdisciplinary program blends chemistry and geology and takes four or five years of full-time study beyond high school. Another route is to major in chemistry and take a minor in geology, or vice versa. A bachelor's degree prepares you for an entry-level position as a geochemical technician.
An advanced degree may let you specialize more, and in fact, most jobs in this field require at least a master's degree. It takes about six years beyond high school to complete a master's degree program. A Ph.D. in geochemistry may take an additional two to three years.