Research in the Life Sciences versus the Chemicals Industry

Posted on 21 July 2023

​Written by Jeremy Clarke, our newest team member who has considerable experience of working within both industries. Here he takes a look at the differences in research between the two.

My career has taken me to state-of-the-art pharmaceutical laboratories, to university labs and even farms and fields. I have seen for myself how research is the heart and soul of scientific progress. Scientists unravel the mysteries of the universe, develop wonderful leaps of imagination, and create innovative solutions to fundamental questions. Having worked in both the chemistry and life science industries, I’ve witnessed some amazing scientific developments, but the methods used to get to the answers we seek do throw up some interesting contrasts.

The life sciences and the chemicals industry can often operate to similar standards but there's no denying that there can be significant differences. Here’s just a few of them:

Meticulous and Sterilised vs Battling with the Elements

Life science researchers work in pristine laboratories, working with meticulously calibrated and sterilised equipment. They strive to avoid contamination and ensure accurate results. Their instruments can resemble delicate surgical tools, and their laboratory benches could be straight out of a science fiction movie.

On the other hand, the chemists can be a bit more adventurous. They’re often immersed in colourful concoctions and surrounded by complex glassware filled with bubbling reactions. Their workstations can be littered with stained glassware, scattered powders, and the occasional chemical splatter on their lab coats. They wear their colourful badges of honour with pride, showing the world that they have been in the trenches, literally battling the elements.

Minute Attention to Clean Detail vs Mad Scientists Lair!

A life science experiment can be thrown off or compromised by the slightest trace of contamination.

Chemists in contrast are often no strangers to getting their hands dirty. They may find themselves knee-deep in pigments, giving it a go by pouring colourful liquids from one flask to another, and not always using the most scientific equipment and occasionally witnessing dramatic reactions full of sound, colour and odour. Their laboratories may resemble a mad scientist's lair, with bottles of mysterious substances and the occasional unexplained marks on the walls. They embrace the messiness of their work as a testament to their determination to push the boundaries of chemical possibility.

Intricate Study vs Optimising Materials

Life science researchers are often studying the intricacies of cellular processes and the molecular machinery that drive those process.

Chemists, on the other hand embrace a slightly different adventure. By manipulating molecules and compounds, they strive to create and optimize materials with extraordinary properties.

Quantifying the Immeasurable vs Mastering Manipulation

The techniques, methods and technologies are often similar for both industries, such as chromatography, microscopy, and spectroscopy. The life sciences also employ additional techniques, for example cell culture and DNA sequencing, to delve into the mysteries of life. They employ a wide range of measurements to quantify the immeasurable. From the smallest cellular structures and molecular interactions to the largest, such as understanding animal behaviour and how disease transmits globally.

Chemists are masters of manipulation. They formulate, mix, distil, and synthesise molecules to improve or transform substances into extraordinary materials.

In Summary

Having walked both these roads, I found my career path immensely rewarding and worthwhile due to the opportunity for scientific exploration, the ability to address real-world challenges, the range of career options, the collaborative environment and, in the end, the chance to make a positive impact on human health and wellbeing and on the world in which we live.

If you want to explore the range of opportunities in both industries, why not take a look at our roles to see if we have a career choice for you.

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