Biochemists and Biophysicists

by Kate Williams

What Biochemists and Biophysicists Do

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2b7a89VSw8

Work Environment

Biochemists and biophysicists typically work in laboratories and offices to conduct experiments and analyze the results. Most work full time.

How to Become a Biochemist or Biophysicist

Biochemists and biophysicists need a Ph.D. to work in independent research and development. Many Ph.D. holders begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. Bachelor’s and master’s degree holders qualify for some entry-level positions in biochemistry and biophysics.

Pay

The median annual wage for biochemists and biophysicists was $94,490 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of biochemists and biophysicists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Biochemists and biophysicists will continue to be needed to use the knowledge they have gained from basic research to develop biological products and processes that improve people’s lives.

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, heredity, and disease.

Duties

Biochemists and biophysicists typically do the following:

  • Plan and conduct complex projects in basic and applied research
  • Manage laboratory teams and monitor the quality of their work
  • Isolate, analyze, and synthesize proteins, fats, DNA, and other molecules
  • Research the effects of substances such as drugs, hormones, and nutrients on tissues and biological processes
  • Review literature and the findings of other researchers and attend conferences
  • Prepare technical reports, research papers, and recommendations based on their research findings
  • Present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues
  • Secure funding and write grant applications

Biochemists and biophysicists use advanced technologies, such as lasers and fluorescent microscopes, to conduct scientific experiments and analyses. They also use x rays and computer modeling software to determine the three-dimensional structures of proteins and other molecules. Biochemists and biophysicists involved in biotechnology research use chemical enzymes to synthesize recombinant DNA.

Biochemists and biophysicists work in basic and applied research. Basic research is conducted without any immediately known application; the goal is to expand human knowledge. Applied research is directed toward solving a particular problem.

Biochemists, sometimes called molecular biologists or cellular biologists, may study the molecular mechanisms by which cells feed, divide, and grow. Others study the evolution of plants and animals, to understand how genetic traits are carried through successive generations.

Biophysicists may conduct basic research to learn how nerve cells communicate or how proteins work. Biochemists and biophysicists who conduct basic research typically must submit written grant proposals to colleges and universities, private foundations, and the federal government to get the money they need for their research.

Biochemists and biophysicists who conduct applied research attempt to develop products and processes that improve people’s lives. For example, in medicine, biochemists and biophysicists develop tests used to detect infections, genetic disorders, and other diseases. They also develop new drugs and medications, such as those used to treat cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

Applied research in biochemistry and biophysics has many uses outside of medicine. In agriculture, biochemists and biophysicists research ways to genetically engineer crops so that they will be resistant to drought, disease, insects, and other afflictions. Biochemists and biophysicists also investigate alternative fuels, such as biofuels—renewable energy sources from plants. In addition, they develop ways to protect the environment and clean up pollution.

Many people with a biochemistry background become professors and teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Biochemists and biophysicists held about 34,600 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of biochemists and biophysicists were as follows:

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 10%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 8
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 3
Wholesale trade 3

Biochemists and biophysicists typically work in laboratories and offices, to conduct experiments and analyze the results. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow safety procedures to avoid contamination.

Most biochemists and biophysicists work on teams. Research projects are often interdisciplinary, and biochemists and biophysicists frequently work with experts in other fields, such as physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering. Those working in biological research generate large amounts of data. They collaborate with specialists called bioinformaticians, who use their knowledge of statistics, math, engineering, and computer science to mine datasets for correlations that might explain biological phenomena.

Some biotech companies need researchers to help sell their products. These products often rely on very complex technologies, and having an expert explain them to potential customers might be necessary. This role for researchers may be more common in smaller companies, where workers often fulfill multiple roles, such as working in research and in sales. Working in sales may require a substantial amount of travel. For more information on sales representatives, see the profile on wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives.

Work Schedules

Most biochemists and biophysicists work full time and keep regular hours. They may have to work additional hours to meet project deadlines or to perform time-sensitive laboratory experiments.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of biochemists and biophysicists.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Bachelor’s degree $65,160

Biological Technicians

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Bachelor’s degree $45,860

Biomedical Engineers

Biomedical engineers combine engineering principles with medical sciences to design and create equipment, devices, computer systems, and software.

Bachelor’s degree $91,410

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and analyze the ways in which the substances interact with one another.

Bachelor’s degree $78,790

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health.

Bachelor’s degree $71,360

Medical scientists

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health.

Doctoral or professional degree $88,790

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites.

Bachelor’s degree $75,650

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists.

Bachelor’s degree $129,100

Physicists and astronomers

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact.

Doctoral or professional degree $122,220

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems.

Bachelor’s degree $63,270

For more information about biochemists, visit

American Chemical Society

American Chemical Society, Division of Biological Chemistry

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

For more information about biophysicists, visit

Biophysical Society

International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics

For general information about careers in biological sciences, visit

American Institute of Biological Sciences

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

For information about grants and funding for healthcare-related research, visit

National Institutes of Health

O*NET

Biochemists and Biophysicists


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Biochemists and Biophysicists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/biochemists-and-biophysicists.htm (visited ).


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