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Crystallographer

Crystallography is a branch of materials science that examines crystals, which can be found everywhere in nature, to generate knowledge that is used by chemists, physicists, biologists, and others, to make exciting new advances. With innovative new research underway in Ireland and abroad, this is an expanding and fascinating sector.
The United Nations declared 2014 to be the official year of the crystallographer, saluting the contribution of crystallographers in helping us understand the basic principles of how the human body functions.

Introduction

Crystallography is a rapidly evolving branch of science. In recent years, it has been behind huge strides in the understanding of materials, synthetic chemistry, the understanding of basic principles of biological processes and genetics. It has contributed to major advances in the development of drugs for numerous diseases. Crystallographers examine the molecular and atomic structure of substances using X-ray techniques to identify and image solid materials and gather data for uses as varied as beauty care products to high tech computer products to new ways of understanding biological processes.

Alternative job titles

  • Materials scientist/researcher
  • Diffraction technician

What the job involves

  • Lab research in industry, research institutions, government or academic labs
  • Describe new compounds and materials to support patent claims
  • Help develop synthesis processes by monitoring product formation, purity, and identity
  • Verify quality and purity of feedstock materials for building and manufacturing
  • Describe mineral formations to shed light on geological and human-caused processes
  • Develop computer models and simulations of physical and biological phenomena
  • Analyse forensic evidence in criminal investigations, counterfeiting investigations or to track down the causes of industrial accidents
  • Analyse historical or archaeological artefacts, authenticate or conserve works of art
  • Grow crystals for research or manufacturing purposes
  • Develop new software and hardware capabilities for data collection and analysis.

How your career can develop

The pharmaceutical and biochemical fields rely extensively on crystallographers. They are also in demand from high-tech instrumentation specialists and career path options for graduates are wide and varied from lab technicians to research officers to project leaders and managers. There is also demand for PhD-level teachers in the field.

Skills

  • Complex problem-solving
  • Judgment and decision-making
  • Operations analysis
  • Interest in maths
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Attention to detail

Typical employers

  • Universities and third-level research institutions
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Instrument and software developers
  • High-tech imaging companies

Typical salary

  • Graduate/Starting €30,000 to €40,000 (approx.)
  • Senior/Potential €70,000+

Typical qualifications

Bachelor’s degree, preferably in materials science or a general chemistry degree. Then progress on to a master’s degree focused on crystallography. Students can also study for a diploma or PLC in a related course such as applied chemistry before progressing on to do a bachelor’s degree.