Formulation chemists manage and enhance the formulation of critical components in manufactured products, enabling the creation of an array of essential goods across multiple industries, from pharma and industrial chemistry all the way through to oil and gas, farming and FMCG.
Rather than focusing on the design and dynamics of chemical reactions, formulation chemists focus on what components go into a product, as well as the order and method in with they are combined. These components are not reactive with each other, but each ingredient will have a function in producing an effective and viable end product. The formulation process provides the foundation for effective scale up and manufacture, and successfully managing this process as a formulation chemist takes a creative and experimental mind-set to proactively ensure that methods and ingredients are fully optimised. Examples of formulations include cosmetics, cleaning products, adhesives, paints, pharmaceutical products, beverages, nutraceuticals, elastomers, lubricants, fuels, pesticides, herbicides and many more.
In this article, we’ll delve behind the job title, and explore the roles and responsibilities surrounding working as a formulation chemist, as well as the benefits and opportunities.
Keep reading to find out:
- What do formulation chemists do?
- 5 benefits of working as a formulation chemist
- How to become a formulation chemist
What do formulation chemists do?
A formulation is a mixture of chemicals with desired characteristics for a particular application – these could be powders, liquids, semi-solid (e.g. cream, gel) or solid forms. Formulation chemists are usually based in the laboratory and are employed to create new formulations or improve existing formulations to meet desired criteria. They accomplish this by conducting a series of experiments to establish the best ingredients and method to create the required formulation in the most cost-efficient, effective and safe way. This often involves trial and error, but can also be supported by computer modelling to predict the properties of a particular combination of ingredients.
Given the wide breadth of industries formulation chemists work across, they often receive training-in-role to reinforce a strong understanding of the specific end-product the manufacturing process is set to create, as well as the ingredients and mixing methods most commonly used in that industry.
Formulation chemists also play an important role when it comes to understanding and optimising aspects such as shelf-life, biodegradability, texture, adhesion, weather-resistance, rheology and environmental impact. This requires testing, for example, over time or under certain conditions, as well as good knowledge of surface chemistry, colloidal science and thermodynamic changes that can take place during the mixing process.
The responsibilities of a formulation chemist can include:
- Designing and conducting experiments to develop new or improve existing products
- Precisely weighing
- Creating prototypes for further research, testing and application or clinical trials
- Assessing rheology, viscosity, stability, compatibility, efficacy in lab-based tests
- Analysing data from testing to adapt formulation recipes as required
- Maintaining awareness of relevant regulatory and safety requirements
- Supporting the scale-up of product to manufacturing scale
- Providing technical support to customers or production teams
5 benefits of working as a formulation chemist
1. An active role in the development of new products
Formulation chemists create the recipes that underly the success of an end-product. The ingredients used, and the ways in which they are combined to maximise their impact and efficacy are determined, managed, and improved by formulation chemists.
2. Ample opportunity for creativity
Creative thinking surrounding formulation is actively encouraged within this discipline. New ways to progress, and continually improve the product you work on will often be part of your daily work, meaning you have plenty of scope to think outside of the box and experiment.
3. Flexibility to work across industries
While many formulation chemists specialise in a specific industry, or formulation area, the role itself is critical to effective innovation and product development in many industries. This means that if you find yourself drawn to another area, as long as you have some experience and expertise, your skills will largely be transferable, enabling you to flexibly develop your career over time.
4. Have a tangible impact on driving sustainability
Sustainable manufacture is becoming increasingly vital to organisations across the globe. Working as a formulation chemist can mean having a direct and active influence on the ingredients and methods used to develop products – enabling more sustainable choices.
5. Scope for working with cutting-edge technology
As Industry 4.0 gains precedence across manufacture, formulation chemists are experiencing better access to predictive modelling technology to improve formulations. From predicting polymer properties to computational fluid dynamics (CFD), formulation chemistry is on the verge of a digital revolution that promises better accuracy, and improved formulation development.
How to become a formulation chemist
A Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry is typically the baseline requirement for working as a formulation chemist. In the best-case scenario, this degree should also be supplemented by A-levels or equivalent qualifications in chemistry, or a chemistry related subject. Not all degree courses include specific modules on formulation chemistry, but you can gain a good understanding of colloidal science, solubility, thermodynamics, phase interactions, surface chemistry and solutions, dispersions, emulsions and suspensions from most Chemistry degrees.
Some universities also offer Master’s programmes in Formulation Chemistry which can help prepare you with the specific skills, and lab-based experience, to help you towards a career as a formulation chemist.
To truly succeed in your role, it’s important to cultivate the following skills alongside your academic accreditation:
- Verbal communication skills
- Critical thinking
- Analytical thinking
- Attention to detail
- Ability to collaborate effectively
Watch the video below to hear more about what to expect from a career in formulation chemistry from a Formulation Chemist –
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About the author: Faye Allison specialises in finding scientists and technical talent for the chemical and materials industries, from purely R&D to analytical testing to manufacturing.
Supporting start-ups and spin-outs as well as SMEs and multinational business, typical roles Faye recruits for include: Development Chemists, Synthetic Chemists, Material Scientists, Research Scientists, Analytical and QC Chemists, Laboratory Technicians, Microbiologists, Technical Leaders/Managers and other similar technical or laboratory associated roles.
Click here to connect with Faye on Linkedin