Office of Science Education skip navigation
Office of Science Education Office of Science Education LifeWorks Icons
Home > LifeWorks > Alphabetical List > Biochemist and Biophysicist
LifeWorks Icons
Biochemist and Biophysicist
Summary Job Description Education Skills, Abilities and Interests More Information
Job Description

Job CategoryLife, Physical, & Social Science

Job DescriptionBiochemists study the chemical composition of living things. They analyze the complex chemical combinations and reactions involved in metabolism, reproduction, growth, and heredity. Biochemists and molecular biologists do most of their work in biotechnology, which involves understanding the complex chemistry of life.

Specifically, they study the chemistry of living processes, such as cell development, breathing and digestion, and living energy changes, e.g., growth, aging, and death. Biochemists may conduct research and determine the chemical action of substances, such as drugs, serums, hormones, and food, on tissues. Biochemists examine chemical aspects of formation of antibodies; research chemistry of cells and blood corpuscles; and isolate, analyze, and identify hormones, vitamins, allergens, minerals, and enzymes.

Biochemists develop and execute tests to detect disease, genetic disorders, or other abnormalities and develop methods to process, store, and use food, drugs, and chemical compounds. They also develop and test new drugs and medications used for commercial distribution, and prepare reports and recommendations based upon research outcomes. Biochemists clean, purify, refine, and otherwise prepare pharmaceutical compounds for commercial distribution, and analyze foods to determine nutritional value and effects of cooking, canning, and processing on this value.

Biophysicist study fundamental physical principles that are essential to understanding life processes and use quantitative methodologies in advancing biomedical research and healthcare. They study physical principles of living cells and organisms and their electrical and mechanical energy, research how characteristics of plants and animals are carried through successive generations, research the transformation of substances in cells, and investigate damage to cells and tissues caused by X-rays and nuclear particles.

Biophysicists also study the spatial configuration of submicroscopic molecules, such as proteins, using X-rays and electron microscopes. They investigate the transmission of electrical impulses along nerves and muscles, the dynamics of seeing and hearing, and functions of electronic and human brains, such as learning, thinking and memory.

Working ConditionsBiologist work indoors, and they must perform their jobs accurately and with a lot of attention to detail and to completing every task. Usually, they work regular hours in offices or laboratories and are not exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

Biochemist and Biophysicist who work with work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination. Some biochemists and Biophysicists depend on grant money to support their research. They may be under pressure to meet deadlines and conform to rigid grant-writing specifications when preparing proposals to seek new or extended funding.

Salary RangeThe median annual wage of biochemists and biophysicists was $79,390 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,050, and the top 10 percent earned more than $142,420.

Median annual wages in the industries employing the most biochemists and biophysicists in May 2010 were:

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: $84,970
Research and development in the physical,engineering, and life sciences: $83,590
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state,local, and private: $50,760