Forensic Chemist

Forensic Chemist Overview

Forensic chemists apply chemistry and forensic toxicology to the legal world by providing accurate and informed data to law enforcement, providing much-needed evidence in criminal matters. Their position involves analyzing and identifying non-biological trace substances found at the crime scene, and/or matching a sample to known material. Drugs and controlled substances taken from crime scenes or extracted from the human body are also analyzed for identification.




Forensic chemists use a wide array modern lab equipment to test samples brought to them by law enforcement, using methods like gas chromatography, x-rays, infrared, microscopy, and ultraviolet (UV) to scientifically make assessments. Most often, forensic chemists are unaware of the origin of the sample they're testing prior to analysis. They're sometimes called to court to speak about their findings and defend the conclusions they've drawn as well.

Forensic chemists also have administrative responsibilities, including:

  • Overseeing and ensuring compliance with federal regulations.

  • Collecting and inputting data into relevant databases.

  • Developing and sustaining high quality standards and operating procedures.

  • Providing a connection between criminal investigators and the laboratory.

  • Coordinating with the forensic team around common goals.

  • Reporting their findings through accurate and thorough documentation.





Must effectively communicate with your co-workers to ensure the best care and the proper procedures. Must be able to communicate in high-stress environments.

Active Listening

Offering your full attention to an individual person or group in order to fully understand problems and their nature.

Critical Thinking

Must use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Judgment and Decision Making

Needs to be able to act autonomously and make difficult decisions that would benefit the patient or make corrections. Must consider all benefits and repercussions of potential actions and choose the appropriate one. 

Complex Problem Solving

Must be able to identify complex problems and develop and evaluate corrective options and implement solutions. 

Stress Management

Must be able to endure intense situations and handle pressure that comes with extreme situations you may encounter.


Must be trustworthy because you have people's lives in your hands and what you do could help or hurt them. They are entrusted with a great responsibility and must live up to it. 


Gauging how people react and read their body language to decipher their feelings and predict their actions. They must be able to determine if people could be a risk to themselves or others and to distinguish truths from lies.


Working Conditions


A laboratory is the usual place where forensic chemists do their work. They must use complicated testing technology correctly and are called on to sit or stand for extended periods each day. Technological devices must be kept clean and properly adjusted to produce accurate results, and the forensic chemist needs to handle and document evidence correctly, plus always work in a scientifically correct and thorough manner.

Many forensic chemists work for local, state, or federal governments. Since they need to testify in court, they must have the communications skills to accurately detail their findings in a way an ordinary juror can understand.


Salary Outlook

How to Become a Forensic Chemist:


1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)


Forensic chemists are expected to have at least a bachelor's degree in clinical chemistry, chemistry, or a related major. Only programs with Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) accreditation are acceptable. Many universities offer Forensic Chemistry master's and doctoral (PhD) degree programs.


The preparation timeline below provides an example chemistry curriculum:


Grade Level Example Courses

Freshman Year


  • Chemistry I & Lab
  • Chemistry II & Lab
  • Calculus I 
  • Calculus II
  • English I
  • English II
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives

Sophomore Year

  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Inorganic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives

Junior Year


  • Physical Chemistry I & Lab
  • Physical Chemistry II & Lab
  • Instrumental Methods I & Lab
  • Inorganic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives

Senior Year

  • Advanced Chemistry
  • Seminar
  • Remaining Requirements
  • Remaining Electives


2. Take the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE)


Most graduate programs revolving around forensic science require the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE) for admittance. It's a 3 hour and 45 minute, standardized, multiple choice exam that covers analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning.


The GRE is broken down into six primary sections:


1 Analytical Writing Section

  • 2 writing assignments

  • 60 minutes

  • Tests student's abilities to assess arguments and communicate ideas

2 Quantitative Reasoning Sections

  • ~20 multiple-choice questions

  • 35 minutes per section

  • Tests student's abilities to solve mathematical problems and interpret data

2 Verbal Reasoning Sections

  • ~20 questions per section

  • 30 minutes per section

  • Tests the ability to understand and analyze written material

1 Unscored Section

  • A duplicate of one of the above sections


You can find study materials, GRE registration, and your test scores on the GRE website.


3. Earn Master's or Doctoral Degree (2 - 6 Years)


A master’s degree in forensic science is required by most employers in order to seek employment in a private or federal crime laboratory.


The preparation timeline below provides an example forensic science master's curriculum:


Grade Level

Example Courses

First Year


  • Crime Scene Investigation & Reconstruction

  • Forensic Toxicology & Chemistry Analyses

  • Biostatistics

  • Genetics

  • Equilibrium & Analysis

  • Law & Ethics

  • Principles of Pharmacology

  • Forensic Serology

  • Forensic Chemistry

  • Forensic Microscopy 

Second Year

  • Forensic Toxicology

  • Human Molecular Biology

  • Forensic Trace Evidence Analysis

  • Advanced Forensic Chemistry

  • Quality Management

  • Graduate Practicum in Forensic Chemistry

  • Research Project in Forensic Chemistry