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Calling all chemistry undergrads: We’ve found chemistry’s most underrated careers

When you think about paint, the first thing that probably comes to mind is that 3rd period art class, or the buckets of the stuff lining plastic-covered floors during a renovation. In reality, paint is everywhere in our lives; It’s the shiny coating on your family car, the glimmer on your bike or the durable grey coating on the Harbour Bridge.

“Even makeup that you put on your face is a type of paint,” says Madhuri Ranjan, developmental chemist at Dulux.

“I came across ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium oxide in the lab, and I thought ‘these are the same kind of ingredients that I’m putting on my face everyday!’” Paint uses similar ingredients to what you’ll find in sunscreen or makeup, “but we don’t think about paint like that,” says Madhuri.

The same sort of ingredients play different roles in both products. Zinc oxide in sunscreen stops your skin from burning under the harsh Aussie sun, and works as a sort of protective agent in paint too. Metals like galvanised iron are highly reactive, and will reject regular old house paint causing it to peel and flake off over time. Paint chemists create specialise coatings for metal that use non-reactive zinc oxide to make sure this doesn’t happen.


Why is paint important?

Figuring this kind of stuff out is the job of chemists working for paint manufacturers, and it’s pretty important to get this complex chemistry right.

Big ships are often coated with paints that contain special types of silicone or fluoropolymer that give a slick surface. Barnacles can’t attach themselves, and it reduces friction for the ship when travelling across the water. That can reduce fuel consumption by up to 40%, compared to ships without this special coating. That means less pollution for the earth, and cheaper cruises for your family. Win-win!


What do chemistry jobs in the paint industry look like?

90% of paint used nationally is manufactured right here in Australia. That means heaps of employment opportunities; over 7,500 people are employed in Australia to produce $2.7 billion worth of surface coating products per year. Paint doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon, so chemistry roles in the paint industry rate highly for job security, too.

If you’re considering chemistry jobs in the paint industry, there are plenty of options. Here are just a few:

1. Research and development.

Research and development, or R&D, is the first step in creating paint. These paint chemistry jobs include developing interior paints with fancy finishes, or creating extreme temperature-resistant coatings for the aerospace industry. Even spaceships need a lick of paint!

Here you’re working in a lab, using chemistry to bring new ideas to life, or testing your formulas to ensure they stand up to scrutiny.

2. Manufacturing

The research you do in the lab needs to be scaled up for it to work in manufacturing. Here is where paint chemists ensure products are going to do what they claim to, and that nothing goes wrong on the production line. This is done with quality control tests carried out by paint chemists.

3. Sustainability

The Australian Paint Manufacturers’ Federation is spearheading initiatives for a more sustainable paint industry. Companies under the organisation are developing formulas that use more renewable resources, and through the industry’s sustainable waste program, Paintback. Wasted paint and cans are responsibly reused, recycled or disposed. Paintback is also researching new ways to repurpose unwanted paints to avoid waste going to landfill.


How do I get there?

You won’t be hard pressed to find graduate programs, apprenticeships and paint chemistry jobs in industry, predominantly offered to students with degrees in chemistry, science or engineering.

Click here to discover graduate programs and paint chemistry job opportunities from APMF members Azko Nobel, DuluxGroup and Haymes Paint.

Discover more about career opportunities in the paint industry here.


This article has been developed in partnership with the Australian Paint Manufacturers’ Federation.

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