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What can I do as a non-professional chemist that is legal?

If a license is not required, then what are the advantages to having one, such as ordering compounds, getting a job, etc.?

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closed as too broad by Jan, Wildcat, bon, TIPS, ron Oct 9 '15 at 16:46

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This will depend entirely on what country you are living in. – bon Oct 9 '15 at 16:23
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Note that being a chemist doesn't require any kind of state license or the like in Germany, neither.

But buying dangerous* substances and running a chemical lab requires that you** have certain licenses and implement safety standards. Some of these exams a chemist has to pass during studies (e.g. on toxicology and chemical substances legislation) so having a Master/Diplom in chemistry automatically means that you have those licenses.

Having this license (Chemikaliensachkunde) and being reliable (legal meaning) and of age are legal requirements you must meet in order to be allowed to buy dangerous substances. In practice however, the suppliers put another very practical additional need: they usually do mail orders only B2B and require you to have VAT/USt number.
So if I as a small-scale freelancer who fulfills all the legal requirements want to buy from say, Sigma, I don't get anything because I don't have the tax number (for my size of side-business it would be too much hassle to go through this, so I use the small business exemtion law and for the supplier it would be too much hassle to make sure the buyer fulfills the legal requirements if it isn't at least a certain business size).

As a private person, you can buy chemicals:

  • at the pharmacy
  • at specialized stores, e.g.
    • photography chemicals at a good photography stores
    • carbide at a speleology outfitter's
    • gases (possibly including dry ice) at a gas merchant's, etc.
  • you basically cannot buy dangerous substances by mail/online order (too much burocratic hassle: the seller would need to make sure of your identity and Chemikaliensachkunde etc.)
  • I've never tried to buy privately anything that requires the Chemikaliensachkunde e.g. at a pharmacy so I cannot tell how difficult that is in practice.

* As a rule of thumb, there are restrictions for substances (or mixtures) that are extremely flammable, oxidizing, toxic or very toxic, (suspected of being) carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic (plus a bunch of listed things)

** or some employee of yours

However, you can of course work as a chemist without (much or even any) need to handle dangerous substances. For example, I'm analytical chemist / spectroscopist / chemometrician. About 90 % of my work is in front of a computer analysing measurement data, developing improved ways of doing so and writing reports/papers. At least half of the rest is in front of a computer programming instruments. I've handled exactly one dangerous substance according to chemicals legislation at two days (actually a sample of few μg I got for analysis) during the last year. The everyday stuff I handle (methanol, ethanol, isopropanol, disinfectant solution and cyclo-hexane and paracetamol=acetaminophen as calibration standards) are not legally restricted dangerous chemicals.
I do handle biohazard material far more often - but that is not what the Chemikaliensachkunde is good for. So for my work, the more relevant safety issues are biological/human material safety and laser safety... It would be quite easy not to have any chemical lab exposure (is seldom enough as it is... - but hey, what did I become chemist for?)

Also I have some colleagues doing the same type of work who are not chemists but e.g. physicists and thus do not have the Chemikaliensachkunde.

For getting a job it is obviously of advantage if you can show some kind of education/training that makes you fit for the job. For jobs in chemical industry/academia that is obviously a chemistry degree or training as chemical lab technician, but also related professions such as physics/biology/pharmacy/toxicology depending on what the job in question is.

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Over here, that is Germany, you will hardly find a job in chemical industry or academia without an academic degree (B.Sc., M.Sc, Ph.D) or a formal technical education (typically three years).

Most suppliers nowadys only deliver chemicals to universities, research facilities or other chemical companies.

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and to schools with appropriately trained personel – user4076 Mar 1 '14 at 15:42
Is there a chance to participate in an open lab science project? I have no idea whether these exist close to Sedona. Is there any university closer than Tempe? – Klaus Warzecha Mar 1 '14 at 17:00
There's Northern Arizona University in Flag, but I assume you have to pay tuition to use their labs. – Enjoys Math Mar 2 '14 at 16:29
Many suppliers anyways are B2B and don't deliver if the reciepient doesn't have a VAT (USt) number... (says the professional chemist with a freelancing side business that is small and thus without such a number) – cbeleites Mar 2 '14 at 22:01

Chemists are not licensed in the US. A non-degreed "chemist" is at best a technician. Homeland Severity bars purchase of chemicals (anything requiring a Material Safety Data Sheet) except for academia, corporations, and tis own pseudopodia. OSHA (Occupational and Safety Health Administration) can declare a "hazard." That can be a $10,000/incident-day fine, plus confiscation and closure. All this is done above the law. No prior police or court intervention is necessary.

Then the real terror begins - the War on Drugs.

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How is this 100% accurate - since you can obviously buy Red Devil Lye for making soap and Muriatic acid for doing tile work, both of which obviously have a Mat Safety Datasheet somewhere? – Enjoys Math Mar 2 '14 at 16:32
A consumer item requires no MSDS. The US is astoundingly corrupt by convenience and payoff. Note that BHT food preservative is two steps away from hypertoxic SF6849. Potato chips. – Uncle Al Mar 3 '14 at 18:58

While there are many great answers here, just to be sure let's point out some implicit restrictions. While in general being a Chemist may not need a licence, you are still responsible for what you may obtain as the result of the experiment:

  • you are still responsible for your own and others safety, and property, in case of an accident,
  • you still cannot prepare drugs and other illegal substances, and you can be punished even if you didn't use or sell it.

So e.g. while obtaining NaOH is legal, you still can badly hurt yourself or others if you make soap based on Youtube videos, and you will be responsible for it. Similarly, preparing explosives or making fireworks can land you in jail depending on the country.

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