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Biologist wonders what math an analytical chemist does on a daily basis


I am a biologist pursuing advanced degrees in chemistry/biochemistry. This is not by accident and I am very invested in making this pivot so that I can study biological systems through a chemical lens. I recently got the opportunity to ask a chemist for advice and she recommended that I beef up my comfort/familiarity with math. Our meeting was brief and I wasn't able to ask her to elaborate.

I have always had a moderate phobia of advanced math. Excepting statistics, I haven't taken a math course since my freshman year of undergrad, which was Integral Calculus. I miraculously managed a B, but I would be lying if I said I remembered anything useful or have consciously applied anything I learned there since then. But it's high time I face my fear and befriend math. I have under a year until I start my PhD, so a comprehensive review of all math relevant to chemistry is beyond my capability, especially as I am finishing up my Master's.

So, I am seeking informed opinions on where I should focus my efforts. Specifically, I am aiming to do work in metabolomics, so analytical chemistry is about to become my best friend. What kind of math does an analytical chemist do on a daily basis? What topics/equations are essential to work in that field or fundamental to understanding how the instruments work/ how the analytes respond to the instruments?

I am not looking to become a mathematician; I just want to know what I need to know so that I can be good at what I do. 

Best & thanks!



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Contributor III

Re: Biologist wonders what math an analytical chemist does on a daily basis

I used calculus more in engineering, and it may apply to some biological systems analysis.  The MOST important mathematics for doing good research analysis is statistics!  Also, it is extremely important to understand the limitations of statistics and the many ways in which it is misused and abused in public discourse.  Many undergraduate science curricula spend very little time on statistics. It is often an optional course for a degree program. 

However, whether taking some more time in school, or going back to take individual courses or seminars later in ones career, statistics is really the one specialty application of mathematics that gets the most use after the fundamental functions.

Best regards,



New Contributor

Re: Biologist wonders what math an analytical chemist does on a daily basis

Thank you! Great to hear, since I am already comfortable with statistics and have done coursework on stats for my degree. 

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