• Question: what's the best speciality for a scientist if you want to try to blow things up, make elephants toothpaste or research wild animals

    Asked by sajsaha1 on 27 Apr 2020.
    • Photo: Kim Liu

      Kim Liu answered on 27 Apr 2020: last edited 27 Apr 2020 1:03 pm


      This nice question realises that dividing up scientists by speciality is not always a productive thing to do! I would easily argue that you can be whatever natural scientist you like if you interested in these questions – most important is to be good at whichever speciality you choose first.

      In terms on what is likely available to you now – I’m slightly biased due to my own background ๐Ÿ™‚ but definitely chemistry for the first two, and chemistry probably would be vaguely helpful for the last! Chemistry most obviously gives you the components of explosives (or why/how things explode), leads nicely onto surface science which dictates how toothpastes act, and could be stretched to discussing high level biological concepts (though this is a very difficult and often risky business!).

      Most importantly however, I believe that the speciality you focus on at school or university does not have to limit other specialities you want to move into in the future; a PhD can turn almost any speciality into something else with a different perspective. I look forward to seeing this research you’ve described in action!

    • Photo: Melanie Krause

      Melanie Krause answered on 27 Apr 2020:


      If you want to blow things up I would say go for chemistry! It might also serve best elephant toothpaste.. for wild animals I would definitely say Biology.. there is a branch that is called Conservation Biology that would fit best.. but if you are looking for a path to study sciences but aren’t sure if you rather want to make explosives or research animals I would say go with a very broad Life Science undergrad… you can specialise later in your Master or PhD degree ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Photo: Natasha Aley

      Natasha Aley answered on 27 Apr 2020:


      Blowing things up tends to be in chemistry, making elephants toothpaste can also be chemistry (to make it) but also biology (to test it) and researching wild animals would be around wildlife ecology or conservation biology.
      The higher you go up in your education the more specialised your research gets. So you don’t need to pick right now which area of research you want to get into, but have it in the back of your mind when you choose your subjects as you go up in education.

    • Photo: Donna MacCallum

      Donna MacCallum answered on 27 Apr 2020:


      You can do this as part of your science job if you choose to carry out public engagement activities (that’s when scientists visit schools or take part in science festivals)… I have made elephant’s toothpaste in a school – made snot (slime) for a weekend at our University festival – carried out PCR detective work to find out what killed my frogs at a weekend workshop – blown up a tin can using custard powder and a candle… it’s lots of fun to enthuse others about science by making experiments fun!

    • Photo: Catriona Aitken

      Catriona Aitken answered on 27 Apr 2020:


      Those are some very interesting ambitions but what an awesome sounding career you’re going to have! Blowing things up and making elephant toothpaste are probably done by chemists so better take some chemistry classes. Researching wild animals would be more biology based, you’d probably be best to look into studying zoology as a starting point. You can’t go far wrong with taking chemistry and biology subjects at school, they’re a brilliant basis for so many things!

    • Photo: Andrew Beale

      Andrew Beale answered on 28 Apr 2020: last edited 28 Apr 2020 1:25 pm


      Chemistry has lots of experiments like this, but if you want to do this as a job I would recommend science communication. You would probably be a general scientist here and your speciality would be in being able to interact with people about science in interesting ways. Museums like the Science Museum in London are great places to work for – I worked there for a bit as a communicator and there they do lots of explosions and things like elephants toothpaste.

    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 28 Apr 2020:


      That’s quite a range of interests there! I don’t think there is one specialty that would cover all three of these areas, but maybe think about engineering, zoology, chemistry, pharmacology, ecology and conservation

    • Photo: Patricia Brown

      Patricia Brown answered on 29 Apr 2020:


      That’s an interesting range of interests! Chemistry would definitely give you the knowledge for the first two, and biology would help you with researching animals. There is no reason you can’t do both! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Photo: Robert Ives

      Robert Ives answered on 29 Apr 2020:


      With that wonderful mix of skills, probably working on TV or in schools on some kind of science show! Not many of those jobs around though. How about becoming a science teacher? My science teachers at secondary school were amazing, slightly bonkers but so inspiring. They often blew things up (although they usually didn’t mean too). Teaching is a great profession and probably a bit better paid than your teachers let on :-). Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

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