Sometimes, if you want to find out more about life on Earth, you have to look toward the sky. As an astrochemist, you'll spend your days peering through telescopes and microscopes, identifying molecules like hydrogen, carbon monoxide, ammonia and water. You'll speculate about how life began on Earth and what life may yet form on other planets. But first you'll have to put in over 1,000 hours bent over books because, typically, astrochemists hold an interdisciplinary Ph.D. with concentrations in both chemistry and astronomy.
The average national salary for an astrochemist is $76,650, according to the website Salary Expert. However, salary differs depending on geographical location. For example, if you live in a West Coast city, such as Los Angeles, California, your salary would most likely be $88,537 -- above the national average. In a Midwestern city, such as Pierre, South Dakota, the average salary is significantly below the national average, at $54,895. On the East Coast, in a city such as Bensalem, Pennsylvania, the average salary is also higher than the national average at $80,025, while in Dallas, Texas, it is significantly lower at $52,282.
Entry salaries vary by state. In Pierre, South Dakota, for example, those in the 10th earning percentile, who tend to have the least experience, or less than a doctoral degree, have an average income of $37,096. Paying an average salary in the $50,000 range are Houston, Texas at $56,921, Bensalem, Pennsylvania at $52,077 and Los Angeles, California at $59,829. In the $60,000 range are San Francisco, California at $69,089 and Washington, D.C. at $69,238.
The longer you have worked in the field, the more you'll get paid, with some top earners making six-figure salaries. Still, there is considerable variation in salaries. In Los Angeles, California, for example, the average salary for astrochemists in the 90th earning percentile is $124,066. Other cities also pay their top astrochemists handsomely, including Houston, Texas at $118,036, Bensalem, Pennsylvania at $112,138, San Francisco, California at $143,268 and Chicago, Illinois at $119,128. Washington, D.C. at $69,238 and Pierre, South Dakota at $76,924 pay their top earners less lucratively.
Astochemistry is an exciting, new interdisciplinary vocation, and the field is growing; however, demand is still small compared to other occupations, which have an average national growth projected at 14 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for chemists, as a whole, is projected at less than 4 percent, with astrochemists comprising a small portion of this group. Astrochemists with advanced degrees have the best prospects.
2018 Salary Information for Chemists and Materials Scientists
Chemists and materials scientists earned a median annual salary of $76,890 in May 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, chemists and materials scientists earned a 10th percentile salary of $55,450, meaning 90 percent earned more than this amount. The 90th percentile salary is $102,920, meaning 10 percent earn more. In 2018, 95,800 people were employed in the U.S. as chemists and materials scientists.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.