Industrial chemist | Youth Central

Aris, 37

It sounds impossible, but Aris wants to make Australia's farms cleaner, greener and safer from toxic chemicals... by making more chemicals.

Fact file

Job description: Develops and tests 'green' pesticides and herbicides to help farmers grow more food with fewer chemicals.

Subjects studied: English, Maths A, Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Modern Greek.

Further training: Aris completed a Bachelor of Science in Applied Chemistry at RMIT (3 years) and has a Master of Applied Science in Analytical Chemistry from RMIT (3 years part-time).

Salary:  $55,000 a year plus benefits.


Can an idealistic 'greenie' work for a multinational company and sleep at night? Absolutely, says Aris who designs 'environmentally friendly' chemicals for an agri-business giant.

"How will you handle the criticism?" was the first question asked when Aris Panayi turned up for a job interview with Nufarm, an international manufacturer of agricultural chemicals. The young chemist didn't miss a beat. Back then he strongly believed that better, greener pesticides and herbicides would allow farmers to reduce their reliance on chemicals and increase their output of healthy foodstuffs ... and he said so. Aris got the job.

Today, Aris maintains the ethical rage. "The world population is expanding so quickly, we've got to feed all those people," he says passionately. "It's important to help produce enough crops and resources, and to do it as naturally as possible".

To make the point that it is possible to mix agricultural chemistry and environmental protection, Aris points to a project he's got going in the lab: a new formulation for killing weeds along water ways. He claims other herbicides "kill anything green". In contrast, Aris boasts that his prototype weed buster promises to do the job without harming organisms, big and small, that live in streams and ponds.

So Aris sleeps very well at night. Plus, he knows that as an industrial chemist he'll always find an interesting job. For instance, universities, pharmaceutical companies, agricultural product manufacturers, and mining and petrochemical businesses all need chemists. "Everyone requires chemists, even wineries," laughs Aris.

As a child growing up on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Aris - a bricklayer's son - would have been amazed to hear his ancestral Greek gods suggest a career mixing chemical cocktails. But things change. In 1975, 11-year-old Aris fled with his family after Turkish soldiers invaded the island.

"It was a big culture shock," admits Aris. "I couldn't speak a word of English, and the kids were a bit racist," he adds. But things change. The family settled in. Aris made new friends and, encouraged by his parents, he looked forward to an advanced education. "My parents wanted me to do better than they had done," he says with obvious gratitude for their support.

His first love was medicine. But after not quite making the grade, Aris fell into chemistry. It was a happy landing. Today, the chemical convert enjoys the variety and challenge of his work, along with his "great" colleagues. He only has one quibble: the pay.

"Do not choose a career in chemistry for the money," Aris quips. "To do chemistry, you have to like it". Still, he acknowledges that $55,000 per year, plus benefits, is not bad. As well, his work has taken him to Italy and France, and he anticipates more overseas assignments in the future.

Besides, Aris has the satisfaction of knowing his work can make a difference. And of course, nothing beats going into a hardware store or farm supply outlet and seeing his product on the shelf. "That's my Eureka moment," says Aris with a smile that stretches from Melbourne to Cyprus and back.

Job specs

An industrial (or production) chemist supervises the production of chemicals and materials on an industrial scale.

Personal requirements

  • Enjoy scientific activities 
  • Able to think logically and creatively 
  • Aptitude for accurate work 
  • Enjoy laboratory or field work and research 
  • Patience, perseverance and an enquiring mind.

Getting started

Find out more about a career as an industrial chemist:

Royal Australian Chemical Institute
1/21 Vale St North Melbourne, VIC 3051
Tel: (03) 9328 2033

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