Analytical chemists typically operate at the extreme edges of analysis, extending and improving the ability of all chemists to make meaningful measurements on smaller samples, on more complex samples, on shorter time scales, and on species present at lower concentrations. Throughout its history, analytical chemistry has provided many of the tools and methods necessary for research in the other four traditional areas of chemistry, as well as fostering multidisciplinary research in, to name a few, medicinal chemistry, clinical chemistry, toxicology, forensic chemistry, material science, geochemistry, and environmental chemistry.
Analytical chemistry begins with a problem, examples of which include evaluating the amount of dust and soil ingested by children as an indicator of environmental exposure to particulate based pollutants, resolving contradictory evidence regarding the toxicity of perfluoro polymers during combustion, or developing rapid and sensitive detectors for chemical warfare agents. At this point the analytical approach involves a collaboration between the analytical chemist and the individuals responsible for the problem The most visible part of the analytical approach occurs in the laboratory. As part of the validation process, appropriate chemical or physical standards are used to calibrate any equipment being used and any solutions whose concentrations must be known. The selected samples are then analyzed and the raw data recorded.
The raw data collected during the experiment are then analyzed. Frequently the data must be reduced or transformed to a more readily analyzable form. A statistical treatment of the data is used to evaluate the accuracy and precision of the analysis and to validate the procedure. These results are compared with the criteria established during the design of the experiment, and then the design is reconsidered, additional experimental trials are run, or a solution to the problem is proposed. When a solution is proposed, the results are subject to an external evaluation that may result in a new problem and the beginning of a new analytical cycle.