I was wondering how Geochemists help society? In other words, how does analyzing substances and finding their chemical makeup help mankind?
Geochemists do a number of things.
They are essential in the discipline called economic geology. Their understanding of both high temperature and low temperature geochemistry help us understand how minerals form from the elements on the periodic table. This understanding helped man unravel the complex reactions that take place in the earth. This understanding in turn, allowed mankind to make great advances in understanding how minerals form and where they form. This includes not only such minerals as gold and silver, but borax (indispensible industrial additive), clays (bricks, paper, ceramics), bauxite (aluminum), and a host of others too numerous to mention, allowing the location and mining of the minerals to take place more efficiently and economically.
Their knowledge also fostered our understanding of various forms of materials such as ceramics, which are made from clays. The knowledge of this industrial science led to such things as carbon fibers, and the development of things like the light weight heat insulating carbon tiles used on the space shuttle.
Geochemists also contributed to agriculture by allowing a better understanding of how soils form and the chemical reactions that take place in them. This helped in the development of both fertiizers and herbicides and pesticides to allow modern intensive high yeild agricultural practices. You are too young to remember, but in the 60's India and Africa both suffered wide spread famines leading to the deaths of millions. This happened ever couple of years. Finally high yeild agricultural practices were introduced and now India exports food. Africa still suffers famines, but they are politically induced, not because not enough food is present.
Geochemists also assist in the clean up of the environment by using their understanding of how chemicals and other hazardous materials bond with organics in the soil and how they spread and migrate in the ground water. They can formulate ways to halt the spread of such materials, and remove them from the soil, air and water to prevent exposure of people to their harmful effects.
Geochemists also assist in the exploration of other planets. One of my classmates in college works on the Mars exploration team, and designed some of the geology and geochemistry instruments on the Mars Exploration Rover. Dr. B. Anderson is his name. We took geochemistry together, I went in to petroleum he went into interplanetary geology.
Energy is another area, geochemstry is used to help find, recover and refine petroleum and gas into both energy sources and as raw materials for the making of plastics. I used geochemical techniques to explore for oil around the world.