A French chemist by the name of Mathieu Orfila is deemed to be the founder of toxicology after he developed new techniques and refined those already in existence to trace toxic chemicals used to poison. At the time arsenic was the primary type of poison and was used to kill all sorts of things, including people. There were no reliable ways of testing for its presence in the body at the time but Orfila refined the existing Marsh test and enhanced its accuracy.
Today, toxicology is the science and study of adverse chemicals, their effect on living organisms and their antidotes. Poisons used in murders, pollutants in the atmosphere and in water, toxins in foods, the reaction of a cancer to chemotherapy and the effect of drugs on the human body are all part of the study of toxicology.
Example areas of study
The following is a list of example topic areas which you may be able to study on toxicology courses. The list is intended as a guide and it is important to check that the focus of the course matches your interests before you submit your application.
- Cell biology
- Microbiology and genetics
- Cellular and molecular pathology
- Human biochemistry
- Human and mammalian physiology
- Toxicity testing
- Mechanistic toxicology
- Environmental toxicology
- Forensic analysis
- Quantitative methods and statistics
- Research methods
- Molecular biology
- Pathology and medicine
- Food science
- Data analysis
- Public health
- Diagnosis and management of disorder and disease
- Analytical chemistry
- Biomedical science
- Molecular genetics
- Toxicity testing methods
Some career possibilities
These include working in the pharmaceutical and toxicological industries, biotechnology, clinical and forensic science, environmental monitoring and control, the food industry, the National Health Service and government agencies. Postgraduate academic research and toxicology specialisation is also an option.
What do I need to get on a course?
The entry requirements for toxicology courses do vary so it is important to check the exact requirement with the institutions you wish to apply to before you submit your application. The list below is intended as a guide to the grades and qualifications that you may need:
- UCAS Tariff: 180 - 300 points including biology and or chemistry and another relevant science subject
- A-level: BC - BBB including chemistry and another science
- SQA Highers: BBCC - BBBB including relevant science subjects
- SQA Advanced Highers: BC - BBB including chemistry and biology
- Irish Leaving Certificates: BCCCC - BBBCC including biology and chemistry
- International Baccalaureate: 30 - 32 including biology and chemistry at higher level
- European Baccalaureate: 70% including biology and chemistry
- BTEC National Diploma: relevant science subject
For your application or interview, evidence of the following could be useful:
- Work experience/work shadowing in, for example, the forensic science service, pharmaceutical or agrochemical industry
- Knowledge of issues relating to toxicology obtained from, for example, TV reports, newspapers, scientific journals such as The New Scientist and Nature
- Further information on the subject is available from The British Toxicology Society
To find out more about the typical subjects you will study, potential career paths and further information useful for your application log-on to Course Discover at www.coursediscoveronline.co.uk*
*NB: Your school or college will need a subscription to Course Discover in order for you to gain access, for further information go to:www.coursediscover.co.uk
Some of this article was developed from You Want to Study WHAT?! Volume I, 2nd edition by Dianah Ellis, published by Trotman & Company Ltd, 2003.