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Featured Expert: Jon Thorn: Laboratory Director

Jon Thorn Jon Thorn

Laboratory Director Jon Thorn brings a passion for petroleum chemistry to his work at Battelle. As the Laboratory Director and Manager of  Battelle's Analytical Chemistry Services group, he oversees laboratory operations to ensure that our oil & gas clients get the highest quality data using the most up-to-date analytical techniques. Under his leadership, the Battelle ACS group is working to advance the science of petroleum forensics, trace level organic contaminants, and other specialty analytical services of interest to the oil & gas community.

Jon got hooked on petroleum chemistry when he started career with Battelle as an undergraduate laboratory assistant in 1995. “There are a lot of really interesting things you can analyze for in oils—not every oil is the same,” he notes. Since then, he has devoted his career to the science of environmental chemistry and analysis, with a special interest in hydrocarbon forensics. His experience in his 18 years with Battelle has included extraction and analysis of environmental samples for pesticides, PCBs, saturated hydrocarbons, PAHs, and petroleum biomarkers.

Currently, he is most excited about recent work the team has done that combines metagenomics with petroleum chemistry. These studies combine the biology (what microorganisms are active at given point in time) with the chemistry (what hydrocarbons are available at a given time) to better understand what types of microorganisms “eat” different kinds of hydrocarbons. “The really cool thing here is that every location is going to be different,” he points out. “Colder climates are going to have different types of bacteria than more tropical climates, which will lead to varied times for biodegradation and all sorts of different degradation pathways.” Over time, these studies will help scientists better understand how microorganisms break down oil under different conditions, and how biological communities return to normal background states after an oil spill. 

The ACS group recently moved into brand new, state-of-the-art laboratories in Norwell, Massachusetts, and Jon is excited to expand the range of advanced analytical methods available to Battelle’s oil & gas clients with options such as GCxGC-TOF/MS. “There is a potential here for being able to tease out minor differences in oils from the same field or geological location, say between a natural oil seep and a spill, that traditional methods might not be able to detect,” he says. “There is also a lot more that can be done here to determine potential toxicity. Not everything found in a total petroleum number may be toxic. Better understanding these kinds of nuances would greatly benefit our clients.”