Analytical Chemist reflects on time in DHS Transportation Security Laboratory Program Meet Joe Worthington

Joe Worthington is a current employee at Signature Science and former participant in the DHS Transportation Security Laboratory Program. (Photo Credit: Amanda Werner)

Joe Worthington was inspired by his middle school science teacher to learn the science of how things are and why they are. As his fascination grew, Worthington decided to pursue a degree in chemistry.  

“I always enjoyed the challenges that came along with pursuing a career in chemistry, whether that was in achieving my degree or in my current career path,” he said. “The challenges and persistence required in this field are what make achievement and success feel that much better.” 

While studying chemistry at Stockton University in 2015, Worthington was recommended the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL) program by his research professor, Marc Richard, Ph.D.  

The program is designed to provide opportunities for research, development and education on DHS mission-relevant science for academics on multiple levels, ranging from undergraduates and graduate students to postdoctoral students and visiting faculty members. The program seeks to enhance the quantity, quality and diversity of the future DHS scientific and engineering workforce. 

During his appointment, Worthington completed a research project on a standardized method for the collection efficiency of sampling media for contraband on substrates of high interest. To conduct the research, he first had to determine the physical characteristics of the sampling media and substrates by examining contact angles, hardness and coefficients of friction for each material. Each sample was also analyzed optically through a microscope to determine any visual differences in patterns or striations. Collection efficiencies of the sampling media were then determined by performing drop cast depositions onto the substrates and the residue harvested via a semi-automated process. Each collected residue on the sampling media was then extracted and analyzed using gas chromatography with µECD detection. This allowed for the collection efficiencies to be compared with previously collected physical characteristic data collected to reveal any correlations between the two. By completing such research, he was able to help the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with confirming a semi-automated method for determining optimal sampling media characteristics that could yield to higher collection efficiencies. Overall, his research helped create a safer travel environment through enhanced screenings at checkpoint sites.  

Outside of conducting research, Worthington gained other skills and opportunities that he said he was not able to receive while obtaining his undergraduate degree.  

“Throughout the entire program I learned key preparation and planning techniques that involved developing a sense of time management when designing experiments that would reach our objective within the timeframe of the program,” he said. “I still use some of the techniques and skills I learned from the staff at the TSL to help achieve my current goals.”  

Worthington recommended the DHS-TSL program, stating that he would not be where he is today without it. 

“I have a very positive overall impression of my experience with the program,” he said. “The program gave me opportunities to demonstrate my capabilities in a laboratory environment while also providing a sense that the work completed at the TSL ensures a safer and better tomorrow for everyone.” 

After completing the program in August of 2015, Worthington was offered a position in the Trace Standards Production laboratory with Global Systems Technologies, Inc., a contracting company, where he worked in the production laboratory for a few years before shifting to his current role at a contracting company, Signature Science, LLC.  

“The current work brings me back into the applied research laboratory performing similar research to when I was an intern with the program and also providing quality control for test and evaluations using some of the state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation,” he said. 

The DHS TSL Visiting Scientist Program is funded by DHS HSARPA’s Explosives Division and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.