Under a Microscope: PAE Chemist Embodies Integrity

By Kerry McGinley

He’s one of about 15 people working to protect warfighters and civilians all over the world from chemical threats. When Senior Chemist Brian Ritter is on the job, he knows his work is part of a much bigger picture, one that affects not just client satisfaction, but global politics. 

“The lab covers the world,” he said of the laboratory he works in. “It’s humbling in certain aspects.”

It’s somewhat like the work performed in popular “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” TV dramas. Ritter and his team delve into the properties of seemingly mundane substances to determine if chemical traces lead back to information that will support the interests of the U.S. government and the safety of its people.

“Obviously ‘CSI’ is very dramatized, but that is essentially what we do to some extent,” he said. “As a chemist coming out of college, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do something as impactful as I have here.” 

Ritter is part of a team that analyzes rocks, shards of glass, liquids, soil samples, pieces of metal and other items from around the world to determine if there’s a chemical trail that leads to critical intelligence. 

“A lot of these chemicals can be used as signatures as some type of chemical that could be used nefariously, some type of poison that could be potentially used to poison soldiers and other contractors,” he said. “What really sets our labs apart, we don’t just detect the chemical we’re looking for, we’re able to quantify it and give it a specific value.”

Results from his lab enable the client to develop a profile of potential threats or issues related to where the samples came from. 

“We have a site overseas where we can receive samples from the battlefield, wherever the battlefield may be at that moment,” he said. “We’ll get samples that could be helping determine where somebody is makings something that is then being used across a region to harm other people. We do testing of potential exposure incidents, not just soldiers but also civilians.”

That testing requires solid, valid, unimpeachable results. Based on his track record and the training Ritter offers team mates, he was selected as a PAE Values Champion for the PAE Value of Integrity. 

“Being a scientist, I think integrity is kind of the core value of what we do,” he said. “For me, integrity is honesty and bringing that honesty into the workplace.”

Cecily Sullivan, director of Business Development, said Ritter’s positive influence extends beyond his lab. 

“Brian leads by example and this is seen in his everyday interactions in his management and supervision of his people and the other staff across the program,” she said. 

Ritter’s supervisor, Deputy Project Manager David Mood, said his team knows they can trust both Ritter’s ethics and output. 

“Brian organizes and leads our data review efforts to ensure when we report a result, it represents the highest scientific standards and is something our entire team can stand behind,” Moody said.

Ritter said it’s a matter of integrity that he and his team stand by the results they find based on their diligent work. The job requires more of chemists than the average pharmaceutical gig, he said. Because of the nature of the work and the environments in which samples are collected, analysts do more than peer through a microscope and take notes. 

“Here, because we ship our equipment to locations where you can’t have somebody come out and service (the equipment), we train all of our analysts to essentially be engineers,” Ritter said. “All of our analysts are able to break down all of our equipment to electronic boards and put them back together.”

The challenges make for a job Ritter has enjoyed for nine years now. 

“We do so many different things, it makes the job very exciting,” he said. “You’re not doing the same thing over and over again.”