B.S.: Chemistry, Arizona State University
M.S.: Forensic Science, American University
What he does now: Lead Chemist, D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences
In high school in Scottsdale, Arizona, Brandon Jones had his doubts about chemistry. His lab reports were mediocre, and he felt disorganized. But his teacher encouraged him to persevere.
“He really was the first person who got me into chemistry,” Jones says. His teacher was a huge CSI: Crime Scene Investigation fan, who made “all sorts of CSI jokes” and declared that his favorite compound was cesium iodide (CsI).
Whether it was through humor or something else, Jones’ teacher succeeded in interesting Jones in chemistry. After finishing high school, Jones earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Arizona State University. He then went on to work at a quality-control vitamin company, where he ensured vitamin products met purity standards and matched the descriptions on product labels.
A year later, Jones started graduate school in forensic chemistry at American University in Washington, D.C. His graduate thesis was on synthetic cannabinoids, which were starting to become a problem around 2012, Jones says.
Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made chemicals that target the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. When sprayed on plants and smoked, synthetic cannabinoids can have a mind-altering effect similar to that of marijuana. People could legally sell the sprayed plants at that time, and research on them was sparse.
So Jones studied the substances in this emerging area, using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). GC-MS is a method that can identify chemicals in a sample.
Jones struggled to find a job in forensics right after graduating, so he took a position as a substitute teacher.
Meanwhile, concerns over synthetic cannabinoids grew, and about a year later, Jones’ experience researching the drugs helped him land a position at Prince George’s County (Maryland) Drug Lab.
Jones is now working at the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS), where he established a dedicated chemistry unit and develops new forensic techniques.