Meet Steve Killops – organic geochemistry expert

Dr. Steve Killops has been active in the field of organic geochemistry for about 35 years, in both academic and commercial sectors. He is a former lecturer in organic geochemistry and today, Steve works as a senior geochemist at APT UK.

“I read Chemistry at Bristol University, gaining a 1st class honours BSc and followed this up with a PhD in organometallic chemistry. After that, I wanted to do something that was more related to natural systems, which led me to organic geochemistry,” Steve explains.

This was in the early eighties, and the main employers were oil companies who were funding research on geochemical processes and the development of mass spectrometric techniques.

“I then employed the experience I had gained in the commercial and academic sectors, firstly in a small company in the UK not unlike APT, and later as a lecturer in organic geochemistry at Royal Holloway, London University, and then at Geological & Nuclear Sciences in New Zealand.”

He started working with organic geochemistry at APT back in 2005.

“I was approached to interpret data for a former colleague and was impressed by the quality of the data obtained from APT – and that’s pretty much how I ended up here.”

Geology’s Rolls-Royce

Organic geochemistry deals with the organic remains of living organisms and their fate when incorporated into sediments and rocks over time.

“At APT we look at both the bulk properties of that organic matter, including basics such as how much there is in a particular rock unit, to the more detailed interpretation of trace molecules that give clues about the organisms responsible, the environment they lived in and when, as well as telling us about their geological history.”

This helps researchers understand what rock units are responsible for a particular petroleum accumulation and where else they might look.

“The laboratory information system at APT is pretty much the Rolls-Royce of its class and shows me everything I need to know about the progress of samples through the lab. It enables me to compile data reports and I can also look at unprocessed data if I want to see what is going on during a particular analysis.”

Steve says that most of the projects he works on are for petroleum exploration companies requiring interpretation of data.

“However, geochemistry can also help with tackling climate change, by improving our understanding of the carbon cycle and carbon capture technologies.”

Team-work

Although Covid-19 has impacted businesses worldwide, APT has still managed to keep their business going throughout the pandemic. Employees have been working from home since March 2020, but with access to the programmes that they need in order to fulfil their tasks.

“E-mails are the first call, and it is a rare day when I do not have a chat with at least one colleague at APT about a project. One of the great things about APT is how approachable everyone is and consequently how well we work together.”

Depending upon the geochemical expertise within a client company, APT’s work involves everything from helping to set up a study, selecting samples to writing up the final report.

“Although I enjoy the basic research and data interpretation side of the work, I think it’s important to help with the education of others starting out in the field, and it’s been really satisfying to hear how a book I wrote with my wife – Introduction to Organic Geochemistry – has figured in the training of others entering the field.”

Steve’s wife, Vanessa Killops, is also a geologist and organic geochemist and has worked with petroleum exploration too.

What kind of advice would you give people pursuing a career in organic geochemistry?

“Get as much practical experience as possible in the sampling and analytical techniques used, because knowing what can adversely affect your data is a key in determining the reliability of its interpretation.”