A surprise graduation

Brooksby resident receives master’s degree at long last

Sara Martin
August 16, 2018

"I imagine there aren't too many people getting their degrees at 90," says Brooksby Village resident Carl Thorsten, who was recently awarded a master of science in chemical engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

It's an accomplishment more than 50 years in the making.

"I completed the classes for my master's degree in the early 1960s at what was then the Newark College of Engineering," says Carl. "The only requirement left was a thesis, which could be fulfilled with a theoretical paper or an actual operation."

Carl chose the latter option. He was working for Exxon in Linden, N.J., at the time and taking classes at night. At work, he saw a potential opportunity.

"A demethanizer separates gasses but loses quite a bit in the process," says Carl. "I developed a process for recovering additional ethylene from the overhead stream of a low-temperature, high-pressure demethanizer by adding ethane to the stream prior to expansion."

Patent pending

Carl applied for a patent in 1963. At the time, he asked his advisor if his invention would fulfill the thesis requirement for his master's degree and was assured it would.

"By the time I completed my classes, there was concern about the confidentiality of my invention since the patent hadn't yet been granted," says Carl. "I didn't want to start over on a new thesis, so I let it go and didn't graduate."

Carl's invention, "Increased Ethylene Recovery by Ethane Addition," was patented on July 26, 1966. By then, he was well into his career. He worked for Exxon until 1986, both stateside and abroad in Caracas, Venezuela, and London, England.

He retired from the oil and gas industry and enjoyed a second career as a tax preparer and trainer for H&R Block until his second retirement.

In 2009, Carl and his wife Mary moved to Brooksby Village in Peabody, Mass., to be closer to their daughter Carol, who lived in New Hampshire at the time but now lives in Nahant, Mass.

Email exchange

"Earlier this year, I told Carol the story of how I came so close to getting my master's degree," says Carl. "Unbeknownst to me, she emailed the college, now the New Jersey Institute of Technology. She told them the patent had been granted and asked if there was any possibility I could receive my degree."

Within a few weeks, Carol received a reply from the college.

"It gives me great pleasure to inform you that based on your father's transcript and patent, he will be awarded a master of science in chemical engineering," wrote Lisa Axe, professor and chair of the Otto H. York Department of Chemicals and Materials Engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

"I couldn't believe it when Carol told me that I was finally getting my degree after all these years," says Carl, who received his diploma in May.

Carol had the diploma framed and presented it to Carl on Father's Day. He displays it proudly in his Brooksby apartment home, a visual reminder of a remarkable accomplishment.

"To think it all worked out because my daughter sent an email," says Carl. "I never expected this twist in the story."