College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Brian Powell wins Class of ’39 Award for Excellence


A professor who has built his lab into a research powerhouse while opening new opportunities for his students and colleagues will have his name etched in stone at Carillon Garden for his service to Clemson University, the student body and the larger community.

Brian Powell, the Fjeld Professor in Nuclear Environmental Engineering and Science, is winning this year’s Class of ’39 Award for Excellence.

Brian Powell has built his lab into a research powerhouse while creating new opportunities for his students and colleagues.

Powell is not only a professor at Clemson, he is an alumnus who earned his Master of Science in 2001 and Ph.D. in 2004, both in environmental engineering and science. He returned to Clemson in 2008, this time as a faculty member.

“I am immensely proud of Clemson’s growth over the last 20 years,” Powell said. “We have realized our founders’ vision of creating ‘a high seminary of learning’ with some of the greatest students, staff, and faculty in the country. Considering the depth and breadth of our impact on the state and nation, I’m humbled to be selected out of our community of scholars as the 2022 Class of ’39 Award winner.”

Powell’s research on radionuclides is helping form the technical basis for designing repositories to store spent fuel from nuclear power plants and to clean up sites contaminated by nuclear-weapons production. His work at Savannah River Site has helped the U.S. Department of Energy save millions of dollars in remediation costs.

Powell has graduated 10 master’s students and nine Ph.D. students since the 2017-18 academic year. Two postdoctoral fellows in his lab were promoted to research professor, and two others to permanent positions.
In those five years, Powell has authored or co-authored 51 publications and has received nearly $5.6 million in new awards to fund research.

David Freedman, chair of the Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, said that in his 32 years in academia he has met very few colleagues as talented as Powell.

“The creativity and dedication that he brings to his research and service are infectious,” Freedman said. “His productivity and intellect are exemplary. Dr. Powell already has a proven track record in terms of impactful service and novel research, and his career trajectory points to many more substantive contributions in the years ahead.”

Each year, the Class of ’39 Award goes to one distinguished faculty member whose outstanding contributions over a five-year period have been judged by his or her peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the University, the student body and the larger community.

A big bell hangs in the middle of a plaza overlooking a library building in the distance
Brian Powell will have his named etched into the monument under the bell at Carillon Garden on Clemson University’s campus.

As the 2022 winner, Powell’s name will be engraved next to those of 33 past winners who represent a variety of disciplines. The monument features a large bell and is between Tillman and Sikes halls on a hill that offers one of the best panoramic views of campus.

In the past five years, all but one Class of ’39 winner has been a faculty member in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

In addition to his research, Powell has served on several University committees to hire leadership, guide research strategy and help the institution navigate the perils of COVID-19.

As a member of the Faculty Senate, he held monthly meetings that gave his colleagues unprecedented access to the senate and spearheaded a bylaw change that affords voting rights to special faculty, helping validate their unique role in the University’s success.

Powell now serves as faculty representative to the Board of Trustees. He has said his goal is to deliver the message that investing time, money and other resources in research and scholarship will help achieve excellence in undergraduate education and research.

Jesus M. de la Garza, director of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, said that Powell is highly deserving of the Class of ’39 Award.

“Brian is an exemplary leader in his field of research, he is a highly effective instructor at the undergraduate and graduate levels and he still makes time for service to his colleagues at the University,” de la Garza said. “I offer him my deepest congratulations on this high honor.”

Powell holds joint appointments with the Department of Chemistry and the Savannah River National Laboratory. He has played an important role in helping Clemson become part of the lab’s new management team, led by the Battelle Savannah River Alliance.

He has also served on several government advisory boards and in executive positions for professional societies.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the college, congratulated Powell on his award.

“Brian is not only a researcher and scholar par excellence but also a servant who has dedicated himself to improving the lives of his students, and colleagues and to cementing Clemson’s status as a top-tier research university,” Gramopadhye said. “He is richly deserving of the Class of ’39 Award, and I offer him my wholehearted congratulations.”

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