College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

For an ‘outdoors guy,’ conducting research in the mud isn’t so bad


Clad in rubber waders, Connor Parker stepped into thigh-deep mud and dipped a test tube below the surface of a murky brown creek to demonstrate the research he has been conducting under Brian Powell since arriving at Clemson University nearly five years ago.

Connor’s work shows that even as computers take on increasing importance, researchers like him still need to get out of the lab and literally get their hands dirty. It’s a great opportunity for an “outdoors guy,” he said.

“I just love it,” Connor said.

On that day, Connor was about two weeks from defending his dissertation and was on track to graduate in May with his doctorate in environmental engineering and Earth sciences. For his dissertation, he collaborated with Savannah River National Laboratory to study uranium transport using geochemical and radiation detection methods.

With his degree program, Connor is helping beat a path that has formed between Clemson and his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.

Connor learned about Clemson from his advisor at Notre Dame, Amy Hixon, who also had Dr. Powell as an advisor when she was a graduate student at Clemson. Now an associate professor, Dr. Hixon holds master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Clemson in environmental engineering and Earth sciences.

The Clemson-Notre Dame connection also includes Connor’s “science big sister,” Kathryn Peruski, who also received her undergraduate degree from Notre Dame before becoming one of Powell’s students at Clemson. She received her Ph.D. in 2020 and now works as an R&D associate radiochemist/radiochemical engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Connor said that Dr. Powell set a good example of how to strike a work-life balance and show appreciation, including a recent text he sent. It was a photo of the blood-orange beer that Dr. Powell crafts once a year, along with a message that it would be waiting for Connor the day after his defense.

“It was neat that he knew it would be something I would appreciate, and this was his way of saying, ‘You’ve done a good job, and you’re almost done,” Connor said.

As graduation nears, Connor is looking for an opportunity to become a postdoctoral researcher at a national lab.

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