Tinker Adds to Planetary Science Industry Through Research


Connor Tinker ’20 in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars Yard, where they test Martian rover operations using terrestrial models.


Connor Tinker ’20, a current undergraduate student studying planetary sciences, first started conducting research at Purdue nearly four years ago. After being awarded the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) Travel Grant in 2019, Connor attended the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

Connor began working with his research advisor, Dr. Briony Horgan, assistant professor of planetary science, during his first year at Purdue. Serving as a member of Dr. Horgan’s research group, Connor spent many hours studying planetary surfaces through satellite remote sensing, rover missions, field work, and laboratory work. His interest in space led him to his current research project, which focuses on studying the surface of Mars. Connor’s research was also collaborative with Dr. Kristen Bennett, a researcher at the United States Geological Survey.

“My research this past year has focused on using data from the Mars Science Laboratory, or the Curiosity Rover, to better understand the Martian Surface and its history of fluid alteration,” says Connor. “Our findings support the hypothesis that the Martian Surface saw multiple bouts of water activity, which brings us a little closer to answering the question as to whether or not the planet was once habitable.”


Conner Tinker ’20 posing for a photo in a green screen Apollo capsule.

While at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, organized by the Lunar and Planetary Institute and the NASA Johnson Space Center, Connor was able to present his research. Nearly 1,800 researchers and students attend the conference each year, representing over 40 countries.

Since attending the conference, Connor’s name has become more recognizable in the planetary science industry. He has continued to find and take advantage of research collaborations that enhance both his career and research project. Connor’s research has grown immensely within the last few months and his research team has been able to involve a much wider set of experienced researchers. He is now working to publish his project in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

“I have always felt that research experience, no matter how early, is the best way to assimilate information for oneself,” says Connor.

“When you attempt to solve a research problem in your industry, your passion and drive for that topic encourages you to encounter so many more genuine experiences that can lead to career development. Research is where you learn how to learn, and where I learned how to be a part of my industry and develop science to contribute to it.”



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