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MacGyver with Sense of Adventure

Brad Gardner thinks outside the box—whether he’s keeping IT equipment in tip-top shape in UT’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, maneuvering rapids while fishing from a kayak, or taking a whirlwind 36-hour sightseeing trip to Washington, D.C.

Gardner is a senior IT technologist II in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He’s held the job for 33 years and was honored with the 2022 College of Arts and Sciences’ technical support award.

“If it’s computer-, printer-, audio-visual-, or software-related, I deal with it,” he said. “It’s critical to keep (the technology) running and running fast.”

A colleague who nominated him for the college award explained: “Reliable IT is essential to the function of any department, but it is especially important for physics. Everything revolves around efficient number-crunching, from small-scale student labs to large supercomputer projects. Brad goes above and beyond and is essential to the smooth running of all aspects of the department.”

Gardner’s job often involves more than typical IT work.

Over the winter break, frozen pipes burst and flooded parts of the Nielsen Physics Building. Gardner spent several weeks cleaning up the mess and repairing labs for the start of spring semester classes.

Sometimes Gardner’s work requires him to channel his inner MacGyver to prevent problems.

For example, the modern physics lab uses an enormous magnet. The device’s power supply can easily overheat, causing irreparable damage, if it’s not cooled by running water. To prevent accidental disaster, Gardner fashioned an interlock that required users to turn on the water in order to turn on the power supply.

Gardner said he’s loved technology since he was a kid growing up in Blount County.

He’d borrow parts from one thing to fix another. He’d use small electronics to motorize his Lego creations.

“I took everything apart,” he said. “My mother would get so upset with me.”

After completing his studies at the Tennessee Institute of Electronics, Gardner went to work for a local computer company.

Gardner and his wife, Tracy, were dating at the time—sweethearts since meeting in driver’s education at Heritage High School in Blount County—and he had promised they’d marry once he found a good job with benefits.

Tracy, who was working at UT at the time, told him about a campus opening for an electronics technologist. Gardner applied and was hired. Seven months later, the couple married.

The Gardners still live near Maryville. They have two grown children and are looking forward to the birth of their first grandchild.

When Gardner isn’t working, he enjoys golfing and fishing the area’s rivers and lakes. He’s recently started using a kayak for river fishing.

It requires balance, vigilance, and the occasional need to traverse rapids, but “you can reach places you can’t get to on foot,” he said.

His quest for fun once resulted in a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C.

A few years ago, he and a co-worker left work on a Tuesday night and caught a Megabus to the nation’s capital. When they arrived the next morning, they rented bicycles and spent their day off visiting monuments and museums. Late that night, they caught a Megabus back to Knoxville so they could make it to work Thursday morning.

“It was an adventure, to say the least,” Gardner said.

Story By Amy Blakely