Dwight Cooke may be 24, but his career is just heating up.
Cooke, a master's student in mechanical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology and a Castleton native, is making a name for himself for his research into the dynamics of heat transfer. For the second year in a row, he won top prize in the graduate student category at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society Conference, held in November in Albuquerque, N.M.
In the paper, "Pool Boiling Heat Transfer Over Micro-grooved Surfaces," Cooke evaluated electronic chips with varying surface geometries under boiling conditions to test how efficiently they transferred heat.
His research could be commercially significant, he said, because the electronics industry is concerned with ensuring that integrated circuits and computer processors resist overheating.
"I wasn't really expecting to win it the second time," Cooke said. "When they announced my name, I was really happy, and it was really fun, too, because we had a good group of students that went from RIT to the conference. They stood up and clapped. It was really nice."
The conference, attended by more than 1,800 Native American, First Nations and Native Hawaiian college students, was established to highlight their achievements in science, technology, engineering and math and to encourage them to become leaders in their tribal communities.
For Cooke, the trip was a chance to connect with young academics from similar backgrounds. "'Where are you from? What's your tribal affiliation? What graduate program are you in, master's or Ph.D.?'" he recalled them asking each other. "It seems that everyone's in the same boat."
Cooke, born in Castleton, is Native American on his father's side and Irish/German on his mother's. He belongs to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, whose reservation is near the Canadian border. There he has some three dozen relatives whom he visits a few times each year.
Cooke recalls that he and his brother and sister were the only students of Native American descent at Maple Hill High School, where he played soccer and developed a keen interest in the hard sciences. "Even going through middle school and high school, I just found that science and math came pretty easy to me," he said.
After graduating in 2004, he enrolled in the Rochester Institute of Technology. Mechanical engineering as a major came as an intuitive choice, since his uncle and grandfather were both engineers.
Seeking to gain experience in a laboratory, Cooke met Satish Kandlikar, a mechanical engineer professor. Together, they went on to publish papers on hydrogen fuel cells and heat transfer in prestigious science journals, the latter of which resulted in Cooke's latest award.
In continuing this line of research, Cooke believes that about a month ago he conducted a heat transfer whose level of efficiency was three times greater than the norm.
Kandlikar describes Cooke as among "the brightest students that have worked in this lab" in the course of his 30-year career. Even though Cooke isn't sure whether to pursue a doctorate degree or a job when he finishes his master's degree this spring, his faculty mentor is confident he has a bright future ahead of him.
"He's a very dedicated researcher, hard-working, very talented and always willing to help others," Kandlikar said, adding, "He saw all these opportunities in terms of research, and he just grabbed them and excelled in anything that was given to him."