"When you're sitting in front of a fireplace and you feel the warmth of the fire, that is a form of radiative heat transfer," he explained. "Heat can be transferred by molecules touching each other or by electromagnetic waves."
Modest's research has helped engineers and scientists better understand and advance its potential applications in a number of areas, including combustion systems in the aerospace industry. His textbook on radiative heat transfer is widely used by engineering educators around the globe.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers is assembling a special issue of the Journal of Heat Transfer in honor of Modest's 65th birthday, including a citation honoring his many significant contributions in engineering. Additionally, a symposium was held in his honor in July during the group's 2009 Summer Heat Transfer Conference held in San Francisco.
Modest joined UC Merced's School of Engineering this year after spending 22 years at Pennsylvania State University. "I wanted to do something different in a new place," Modest explained.
His attention turned to the West Coast, to which he was no stranger. During his collegiate career, Modest attended UC Berkeley, where he earned his master's and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering . While there, he met thermal scientist Chang-Lin Tien, who became his adviser. Tien, who later served as UC Berkeley's seventh chancellor, gave Modest some work involving radiation and he has maintained his interest in the field ever since.
Modest's passion for science and math drew him to study mechanical engineering. "I always liked math," he said. "I eat it for breakfast."
Born and raised in Germany, he completed his undergraduate degree at the Technical University of Munich. After he finished his Ph.D., Modest spent two years at NASA'S Johnson Space Center in Texas as a postdoctoral research associate. He returned to the Bay Area for a year after landing a lecturer position at San Francisco State University. After that, Modest held teaching positions at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and the University of Southern California before he was offered a position at Penn State.
Since joining UC Merced, Modest has been busy teaching, establishing his lab and continuing his research in thermal radiation. He's also collaborating on projects at Edwards Air Force Base in Lancaster and at CFD Research Corporation, a company that creates engineering simulations and innovative designs for aerospace, defense, biomedical and life sciences, and energy and materials technologies.