Sal Rodriguez has been named Scientist of the Year by Great Minds in STEM’s Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation. This is the first time that a Sandia National Laboratories employee and New Mexican has been honored with this award.

Rodriguez is a nuclear engineer at Sandia who came from humble beginnings. As the son of immigrants who grew up in a small California border town, Rodriguez was determined to go to college. The now award-winning engineer worked his way through three master’s degrees and two doctorates; he also has 240 publications to his name, along with multiple patents.

Rodriguez says he was inspired to become a nuclear engineer when college representatives visited his high school, talking about their program offerings. Rodriguez says he did not know that was a career option and was instantly interested at that moment.

As a professional, Rodriguez was intrigued by the design of dimpled golf balls. He wanted to capture the technology that makes dimpled golf balls go roughly twice as far as non-dimpled golf balls. Through work with the University of New Mexico, Rodriguez constructed a dimpled rocket, which resulted in a 40.1% drag reduction, meaning less friction.

The teams then applied the dimpled technology for heat transfer. The experiment resulted in roughly 60% more heat transfer than with non-dimpled technology. Rodriguez encourages those around him to be persistent and ask questions. “Everybody has the potential to succeed,” says the engineer.