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Darren Key

Darren Key

Graduate Research Assistant


Story by Francesca Pascual

Currently working on his thesis, System Performance Enhancement of Mobile Cooling System with Thermal Battery and Thermosiphon Recharge, Darren Key is part of the team working on RoCo. His main tasks have to do with product development, such as constructing the RoCo prototypes and using a breadboard to run the system. Additionally, he conducts analyses and tests different components.

Engineering is his second career

Before discovering his love for mechanical engineering, Key earned a bachelor’s degree in international business from California State University in 2005. He found that his professional prospects lacked substance, so he began working in construction. Many of his clients were in the technology industry, which introduced him to engineers and mechanical engineering. Feeling that mechanical engineering would be a better fit for him than construction or business, Key decided to go back to school. Key earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland in 2015, and joined CEEE as a Master's Degree student shortly thereafter.

As an undergraduate student, Key became familiar with CEEE when he briefly worked on the Dominion project for power solar cooling in the heat pump lab. He was also awarded the GDF-Suez Chuck Edwards Memorial Fellowship, and spoke to Dr. Reinhard Radermacher at the award dinner. “After we talked at the event, he drove me to the Metro,” Key remembers, “he explained CEEE’s structure and projects, and it sounded like a good fit.”

The chance to travel was a surprising benefit to being a CEEE student

Key feels that CEEE has allowed him to combine his business education with his mechanical engineering skills, furthering his interest in product development. He also feels that his number of responsibilities has increased over time, and has found his growth satisfying. A surprising benefit was the chance to travel. “It’s ironic because I studied international business to travel, but I’ve been able to visit a lot of places for work with CEEE.” So far, he’s been to Boston, Las Vegas, Japan, and China.

In addition to the many opportunities he has been able to pursue, Key is grateful for the guidance of the knowledgeable CEEE faculty. He’s worked closely with Jan Muehlbauer in the heat pump lab, whom he considers the most knowledgeable teacher when it comes to hands-on work. He’s also thankful for the efforts of Dr. Yunho Hwang, Dr. Vikrant Aute, and Dr. Radermacher for making clear expectations and giving him independence.

Key has enjoyed his exposure to product development, and would like to do similar work after he graduates in 2018. “I like having a hands-on project with a concrete end goal, so I’d prefer industry development to pure research,” he replies. He would like to seek these opportunities in Colorado since he will be moving there in June with his fiancé, NAME, though he’ll still be connected to CEEE remotely.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay area in, California, Maryland’s weather was a significant departure from his hometown; he has liked experiencing all four seasons and novel, cold weather. Also, he likes going to the museums and restaurants of Washington D.C., however his favorite hobby is riding his bike. “Riding my bike to work takes commuting from being the worst part of the day to one of the best parts of the day,” he says.