Geosciences Department at UMass Amherst Welcomes Structural Geologist to Faculty

AMHERST, Mass. - Michele Cooke, whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all attended the University of Massachusetts, has joined the UMass department of geosciences. The announcement was made by Raymond Bradley, head of the department. "Michele Cooke builds on our existing strengths in structural geology and adds an important link to the engineering community," said Bradley.

A New Jersey native, Cooke comes from a long line of UMass alums. On her office wall hangs a photo of her great-grandfather, along with his teammates on the 1902 UMass football team, outside the Old Chapel. Her grandfather, Ted Cooke, attended UMass during the Depression and sold sandwiches to pay his expenses. Cooke''s father, and several aunts also attended the University. An Honors Program scholarship is endowed in the Cooke family name. "I heard about UMass all the time growing up," Cooke said.

Cooke attended Princeton University with the intention of building bridges ... literally. Princeton, she explained, has a strong program in architectural engineering. But then, she said, "I took a required geology course and realized I was much more interested in the rocks upon which bridges are built, because that''s where the problems get really complex." After receiving her bachelor''s degree, she worked in industry as a geotechnical engineer before earning her master''s degree in civil engineering, and a doctoral degree in geological and environmental sciences, at Stanford University. Cooke taught at the University of Wisconsin Madison for two-and-a-half years before joining the UMass faculty. With her multidisciplinary training, Cooke now builds figurative bridges between the fields of structural geology, engineering mechanics, and geophysics. She teaches courses in structural geology, rock fractures, and geomechanics.

"I''m primarily interested in understanding how rocks deform, and the development of folds, faults, and fractures," she said. The research has several major applications. The first is using computer models to assess the hazard of earthquakes on geologic faults beneath the earth''s surface. "The Northridge earthquake in California was the result of a fault that, previously, had gone undetected," said Cooke. Cooke, who is part deaf, relies on lip-reading, and sometimes uses sign language interpreters. Her only difficulty, she says, is attending research presentations at scientific conferences. "It''s almost impossible to read a presenter''s lips and look at their graphics at the same time," she noted. Otherwise, e-mail makes professional communication easy for the deaf nowadays, she said. In small classes, Cooke advises students to get her attention before they ask questions or offer comments, so that she can read their lips. "My students end up learning a little about deaf culture as well as geology," she said.