Nigel Barnett has spent his childhood designing, building, destroying and tinkering. He started with LEGOs, moved on to DC motors and circuits, then computer hardware, 3D printing, and now, in high school, a solar car.
Someday he might take his love for building stuff to the International Space Station.
A 17-year-old senior at Seattle’s Raisbeck Aviation High School, Nigel is GeekWire’s Junior Geek of the Month for April. The monthly honor, presented by Northern Trust, recognizes talented young innovators, creators and entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest.
A STEM kid like many who have been nominated for Junior Geek, Nigel is particularly interested in the way stuff is built and moves. Learning more about physics and aerodynamics and engineering has only fueled that interest.
“I find that learning new subjects is really cool because I get to look at everyday objects differently and I get to understand how they work better,” Nigel said. “Before, I didn’t really know why you would have to have heat sinks or spreaders on technology components and fans. Now that we’ve gone through stuff about physics, I’ve learned why that’s important.”
Nigel, who lives in Newcastle, Wash., has been taking Running Start classes through Bellevue College and will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with plans to study mechanical engineering, most likely with an aerospace or aeronautical focus.
Nigel Barnett works on the brakes of a solar-powered car he helped build at his Seattle high school. (Photo courtesy of Nigel Barnett)
At Raisbeck he’s been involved in the school’s Green Energy Team and among 20 or so students, he is the main structural designer of the team’s solar car. While it might seem like a logical transition to join MIT’s solar efforts, Nigel is shifting his focus to maybe joining a rocketry team instead.
“I don’t know if it’s fair to say I have a career plan,” he said. “But I have some aspirations for becoming an engineer and hopefully becoming an astronaut afterwards. But that’s pretty up there. I’m more focused on becoming an engineer at this point.”
He said he chose Raisbeck initially because he thought he wanted to be a pilot and become an astronaut that way, but he realized it would be more flexible and fit better with his interests to become an engineer.
“A very common theme with astronauts I’ve researched is an interest for science and an interest for exploration,” Nigel said. “I think I can really identify with those two character traits.”
He added that it would be “really cool” to be able to look down on Earth from the International Space Station. He laughed at the idea that he could someday just spend a few hundred thousands dollars and ride up on a commercial spaceflight.
“I think it’s a bit better if you understand everything that’s happening, or maybe you’re contributing,” he said. “That makes it really special.”
Nigel got a head start last summer on working with MIT when he joined a group research opportunity through MIT Beaver Summer Institute to help develop a contact tracing application to monitor the spread of COVID-19. He’s been into 3D printing since the 8th grade when he first saw a 3D printing demo at a Microsoft Store in Seattle. Using his skills, he joined an online group that was printing face shields to help with the shortage of that personal protective equipment during the height of the pandemic.
Nigel’s mom Hazel Bhang Barnett said her son’s geekiness speaks for itself.
“Nigel hasn’t won any renowned competitions, awards, or patents, but students like Nigel help project teams function, share hard-earned, self-taught know-how for the greater good, and persevere till the end despite setbacks,” she told GeekWire.
Nominate a Junior Geek
GeekWire will feature a new Junior Geek of the Month in profiles meant to capture how they are looking to make a positive impact on the world through their geeky pursuits. In addition, they’ll receive special recognition from our project partner, Northern Trust.
Nominees must be residents of the Pacific Northwest, and parental information must be included for those nominees under the age of 18. Jr. Geeks may nominate themselves but please be sure to include your parent or guardian’s contact information.