Student Profile - Joshua Barnes

Engineering, physics major keeps an eye on sustainable future

Joshua Barnes has an eye on the future. The Beaumont mechanical engineering and physics major has developed a system to measure the sustainability of the products Americans produce and consume. Barnes said the computer-based program acts as a venue for accountability by providing a system that allows producers to manufacture more responsibly, while simultaneously giving the consumer the opportunity to purchase more responsibly.joshua barnes

Lamar University seemed like a natural fit for Barnes. Both his parents attended the university, and Barnes said he was attracted to Lamar’s strong engineering program. In addition to Lamar’s being close to home and affordable, Barnes found the faculty and administration helpful in letting him know about opportunities he might not have otherwise pursued.

“I met Provost Stephen Doblin at the open house, and he recommended I look into the Honors program,” he said. “From there the ball just got rolling. I would go by his office every semester to talk about my progress. He is the one who suggested the McNair program to me. I think that relationship has been very instrumental to my success as a student.”

The now two-time scholar in the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program said his interest in sustainability developed during his first area of research with mentor Richard Gachot, associate professor of interior design. Barnes wanted to create a sustainable concept car, but found no existing comprehensive program to measure a product’s sustainability, so he had to create one.  

“That is about where my initial research ended,” he said. “I never got the car done, but what I did do was create a system that we haven’t seen before. It was like a ‘eureka!’ moment. I realized that everything we do affects the environment, the economy, the quality of life, and even life itself. Becoming aware of that, I realized we need something better in America to fight entropy. And sustainability is a good way to do that.”

For his second McNair project Barnes worked with Zhanhu Guo, assistant professor of chemical engineering, on expanding a sustainability mapping system from his original research. Under Guo’s guidance, Barnes created a user-friendly Excel-based software for consumers and manufacturers to use to compare different products. The program takes many factors into account to give the most accurate picture of a product’s impact on the environment and human life.

“It brings a lot of things into context,” Barnes said. “Not only does it measure the aesthetic elements, but also how it affects the job market, right down to the materials, whether they are recyclable, renewable, or carcinogenic. These terms are built into the program and are given quantifiable distinctions.”

Barnes has created an online site for manufacturers to participate in his sustainability program. He said he hopes his product “goes viral” online until it becomes as common and trusted as the “Good Housekeeping” seal.

The passion for research came early for Barnes. He said growing up, his entertainment revolved around learning from media he found in his environment.

“As a kid, most of the materials I had around the house were National Geographic magazine, World Book encyclopedias, the dictionary, my dad’s human anatomy and psychology books from college, and the Internet,” he said. “I didn’t even realize I was doing research.”

Barnes said he has found the Lamar University environment welcoming and conducive to learning.

“It’s a great atmosphere from the campus to the students and faculty,” he said. “It really feels like home. Where else can you see the president of the university walking down the sidewalk and have him call you by name? It makes you feel really special.”

As a Lamar Ambassador, Barnes has had the opportunity to network among students and faculty and build lasting professional and academic relationships.

“I didn’t expect for things to happen so quickly,” he said. “We discuss things that are kind of ‘behind-the-scenes’ so that if we are approached by donors or media we can be knowledgeable and confident. It is a lot of fun.”

In addition to being a Lamar Ambassador and McNair scholar, Barnes has worked at Cardinal Village as a Community Leader. He has served on the executive board for the Honors Association, as the telecommunications chair and secretary for the Lamar chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), as vice president of Alpha-Lambda-Delta Phi-Eta-Sigma, and currently serves as public relations chair of Cardinal Village Residents Hall Association.

As the telecommunications chair for NSBE, Barnes made efforts to integrate technology as a method of communication for the organization.

“I got them online with mass text messaging and conference calls,” he said. “I designed different flyers that increased our visibility and membership.”

After graduation, Barnes plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and hopes to teach at the university level.

“I would also like to perform research on the side and own an industrial design group where we churn out inventions and new technology,” he said.