Michael Barrett

Michael Barrett

Research Scientist, Batelle Memorial Institute

MEM'11

Mike Barrett is striking a balance between pursuing his own research, and enabling the research of others. As a project manager and Director at the world’s largest non-profit Research and Development firms, Mike gets to do just that.

At 23, Mike became the youngest and “least educated” person to receive a grant from National Geographic. Mike’s project was to map WWII shipwrecks that posed a risk of oil spills to the fragile reefs in the South Pacific. In the end, Mike mapped more than 3,500 sunken ships, using field-work and historical records. Working at WWF, Mike’s colleagues (Duke alums) introduced him to Pat Halpin.

Working with Pat, Mike created a risk index of the wrecks, now known in the literature as the “Barrett Index”. Mike shared his data with the Navy, and was able determine the types of oil onboard through a Duke-WHOI fellowship.  Unlike most CEM’s, Mike stayed in Durham for year two to continue working with Pat, and to work with Luke Dollar and Stuart Pimm on the Big Cats Initiative for National Geographic.

After graduating, Mike was hired by Battelle, the world largest non-profit R&D firm. Working for former CEM, Leslie-Ann McGee (’96) to train U.S. regions in Marine Spatial Planning. Their short course has been recognized as “the resource” by the National Ocean Council, and Mike was invited to build a similar course for the German government. The course is now managed by the Duke Environmental Leadership program.

But Mike is quick to talk about his other passion—encouraging others to pursue their own science. Mike has served almost ten years on the Board for the Explorer’s Club’s Student Grants, and has spoken several times at Duke to encourage MEM’s to submit proposals. “This is a great program to fund people getting out in the field—many of them for the first time.”

This passion led to Mike’s rotation as the Director of Independent Research and Development at Battelle. Mike also built Battelle’s drone program, co-led the data management for the BP oil spill, and helped bring in one of Battelle’s largest ever contracts, the National Ecological Observatory Network, a $200M project.

A personal highlight was when National Geographic did a story on the wrecks. “NatGeo used my photography in the story, sandwiched between my hero, David Doubilet’s photos. I don’t like to ‘rest’ on past accomplishments, but that—I doubt I’ll ever get a better honor than that for my photography.”

“I’m always torn between the oceans and wildlife issues like the Big Cats, and Duke let me do both on a big stage.”