College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

New ME professor offers wide range of research interests

With research aimed at understanding the interfaces between humans and materials, Cris Schwartz adds a focus on engineering design to the mechanical engineering department. Cris Schwartz

While completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering at Iowa State in 1996 and 1998, respectively, Schwartz got his feet wet in tribology, a field that investigates the friction and wear of high-temperature polymers.

From there, he began working for the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, serving as a mechanical designer and project manager. The pull of academia was too great, however, so after five years in Texas, Schwartz entered into the PhD program at Iowa State.

“I had a passion for engineering design and had learned many lessons during my time in industry that I wanted to share with engineering students,” says Schwartz. “I also wanted to start performing research without profit motives and in areas that were of most interest to me.”

He continued his tribology research but this time with biomedical applications. Specifically, Schwartz studied the bearings in artificial hips and joints, exploring ways to improve the wear of the plastic surfaces used in them.

He landed his first academic job at Texas A&M as an assistant professor, and expanded his research to include tactility and human sensory assessment of surfaces. He has examined how people can use surfaces for communications through braille, including how to further improve that form of communication to better illustrate concepts in math, science, and engineering.

“I would like to enable people with visual impairments to be able to participate more fully in the STEM fields, and provide them with a way to get better quantitative and graphical information from their text books,” Schwartz explains. “There are many brilliant visually impaired students who aren’t in the engineering field, and I would like to make it more accommodating for them.”

He brings this research to Iowa State with plans to use it and other projects to collaborate with his peers in engineering. In terms of his studies on tactility, Schwartz feels there may be some overlap with the research currently being done in the Virtual Reality Applications Center, and he would like to look into putting the sense of touch into that environment.

He also hopes to work with other faculty members and scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory to explore ways to convert heat produced during friction into a useful energy source.

In addition, Schwartz will satisfy his passion for teaching by leading an undergraduate machine design course in the spring.

“Iowa State is a high-quality and nationally recognized institution,” he says. “I’ve noticed that it has really retained a lot of the character it had from my time in school, and I think it now has even more of a personal touch so many students feel they are valued and important.”

Schwartz, his wife, and their two children are keen about what the Ames community has to offer their family.

“I really love the campus environment and the city,” says Schwartz. “In terms of raising a family, it has excellent priorities and principles. We are excited to join Iowa State and the Ames community.”