ME professor studies biological aspects of mechanical engineering

Mechanical engineering assistant professor Sarah Bentil
Prof. Sarah Bentil presented the first seminar of the semester for the Mechaical Engineering Graduate Student Organization (MEGSO) on Sept. 8, 2016 in Black Engineering Building. Her presentation was entitled “Characterizing the Mechanical Behavior of Soft Materials.” Photo by Nick Fetty.

While mechanical engineering has historically conjured up images of grease and gears, assistant professor Sarah Bentil’s research aims to expand the field by focusing on what she considers “the ultimate machine”:  the human body.

“Just as with any machine, the body requires power to do work and it can also fail. The objective of my research is to apply engineering principles to soft tissue to mitigate damage and avoid catastrophic failure,” Bentil said.

Bentil’s research interests include soft tissue biomechanics and biomaterials. Her current research projects examine brain injury mechanisms due to both blast and blunt impact.

“We apply mechanical forces to the brain to study the tissue’s response to these loads. Given the response, we investigate countermeasures that reduce, if not eliminate, the resulting damage to the brain. One such countermeasure is an improved safety helmet design,” said Bentil. “For example, even with the National Football League’s rule change prohibiting helmet-to-helmet contact between football players, impact to the helmet may still occur and potentially cause concussions or other brain injuries. We are investigating reducing brain injuries through modifications of current helmet designs.”

Bentil – who serves as the William March Scholar in Mechanical Engineering – joined the ME faculty at Iowa State University in August 2016 after completing her PhD in mechanical engineering from The Ohio State University and then serving as a postdoctoral fellow at the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute located at Johns Hopkins University. She also holds an MS in mechanical engineering from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and BS degrees in mechanical engineering and mathematics from the University of Vermont. She said these experiences at different universities across the country have contributed positively to her professional development.

Mechanical engineering assistant professor Sarah Bentil
Prof. Sarah Bentil presented the first seminar of the semester for the Mechaical Engineering Graduate Student Organization (MEGSO) on Sept. 8, 2016 in Black Engineering Building. Her presentation was entitled “Characterizing the Mechanical Behavior of Soft Materials.” Photo by Nick Fetty.

“My experience studying at various-sized universities in different parts of the United States enabled me to build an expansive and diverse network of collaborators. Working with my collaborators from academia, industry, and government has turned me into a more open-minded and adventurous person,” said Bentil. “For a researcher, I think these are good traits to possess. Especially in my field, which requires us to develop innovative solutions to biomedical problems.”

Bentil attended high school in Vermont and chose that state’s flagship university because of its small class sizes as well as the financial aid package she was offered. As an undergraduate she strongly considered declaring pre-medicine as a major because of her interest in the workings of the human body. Bentil even completed the coursework to be admitted to medical school but ultimately decided to pursue mechanical engineering, a discipline that she saw as “flexible and diverse.”

Mechanical engineering assistant professor Sarah Bentil
Prof. Sarah Bentil presented the first seminar of the semester for the Mechaical Engineering Graduate Student Organization (MEGSO) on Sept. 8, 2016 in Black Engineering Building. Her presentation was entitled “Characterizing the Mechanical Behavior of Soft Materials.” Photo by Nick Fetty.

“While an undergraduate student, I worked on a research project in collaboration with the doctors and surgeons at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. During this project, I realized that there was a need for more engineers with a background in biology. These type of engineers, biomedical engineers, would serve as a liaison between the technical and nontechnical community of medical researchers and practitioners,” she said.

“As my undergraduate research project progressed, I became interested in developing diagnostic tools and devices for use by clinicians, rather than working with the patients directly. A mechanical engineering graduate program was the best option for me to pursue these career interests, which is why I ultimately did not apply to medical school. The flexible and diverse nature of the mechanical engineering discipline allowed me to pursue my interest in medicine and biology, but from the perspective of a biomedical engineer.”

The Bentil Group is always looking for talented, hardworking, and motivated students. If you possess these traits, please send an e-mail to Dr. Sarah Bentil (sbentil@iastate.edu) with a brief description of your research interests and an updated copy of your resume or CV.