College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Michael Bartlett: Innovating soft materials with unconventional properties

bartlett-head-shot-iMichael Bartlett, assistant professor in materials science and engineering, brings his research on soft, bio-inspired materials to Iowa State.

Bartlett completed his Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. From the research he performed as a graduate student, he developed a strong, reusable adhesive inspired by the gecko’s toe. Named Geckskin, this material can hold up to 700 lbs. on a smooth wall while still being able to be released effortlessly and reused. His research has already seen attention on large networks such as the Discovery Channel, NPR and multiple print news outlets.

After his success as a Ph.D. student, Bartlett worked as a senior research engineer in the Corporate Research Laboratory at 3M, exploring polymer fabrication and processing techniques to create micro-structured polymer films and materials. Bartlett also held a postdoctoral position at Carnegie Mellon University, studying the mechanics and physics of multifunctional composites for applications in emerging fields such as soft robotics.

Now Bartlett is looking forward to beginning his career as a professor, where he can teach and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. He also has taken the honor of leading a research group to explore interdisciplinary and bio-inspired topics in soft materials, mechanics and multifunctional composites. He says his research will study and exploit the fascinating interplay between material composition, geometry and programmed deformations to guide the creation of materials and structures for crucial technologies.

“When I was a graduate student, I worked with biologists to study live geckos to develop Geckskin. As a postdoc, I worked with a variety of engineers from different backgrounds. Both of these instances allowed for the exchange of ideas and knowledge. I hope to bring that same environment here to Iowa State,” he says.

Bartlett plans to use his work to create soft materials that have unconventional properties including ‘smart’ adhesives, deformable electronics and robotics, and materials that adapt their properties, structure, and response on demand.

On top of his research, Bartlett is also teaching a senior level class on the mechanical behavior of materials (MAT E 418). He says he foresees a rewarding and interesting teaching experience ahead.

“It is an exciting course because you have to connect to the diverse interests of the students in the class.  This includes the challenge of covering a wide breadth of material classes, including metals, ceramics and polymers. This also provides a great opportunity to allow the students to help each other learn, which we take advantage of with team based, in class exercises.”

Outside of the classroom, Bartlett enjoys spending time with his family and his dog.