David Clarke

David Clarke

  • Extended Tarr Family Professor of Materials
  • Faculty Associate, Harvard University Center for the Environment
  • Faculty Associate, Harvard University Microbial Sciences
  • Area Chair for Materials Science & Mechanical Engineering


It’s an exciting time to carry out research in materials. Not only do material scientists design and process new and improved materials but also materials now pace the development of many technologies, ranging from information processing to energy-efficient gas turbines for aircraft and electrical power generation. But what about materials for the future?  How can we make sustainable materials when only limited supplies of critical elements exist on our planet?

Since coming to Harvard, my group is carrying out long-term research in two new areas: using dielectric elastomers for energy conversion and soft robotics and using microbes to make, and recycle, materials.  Dielectric elastomers behave as compliant capacitors: apply an electric field and they change shape. Alternatively, deform them and they will generate an electric voltage, very efficiently.  (More details are given in the “Research” area of our web-site). Several energy materials – materials that are critical to more energy efficient technologies – consist of scarce elements, elements that have extremely low concentrations on earth. For instance, tellurium. It is used in CdTe solar cells and in many of the most efficient thermoelectrics, yet it is amongst the rarest elements on earth. In our group we are exploring the use of microbes to extract tellurium from existing devices and ores so that this rare element can be sustainably used for generations to come. Our research has also opened up the possibility of using microbes to grow films, such as used in solar cells, from earth abundant, non-toxic elements.

Professor Clarke has been involved in many different materials research and development programs, contributing to ceramics, metals, composites and semiconductors, as well as introducing new approaches for studying the interrelations between microstructure and properties. He is author or co-author of more than 350 papers, holder of 6 patents, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Professor Clarke is currently accepting graduate students in the area of dielectric elastomer and devices, as well as microbial processing of materials.

Contact Information

Office:Cruft 303
Office Phone:(617) 495-4140
Assistant:Jane Salant
Assistant Office:Cruft 210
Assistant Phone:(617) 496-8119
Research Mgr: Alex Yen Yee Man

Positions & Employment

Extended Tarr Family Professor of Materials, Harvard University
Gordon McKay Professor of Materials and Applied Physics, Harvard University
Professor of Materials, University of California, Santa Barbara
Chair, Materials Department, UCSB
Senior Manager, Materials Science Department, IBM Research Division, NY
Associate Professor, Materials Science and Engineering Department, M.I.T.
Member of Technical Staff, Rockwell International Science Center, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Lecturer, Materials Science and Mineral Engineering Department, UC Berkeley.
Scientific Officer, Senior Scientific Officer, National Physical Laboratory, England.

Other Experience & Professional Membership

  • Distinguished Life Member of the American Ceramic Society (ACS), 2009
  • Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1999
  • Academician, International Academy of Ceramics, 1995
  • Co-editor of Annual Reviews of Materials Research, 1997-present
  • Member of the Editorial Board, Cambridge Solid State Science Series, Cambridge University Press, 1993-1997
  • Chair, Basic Science Division, American Ceramic Society. 1991-1992
  • Chair, Gordon Research Conference on Solid State Studies in Ceramics, 1982


  • Distinguished Life Member of the American Ceramic Society (ACS), 2009    
  • Edward C. Henry Award, Electronics Division, American Ceramics Society, 1999
  • Sosman Memorial Award, American Ceramics Society, 1999
  • Van Horn Lectureship, Case Western Reserve University, 1999
  • Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1999
  • Morrison Lectureship, Brockhouse Institute, McMaster University, 1998
  • Academician, International Academy of Ceramics, 1995   
  • Doctor of Science, University of Cambridge, 1994
  • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Senior Scientist Award, 1992
  • Richard M. Fulrath Pacific Memorial Award, 1989
  • Fellow of the American Physical Society, 1986
  • Fellow of the American Ceramic Society, 1985
  • The Ross Coffin Purdy Award of the American Ceramic Society, 1982