Lawrence Bartell was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on February 2, 1923. In 1944, after completing his studies at the University of Michigan, Bartell joined Glenn Seaborg's uranium research team. At Chicago, he researched plutonium extraction and decontamination. He was then drafted into the Navy, and not returned to the Manhattan project. Discharged on disability, Bartell traveled to the site of the Trinity test, where he collected glass remnants created by the explosion.
Bartell was Professor of Chemistry at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor for many years. He published over 350 scientific articles. In 2014 he published a memoir, True Stories of Strange Events and odd People.