While just a glass blowing technique at its core, scientific glass blowing is more of a specialty field than a technique as it’s mainly used to create lab equipment (test tubes, graded cylinders, beakers, etc.) and other tools for medical, engineering and scientific research.
Ingredients And Equipment
Scientific glass blowing combines traditional glass casting with science and it focuses on borosilicate glass (Pyrex) and quartz as main ingredients as this type of glass usually lasts longer than the soft glass used in common glass blowing, and it’s also capable of making larger pieces in general.
Unlike traditional techniques, scientific glass blowing passes through only two heat ovens. It also requires a much bigger force of blowing the glass which is why a special machine (lathe) is used to carry out this task. To perfect the technique, lapping machines are also used to transfer the borosilicate glass drop from one end to the other.
Pieces of common use, such as earrings, come out of this type of glass. Borosilicate glass has very little torsion and withstands high weights if necessary.
Other tools and equipment (other than what’s used in artistic glassblowing) you will often see used in this field are:
- Modern ovens – controlled by computers, these ovens reach over 2000°F temperatures;
- Laser – useful at precision cutting, replaces the scissors used in artistic glass blowing;
- Ultrasound mills – for checking the structural integrity of the glass object;
These tools are usually purchased individually, and their price varies based on size or features.
The safety equipment used for this type of glass blowing consists of protective glasses, thick, non-flammable gloves and safety boots. The protective gear usually varies from one company to another, or depending on the type of work that’s being done. Scientific glass blowing is safer than artistic glass blowing in general, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not dangerous. So this gear is quite important actually.
The main workers of a scientific glass blowing project are the blower, the furnace manipulator, and the one that gives the final finish to the drop. It’s a very small team, but of great significance because each step of this technique is crucial for the success of the finished product. There are some people in this field that do all 3 steps by themselves, but this is very risky and it’s not recommended in general.
Oftentimes, these workers also have an assistant to aid them in handling the gout, and there’s an extra worker tasked with the “aesthetic details” where he/she will improve the finish of the “glass molding” area.
Scientific glass blowing requires a lot of precision because, unlike the glass used in traditional (artistic) glassblowing, the borosilicate glass does not have as much flexibility. To meet the precision requirement torches are often used to make small cuts in the (usually larger) object.
The income of a scientific gaffer usually depends on the company they are working for, or the work available to them as independent gaffers.
Whilst there isn’t a specified salary outline for the scientific glass blower, professionals are classed in as part of the glass manufacturing industry, which has a general average annual salary of roughly 40k per annum. However freelance or contract scientific and artistic glass artists will have a slightly varied income to a salaried employee which could mean the potential for earning is uncapped based on their skills, techniques used, and the number of projects available to them.
Currently, to earn this type of income as a scientific glassblower you will need a master’s diploma and minimum of 1-year work experience in the field.
The way to specialize in scientific glass blowing is through apprenticeships, intensive courses, or special schools. Scientific glass blowing combines art with chemistry, so it’s not totally strange to see this technique taught in art schools.
Some of the most popular universities known to be offering courses in the scientific glass blowing field are:
|Yale University||Arizona State University|
|Purdue University||Utah University|
|Grinnel College||Oklahoma University|
|Alabama University||Pittsburgh University|
Graduates from these universities have the opportunity to join the American Scientific Glassblowers Society. At ASGS, they have the possibility to continue their studies or work as intern in experimental areas. Currently, ASGS has around 700 members, but as scientific glass blowing becomes more popular so does this number increase each year.
Where To Start
A good place to start learning and practicing glass blowing is by reading this guide. It comes with lots of information, actionable tips and step-by-step instructions on how to make glass art from home without burning the place down, getting asphyxiated and without having to deal with heavy machinery or tools you will never use.