What is it? Scientific Glassblowing is the process of creating glass apparatus and glass systems used in research and production.
Where is it found? Scientific glassware is found in many government, educational and industrial laboratories. Chemical, medical, pharmaceutical and engineering laboratories use scientific glassware extensively, and almost all areas of scientific research will use glass at some time.
Who does it? Scientific Glassblowers. These valuable allies in contemporary research are highly skilled artisans who form the glass into the shapes and dimensions called for by the scientific investigator. The glassblower usually has a strong background and understanding of the sciences. It takes many years of experience in a multidisciplinary environment to develop the professional scientific glassblower.
How is it done? Using a torch or burner, scientific glassblowers heat, form and seal glass tubing, rod and pre-formed components into glass apparatus such as the high-vacuum manifold you see to the right. Occasionally you will still hear of this style of glassblowing referred to as lampworking.
How does this differ from other glassblowing? You may have seen glassblowers take glowing globs of molten glass out of a furnace and turn them into pitchers, vases, paperweights and other vessels or art objects by blowing on a long tube and working the glass. These artisans use a wide variety of glasses and make most of their pieces from molten glass and raw materials.
In contrast, scientific glassblowers generally start with existing glass parts and use the same basic techniques to create laboratory apparatus. Scientific glassblowers generally only work with borosilicate glass and quartz, both of which have higher working temperatures than art (or “soft”) glass and have desirable physical properties for laboratory applications. But all types of glass blowers are artisans at heart!
Torches are an essential tool in scientific glassblowing. Here we see some of the different torches and burners used by scientific glassblowers:
This image shows a glass multi-port flange top being preheated prior to repair. A burner is heating a custom-made repair fixture from the bottom and the glass blower will use a hand-held torch on the top
This picture shows a four jet lathe burner being used on a glassblower’s lathe. A glassblower’s lathe features a moveable carriage to evenly heat specific areas of the apparatus under construction or repair.
Here we see a typical hand-held glass blowers torch in action. Scientific glassblowers use this particular tool on an everyday basis.
This intricate glass piece is a portion of an apparatus that was used by aeronautical engineers for flame study analysis.
This apparatus is used for thermal conductivity research. The master craftsmanship required to make a piece of this complexity is self-evident.