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The Art of Scientific Glassblowing



Gayle Price is an artist who works in science. She's a glassblower with a workshop at the University of Leicester, where she makes exactly what the chemistry lab needs.

Working mainly for the university’s chemistry department, but also for physics and medicine, Gayle makes a mixture of standard and bespoke glass instruments to order, as well as fixing broken glassware from the teaching labs. Glass is an excellent material for scientific equipment: it’s durable, transparent, non-reactive, and easy to sterilise in the oven.

Gayle also collaborates with artists, recently working with a ceramicist and a jewellery designer on two projects for British Science Week. One resulted in delicate fungi-like structures made from white porcelain and clear glass, the other a large sculpture of reindeer lichen, rendered in green and clear glass.

Gayle savoured the chance to work differently, although admits it did feel odd to deliberately introduce flaws. “I usually work to very exacting parameters,” she explains. “It was different to be asked to just explore, to not create something regular. And good to be reminded how beautiful and versatile glass can be.”

Read more about the art and science of Price's work. -via Metafilter


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Oh wow! Thank you for the interesting story, PlasmaGryphon.

I guess if you own one of these specialty pieces, it behooves you not to break it as replacements are probably going to be rare (and costly!).
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Scientific glass blowing is a very small field from what I've seen. It used to be a lot bigger many decades ago. But common chemistry glassware products are now mass produced, including some nice modular systems, and physics uses a lot less glass, partially from standardized vacuum components. This leaves just the most custom parts, and sometimes a single shop can supply a whole region.

I tried to actually join an apprenticeship when I was in undergrad, but lost out to essentially a flip of a coin to another student. The glassblower took only a single apprentice every other year and the student would essentially have an extra class for the next 3-4 years. I've met two scientists over the years that did go through an apprenticeship, but neither ended up using it in their career (at least directly, there is a lot of value to knowing how things are made when designing stuff, even if you don't make it yourself). About all they did with it beyond a hobby was sell just enough glass "toys" to pay for their equipment.

The area I work in would probably have used a lot more custom glassware parts 50+ years ago. But the only thing I've gotten from a university glass shop is cut straight tubes because they were cheaper than going out of house and a lot more accurate than trying to do it myself. Modern ceramics and glass optics on the other hand are a different story.
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