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Glassblowers heat up university’s Block Party

November 10, 2008

Glass is so common and essential to our daily lives that most people take it for granted until they see a glassblower in action, and then they are perplexed by the glassblowing itself.

What is scientific glassblowing? It is the process of making glass forms – sometimes, highly complicated forms – by heating glass pieces until soft and then shaping them, often by pressure from the inside (“blowing”) and joining them.

The glassblower uses a plastic tube to blow into the glass piece being formed so that it expands where it is softest, and then cooling it until it can hold its shape. The glass is then annealed (heated to a temperature high enough to let strains go away and low enough that it can’t flow any longer), and then allowed to cool slowly to room temperature.

Artistic glassblowers are often shaping solid glass objects (not “blowing” them), but rather using amazing powers of observation and manual dexterity to catch and shape forms in time as well as in space.

Many famous experiments that have changed our world understanding would not have been possible without the aid of scientific glassblowers and the apparatus they have created. Some prominent examples include Thomson’s discovery of the electron, Faraday’s work on electricity and Newton’s splitting of white light into its component colors with a prism.

In ASU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are two adept female glassblowers. Christine Roeger, a scientific glassware designer and supervisor of the glassblowing facility, and Janice Kyle, a scientific glassware designer, are two of six women working as scientific glassblowers in a university setting in the country.

Roeger is a third-generation glassblower. Her father Mike Wheeler worked in the department for 30 years sharing his artistry, knowledge, commitment and generosity with the ASU community. His father Joe Wheeler was a glassblower in university laboratories for nearly 60 years. Roeger and Kyle learned scientific glassblowing from Mike Wheeler.

“Glassblowing has always been a significant part of my life,” says Roeger. “It is a very rewarding, fun career and I cannot imagine my life without it.”

Kyle and Roeger not only expertly make sophisticated glassware for faculty and students all over campus, but they also teach a class mainly for chemistry and engineering graduate students to help them with their research. They also participate in several well-received outreach activities during the school year.  

“Another highlight of my profession here are the outreach programs in which Christi and I actively participate,” says Kyle. “Allowing the public to visualize and further comprehend the vital role that glass plays in everyday research throughout the university and throughout the world is personally satisfying.”

On occasion, high school students come to the campus facility to watch demonstrations and learn how to make scientific equipment, such as a barometer in the shape of a swan.  

Kyle and Roeger will be at the Nov. 15 Homecoming Block Party.

Jenny Green,
(480) 965-1430
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry