Some cutting-edging science today relies on the centuries-old art of glassblowing. When researchers in chemistry, physics and medicine need special glass tools for complex experiments, they sometimes sit down with a glassblower to sketch out designs for customized beakers, flasks and condenser coils.
New Jersey's Salem Community College is trying to keep that tradition going with the country's only degree program in scientific glassblowing. Housed among corn and soybean fields about an hour south of Philadelphia, the school's Glass Education Center in Alloway, N.J., specializes in one of the most popular materials in a research lab.
"It's clear. You can see what the experiments are doing. It holds no chemical history. And it can be shaped into any form you like," explains Dennis Briening, the instructional chair of the college's two-year scientific glass technology program. "Whatever your imagination is, it can be made."
His students learn how to make tools for research universities and glass manufacturers at workbenches across a row of glowing furnaces....So, here's my question: is there demand for scientific glassblowers? Would you recommend someone become a scientific glassblower as a career? How many openings are there a year for scientific glassblowers? My thoughts:
- This seems to me a field with a very limited number of standard, benefits-providing full-time positions. You probably have to be a decently large Ph.D.-granting institution to employ one glassblower with their shop. I estimate that there are less than 400 full-time scientific glassblowers in this country.
- There's not a lot of evidence, one way or another, as to what job growth might be.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook is pretty silent, classifying glass workers under "artists".(I could believe there are plenty of amateur glassblowers who are good at making various smoking implements; I don't think they're qualified for scientific glassblowing, but maybe I'm wrong.)
- Never mind! I've figured it out - the Occupational Outlook Handbook calls glassblowers "Molders, Shapers, and Casters, Except Metal and Plastic". There are 4,000 of them working for glass manufacturers - would be interesting to know how many work for Ace or ChemGlass.
- It seems to me that the real requirement for bespoke laboratory glassware is something that the folks at ChemGlass or Ace could easily handle.