The Art of Scientific Glassblowing [Watch]

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Walking down the corridor of Welch Hall, you might almost miss the room where Mike Ronalter and Adam Kennedy practice their craft. A bright, open space scattered with books and boxes of glass parts, with smooth guitar music wafting from overhead speakers, the Glass Hall feels more like an art studio rather than a scientific workplace.

Ronalter and Kennedy are scientific glassblowers for UT’s Chemistry Department. Last month, they worked on more than 56 pieces, from simple beaker repairs to custom-built lab equipment. A vital part of the College of Natural Sciences, the shop allows professors and researchers to circumvent high costs normally associated with glass repairs, and it also provides access to a greater variety of equipment.

Jeff Mertz, a senior radio-television-film student and intern at the College of Natural Sciences, introduces us to the Glass Hall in the short film above, which he created as part of the college’s Head Room video series. The series is designed to take viewers inside quirky campus spaces few get to see, like the Lundell Herbarium.

Ronalter—or the “boss man,” as Kennedy calls him—has been working on campus as a scientific glassblower for almost 12 years, although he recalls that UT’s glassblowing history dates much further back. Glass shops have become increasingly rare at national universities, with more closing their doors each year. Although Ronalter isn’t entirely sure why, he admits that the craft can be painstaking. Case in point: New Jersey’s Salem Community College is the only school in the U.S. that offers a rigorous training program in scientific glassblowing.

What attracted him to the profession was glass itself.

“It’s a seductive material,” Ronalter says with a smile. “Clear is beautiful.”

It’s also occupationally rewarding. “You never know what you’re going to contribute to,” he says.“Maybe what you’re making will go towards curing a disease or solving an energy problem.”

Watch more Head Room videos here.


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