Through the Looking Glass
College of Natural Sciences researchers have a secret weapon at their disposal when designing creative and innovative experiments: the UMass Amherst Scientific Glassblowing Laboratory. The lab works with researchers to custom design, fabricate, modify, and repair specialty scientific glass instruments that can’t be found in a catalog.
The Scientific Glassblowing Laboratory is run by Sally Prasch, a master scientific glassblower with more than 40 years of experience. She took her first glassblowing class at the age of 13, and trained under the same teacher, Lloyd Moore, in both the art of scientific and artistic glass throughout junior high and high school. Prasch went on to earn a BFA in ceramics and glass from the University of Kansas, and a degree in scientific glass technology and applied science from Salem College, and started her own business, Prasch Glass. Inspired by Moore, she has taught students glassblowing all over the U.S. and the world, including Japan, Sweden, Ireland, and Italy.
At UMass Amherst, Prasch teaches NATSCI 690SG: The Science of Glassblowing Class. Students interested in glassblowing learn about the history and science of the craft, and get hands-on experience designing and creating their own pieces.
The lab has the capacity to work with all types of glass, including borosilicate, quartz, aluminosilicate, and soft glass. The shop is fully equipped with annealing ovens, lathes, diamond saw, lapping wheel, and a variety of torches. Some glass parts and tubing are kept in stock to keep turnaround time to a minimum.
Researchers come to the lab with design ideas for instruments to help with scientific research. Prasch collaborates with them to design the best, safest, and most cost-effective and reliable instruments that meet their needs. Researchers can even test out instruments created in the lab and have them modified as needed.
“Having this service on campus allows scientists to create whatever they need to run their experiments and is key to facilitating innovative new research that will be published in scientific journals,” said Prasch.
In addition to promoting glass in science labs, Prasch is interested in showcasing the artistry of glassblowing. This year, she curated an exhibition showcasing a variety of glassblowing projects, called, Formed with Silica, at the Hampden Gallery, open through the end of December.
(Photo credit: University Relations Marcom Group)
This story was originally published in October 2021.