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What Does a Scientific Glass Blower Make?

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I came across so many interesting images last week researching my scientific glass blowing post that I thought I’d share a few more here. This is a blog about imagery after all, right? You’ll forgive my lack of song and dance, then?

Michael Souza
This is one of Michael Souza’s aluminosilicate creations. You’ll recall aluminosilicate glass is a notoriously difficult material to work with and Souza has made a name for himself doing just that. This particular creation is a nuclear target cell for large particle accelerators such as CEBAF at Jefferson Lab and SLAC at Stanford.

nuclear target cell

A nuclear target cell by Michael Souza

The cells are filled with highly magnetic helium gas at pressures approaching 300 psi and put into a magnetic field so as to align the atoms and their nuclei. When the beam of particles is sent around the accelerator and hits the helium gas in the chambers, it smashes the nuclei and gives off quarks. Measuring the direction and speed at which these quarks are dispersed gives us a greater understanding of the nature of matter.

Ozone Reactor by Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass

Glass ozone reactor blown by scientific glass blower Jay Myers for Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass. Photo by George Chittenden.

Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass
This is just one of many hand-blown devices you can get from a scientific glass blowing company like Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass. George Chittenden says, “I think one of the reasons we become glassblowers is the amazing qualities of the glass itself. We take a lot of pride in our work and strive to make it not only functional (and economical) but beautiful as well.”

True to form, the Adams and Chittenden site features a gallery of artistic pieces they’ve created, including these intriguing shapes: klein bottles. Klein bottles are non-orientable, one-sided surfaces containing neither an interior or an exterior. (For an elegant illustrated explanation, see Konrad Polthier’s article in Plus Magazine.)

Cliff Stoll’s Klein Bottles
To quote Acme Klein bottles, “To a mathematician, it’s a one-sided bottle, homeomorphic to a disc with two crosscaps…” [or if you prefer:
x = cos(u)*(cos(u/2)*(sqrt_2+cos(v))+(sin(u/2)*sin(v)*cos(v)))

y = sin(u)*(cos(u/2)*(sqrt_2+cos(v))+(sin(u/2)*sin(v)*cos(v)))

z = -1*sin(u/2)*(sqrt_2+cos(v))+cos(u/2)*sin(v)*cos(v)

Got that?!] “To a glass worker, it’s a major challenge in glassblowing. To the casual viewer, it’s an accomplishment in art, glass, and mathematics.” I’ll say!

Klein bottles by Cliff Stoll

Klein bottles by Cliff Stolll. Photo by George Chittenden.

And just in case you were under the impression that mathematicians never have any fun, here is a meter-tall Klein bottle which begets a clever little oxymoron (if you speak German): RiesenKLEINflasche (or giant small bottle, if you don’t). Check out Stoll’s entertaining account of how it was manufactured.

RiesenKlein Bottle

RiesenKlein Bottle by Cliff Stoll

Kalliopi Monoyios About the Author: Kalliopi Monoyios is an independent science illustrator. She has illustrated several popular science books including Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within, and Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Find her at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Mike from Ottawa 1:57 pm 08/13/2011

    Some years ago the glassblower at the chem department at the University of Ottawa had a demo, including a large display of completed works. It was truly amazing what they can do. Scientific glassblowers are modern wizards.

    Link to this

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