Cool Jobs Q&A: Scientific glass blower

Work is both hot and cool when you're a scientific glass technician


Photograph by Chris Bolin


  • Scientific glass technician, University of Alberta
  • Average yearly income: $60,000-$100,000

How did you get into this field?

My main motivation was being able to create something with my hands. I could also see it was a unique opportunity. There are not that many of us.

What education or skills do you have?

I went straight into apprenticeship out of high school and learned from the glass-blower of 34 years at the university. It takes in the neighbourhood of five years. One college, Salem Community College in New Jersey, has a program in scientific glass technology.

Describe a typical day on the job.

Overnight, I will have annealed my glassware in an oven. I unload the annealing oven and prepare the glassware for the clients to pick up. I’ll discuss future projects with clients, repair apparatus that has been broken, make new items for people. If the researcher needs something more advanced than a beaker or test tube, I make him or her special tools or instruments. At the conclusion of the day, everything that gets produced has to be strain-relieved, or annealed, overnight.

What is your most memorable moment?

Being able to produce things that researchers have drawn, or imagined, or described to you. And then you see the look on their face when it’s how they imagined it. I made a geyser for a graduate student. It’s a vessel that contains a superheated liquid, and it’s for the detection of dark matter particles.

What are the pros and cons?

It can be hot and frustrating. It takes a long time to master. My favourite part is getting researchers out of a bind. If they have something that’s broken that’s impeding their research, I can fix that and they can go back to work.

Do you have advice for would-be technicians?

You need to have determination. You have to be very patient. You have to have good coordination. You have to have good problem-solving skills and visualization skills. You have to be focused, careful and aware of your surroundings. There is high probability of injury if you’re not careful. I work with sharp objects, fire and molten glass, which is hot.

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