Trainee Scientific Glassblower ‘honoured’ to join SOG
A trainee scientific glassblower is set to join an elite group of women who create complex and frequently unique glass apparatus for research scientists.
Stephanie Preston has snapped up a rarely available trainee position at The Heath, which was offered by owner and operator of the business and technical park SOG Ltd.
A highly specialised skill, scientific glassblowers work with molten glass to create everything from test tubes to intricate vessels for use in research laboratories.
As a new member of the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers, Stephanie Preston, 41, joins just four other women who are qualified to produce the vessels and apparatus required – from the society membership of more than 200.
Stephanie was recommended to SOG by her tutor at Le Lycée Dorian in Paris, where she completed a course in making Neon Art (working with glass tubes filled with neon gas to create artworks).
Now she is using her artistic ability to benefit the scientific world by making apparatus for SOG under the expert tutelage of its award-winning Chief Scientific Glassblower, Paul Le Pinnet, who operates from his laboratory at The Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn.
A Fellow of the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers, Paul is one of an ever diminishing number of experienced glassblowers who can meet the scientific community’s demands for complex and often unique glass apparatus which can withstand the stresses and strains of research experiments.
He won the Norman Collins Award in 1983 for making the incredibly complicated ebulliometer – a multilayered vessel used in the late 1930s to accurately measure the boiling point of liquids by measuring temperature of the vapour. The glass creation was made from an old drawing belonging to ICI and is now a test piece for a Master glassblower. Paul also won the David Flack Award for artistic merit in 2006.
His lab is packed with state-of-the-art glassblowing equipment including three lathes, cutting machinery and annealing ovens which fire up to temperatures of up to 680 degrees centigrade to stress relieve the glass over a 24-hour period.
Stephanie said: “I feel incredibly honoured to have been offered this role. It’s a man’s world but the work is really interesting. There is such a shortage of scientific glassblowers in this country that a lot of glass research apparatus has to be brought in from abroad. I feel the concern in the industry that the skill will be lost entirely.
“I hope, at some point in the future, that I will be able to raise awareness and perhaps teach others the techniques used in scientific glassblowing.”
John Lewis, Managing Director of SOG, said: “We are delighted to have been able to offer Stephanie this trainee role in a field which needs to attract new talent and we know she will receive the very best training from our Chief Scientific Glassblower Paul Le Pinnet.
“This further affirms our own commitment to employ skilled workers in the fields of science, technology and precision engineering, and encourage companies based on The Heath to invest in apprenticeships and training for their staff.”
June 4, 2013
The Heath Business and Technical Park is a phenomenal regeneration success story. Formed in 2000, its owner and operator, SOG Ltd, has transformed an ailing ICI chemicals headquarters site into a thriving independent business park. The Heath now provides office and laboratory accommodation for more than 160 individual organisations, ranging from forensic science and IT specialists to website designers and engineering specialists. Over 1,800 people are employed at the site.
The History of Neon Lights
The theory behind neon sign technology dates back to 1675 before the age of electricity, when the French astronomer Jean Picard observed a faint glow in a mercury barometer tube. When the tube was shaken a glow called barometric light occurred, but the cause of the light (static electricity) was not understood at that time. Even though the cause of barometric light was not yet understood, it was investigated. Later, when the principles of electricity were discovered, scientists were able to move forward towards the invention of many forms of lighting.
Electric Discharge Lamps
By 1900, after years of experiments, several different types of electric discharge lamps or vapour lamps were invented in Europe and the United States. Simply defined the electric discharge lamp is a 'lighting device consisting of a transparent container within which a gas is energized by an applied voltage, and thereby made to glow'.
Georges Claude - Inventor of the First Neon Lamp
The word neon comes from the Greek "neos," meaning "the new gas." Neon gas was discovered by William Ramsey and M. W. Travers in 1898 in London. Neon is a rare gaseous element present (a noble gas) in the atmosphere to the extent of 1 part in 65,000 of air.
The French engineer, chemist, and inventor Georges Claude, was the first person to apply an electrical discharge to a sealed tube of neon gas (circa 1902) to create a lamp. Georges Claude displayed the first neon lamp to the public on December 11, 1910, in Paris. He patented the neon lighting tube on January 19, 1915. In 1923, Georges Claude and his French company Claude Neon, introduced neon gas signs to the United States, by selling two to a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles.
Visible even in daylight, people would stop and stare at the first neon signs dubbed 'liquid fire.'
Making a Neon Sign
Hollow glass tubes used to make neon lamps. To shape the tubes, the glass is heated by lit gas and forced air. Several compositions of glass are used depending on the country and supplier. What is called 'Soft' glass has compositions including lead glass, soda-lime glass, and barium glass. "Hard" glass in the borosilicate family is also used. Depending on the glass composition, the working range of glass is from 1600' F to over 2200'F.
The tubes are partial cut while cold and then snapped apart. Then the artisan creates the angle and curve combinations. When the tubing is finished, the tube is partial evacuated of air. Next, it is short circuited with high voltage current until the tube reaches a high temperature. Argon or neon is filled to a specific pressure depending on the diameter of the tube and sealed off. In the case of an argon-filled tube, additional steps are taken for the injection of mercury. Red is the colour neon gas produces, neon gas glows with its characteristic red light even at atmospheric pressure. There are now more than 150 colours possible; almost every colour other than red is produced using argon, mercury and phosphor. Neon tubes actually refer to all positive-column discharge lamps, regardless of the gas filling.
I am available for talks and workshops about Neon art as well as commissions.