The art and science of glass blowing


Missouri S&T students work in the Hot Glass Shop on campus. Photo by B.A. Rupert

Many Missourians have long associated glass blowing with artisans who populate Silver Dollar City. But students at Missouri S&T can watch glass blowing — and practice it themselves — on campus.

Missouri S&T’s Hot Glass Shop has many of the same capabilities as the glass blowing outfits at Silver Dollar City. The glass is created by heating mixtures of sand, soda ash and limestone. The shop has a crucible furnace that holds 200 pounds of molten glass at 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a blow pipe, the molten glass is pulled from the furnace and formed into different shapes.

Mary Reidmeyer, a research associate professor in S&T’s materials science and engineering department, emphasizes that you don’t have to be Louis Armstrong to blow the glass. “It only takes a couple of puffs,” she says.
As the molten glass starts to cool, its viscosity goes up and it can be shaped by rolling the blow pipe. But if you let it cool too fast, Reidmeyer cautions, the piece will lose its desired shape.

“If you get it too hot or too cold, you might start with a bowl and end up with a plate,” Reidmeyer says.
Glass blowers like Reidmeyer and trained students carefully re-heat and re-shape their work-in-progress, adding in colored pieces of crushed glass as they go.

A skilled glass blower can usually get the shape right, but part of the beauty of the process is that it’s not totally predictable. “You never know exactly how the colors are going to come out,” Reidmeyer says. “There are a lot of happy surprises.”

Missouri S&T is internationally known for glass science and materials research. Dr. Delbert Day, Curators’ Professor emeritus of ceramic engineering, is one faculty member who has developed new applications for glass, including the treatment of liver cancer with tiny, radioactive glass spheres.

In 1985, Day founded Mo-Sci Corp., a world leader in glass precision technology. Donations from the Mo-Sci Foundation helped make the Hot Glass Shop at S&T a reality.

Dr. Richard Brow, Curators’ Professor of ceramic engineering at S&T, says the Hot Glass Shop is a place where students can discover connections between art and science. “We use the aesthetic appeal of glass to help teach materials science,” Brow says. Support from the National Science Foundation allowed Reidmeyer and Brow to develop many of the demonstrations used in the Hot Glass Shop to make the link between art and science.

By Lance Feyh


  1. Richie Myers says

    Mary! Thank-you for sharing this with us! I would like to see more!
    Take care,

  2. Luce Myers says

    Dr. Mary,
    Excellent narration of an exciting application of glass materials
    on MS&T!
    These are the experiences that truly imprint the way glass behaves in art and industry. The students talk about their glass blowing with much pride and confidence.
    Engineering and Art- a good marriage! Luce Myers

  3. Mike Crabtree says

    Mary rocks!