A touch of glass
At this most modern of universities, with its particle accelerators, radiochemistry facility, and stem cell center, a lone craftsman in a small workshop helps unravel today’s scientific mysteries using techniques developed centuries ago.
Daryl Smith is Yale’s scientific glass blower. At the Yale Glass Shop in the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, Smith helps scientists and researchers design the equipment they need for their experiments. “Anything they see in a catalog I can make and customize to fit their specific needs,” said Smith, who came to Yale in 2005 after working for private glass companies. He completed his undergraduate degree in aquaculture from Texas A&M University in College Station and studied scientific glass technology at Salem Community College in Carneys Point, N.J. “I like working with my hands,” he said, “but I like the science part of it, too.”
Smith also teaches a semesterlong course titled “Introduction to Scientific Glass Blowing,” which focuses on the dexterity needed to be a glass blower as well as the tools and materials. Last spring, his six students watched a brief demonstration by Smith before beginning their final project, a Hero’s engine—a device invented by Hero of Alexandria around A.D. 10 that propels itself by shooting steam from one or more orifices.
Many research universities outsource their glasswork to private companies, but Smith can meet face to face with researchers to develop customized products, and he can create or repair a device the same day if necessary. But perhaps most important, Smith’s loyalty is to Yale, so when he and a researcher develop a new design, he treats it as proprietary information; he won’t share it as an outside contractor might.
When Smith isn’t creating or repairing scientific equipment at Yale, he enjoys the artistic side of glass blowing, creating glass ornaments and gifts at his home studio. Not surprisingly, the Christmas season is his busiest time. “You’ll find me sitting in front of my bench torch,” he said, “instead of going to the mall.”
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