The 38th Annual Symposium of the
British Society of Scientific Glassblowers.
NORWICH ~ 10th – 12th September 1998
Approximately eighty five glassblowers, some with their wives,( now known as companions, being politically correct ), attended this years BSSG Symposium in Norwich. The Lord Mayor of Norwich opened the proceedings by welcoming all to his city and hoping that delegates saw as much of the area as possible. Saying that Norwich has a church for every week of the year and a pub for every day gave some a very good reason to sample the delights of the city. However the priority was to stay in the symposium venue,( the Stakis hotel, ideal to play host to keeping glassblowers amused), attend the lectures and exchange information at the trade stand area.
The first lecture was given by two glassblowers from English Electric Valve Company. One of whom when living in St Andrews shared ( his words not mine ), a girlfriend who worked at Dounreay. The subject they presented centred on sealing glass to metal, concentrating on tungsten to silica. This is a technique I have not been involved in, although in the past sealing tungsten to Pyrex has been demanded for some jobs at Dounreay. The work is specialised requiring custom built equipment which EEV are clearly the experts in this field.
A talk by the Development Officer of the new National Glass Centre in Sunderland was given next. This opened in June this year with the official opening by HRH Prince Charles taking place in October. Whether he will have a blow remains to be seen! All aspects of glassworking are represented at this Centre except scientific glassblowing. This grave omission is being addressed by the BSSG now.
Closing the first day of the symposium was a short glassblowers forum where many voiced their concerns over the training of future glassblowers. There is a NVQ level 3 for scientific glassblowing but many “old” glassblowers with many years experience feel the traditional comprehensive values of the skills are being eroded with commercial companies dictating only specialised skills are required. It is the job of younger glassblowers,( like myself!), who’s job it is to persuade these traditionalists that it’s not the end of the world.
Retired Culham glassblower Geoff Jackson gave an update of his lecture first presented to the Society seven years ago. This concerned making an item of glass to very exact tolerances. It was to form part of a large piece of equipment, the purpose of which was top secret. A few months ago while watch “Tomorrow’s World”, Geoff was shocked to see his glassware being used to help find the perfect weight of a kilogram by the National Physics Laboratory. The secret was out! Geoff gave a very light hearted lecture keeping everyone amused by telling the story of Harwell redesigning their laboratory complex which was meant to have included refurbished facilities for their glass department. Unfortunately this message was not passed to the designers or builders and when complete the facilities had no space for glassblowing. Exit one sad glassblower!
The Annual General Meeting of the BSSG took place on the morning of the second day of the symposium. It was pleasing to see so many attending. Some having travelled as far as Cambridge,( a few miles down the road) just for the day! A new Chairman and a new Treasurer, without competition, were elected much to the relief of the members present. The new Chairman announced his theme of his Office would be good communications, one step in this direction is already taking place, the increased in electronic messaging keeping members in contact. Both new Officers are glassblowers with over 20 years experience of working in commercial and research environments. I was confirmed as Editor of the BSSG Journal, now in my tenth year. The power of the press is most enjoyable.
The final two lectures on the second day concerned flame control and lasers. The standard of lecturers was excellent except for the gentleman who spoke and spoke and spoke about flames. He never seemed to get to the point , over running his allotted time by half an hour. It was like being at a FCA/SWP Meeting! All lectures were recorded on video. This was my responsibility as BSSG Audio/Visual Co-ordinator. I confess to editing and hence improving one lecture.
At the Annual Dinner and presentation of awards I was disappointed not to win any of the three competions that I had entered. Second place would have been acceptable to me if the winning entry hadn’t have been so average. The experience has not deterred me and I will bounce back better than ever next time. As editor of the BSSG I did get my photograph taken with a trophy if only in presenting it to the winner of the best article written during the year. This went to the only female glassblower present, who currently works at Oxford University. There were several overseas members including one from New Zealand and a group from Holland. Two from America were due over but appeared to have got lost.
The trade stands this year saw several new companies showing off their wares. Of particular interest was equipment that used water and electricity to create a flame thus doing away with cylinders of oxygen and propane. Designed for the metal industry it is currently being developed for glassworking. Several suppliers of glass rod and tubing were present and I hope to finalise arrangements that will considerable reduce the cost that Dounreay pays at present for glass.
The end of the symposium was celebrated by a lecture from Mrs Shirley Palmer a renown glass engraver and a past president of the Guild of Glass Engravers. I was please to see that her and I share the same tools but that as far as the similarity goes. The advantage she has is that of a trained artist.
In conclusion the 1998 BSSG Symposium was again helpful in establishing continued contact with the scientific glass world. I had the opportunity to test some different if not new techniques and learn from the experiences of fellow scientific glassblowers. There is always a question that can not be answered easily however. Once such example is the BSSG have been asked by the Millennium Committee to create a glass ball 18 foot in diameter. This is technically impossible at the moment due to the size but may be possible in outer space where gravity or lack of it could assist. Volunteers to be the first glassblower in space are eagerly awaited