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Sam Jacoby
Sam Jacoby committed Dec 8, 2012
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---
title: A Visit to the MIT Glass Lab
summary: High-Low Tech goes on a field trip
summary: High-Low Tech goes on a field trip. Hi-jinks ensue.
date: 2012-12-04 17:05:59
keywords: high-low tech, mit, glass lab, cane, virtual glass
---
A venture-some crew headed off the [MIT Glass Lab](http://web.mit.edu/glasslab/). In the basement, off've of the Infinite--or more accurately, perhaps, directly below the Infinite. An odd corner of things--I'd assumed that it was a hold-over from the days when chemistry departments blew their own glass and the like. It's in the materials science department, I believe. So it goes.
A venture-some crew headed off the [MIT Glass Lab](http://web.mit.edu/glasslab/) last week. In the basement, off've of the Infinite--or more accurately, directly below the Infinite, the Glass Lab is an odd corner of things. I'd assumed that it was a hold-over from the days when chemistry departments blew their own glass and the like, but it's apparently not. I forget the details, but it's folded into the materials science department, I believe. There is a much coveted lottery every semester, where a lucky dozen or-so get a chance to learn the craft. I've missed every opportunity, unfortunately.
{{ macros.render_figure('<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samjacoby/8252050895/" title="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab by s_jacoby, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8488/8252050895_964870d1d5.jpg" width="375" height="500" alt="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab"></a>', "Fearsome flame fires.") }}
{{ macros.render_figure('<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samjacoby/8252047247/" title="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab by s_jacoby, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8063/8252047247_dbf63a22e6.jpg" width="500" height="375" alt="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab"></a>', "The gang, skeptical.") }}
Anyhow, [Peter Houk](http://web.mit.edu/glasslab/peeps_pbhouk.html) presented some of the Glass Lab's work to [High-Low Tech](http://hlt.media.mit.edu) a couple of months ago--and he invited us back over to his place, to experiment with some new software that [Erik Demaine](http://virtualglass.org/team.html), among others, have been working on. It's called [Virtual Glass](http://virtualglass.org), essentially a CAD tool, that lets you experiment with different configurations of _cane_, and then see how the cane will appear once pulled. I don't know if that's the technical term, but that's what it seemed like to me. Making glass has a lot in common with pulling taffy and baking--at least in these early stages.
Anyhow, [Peter Houk](http://web.mit.edu/glasslab/peeps_pbhouk.html) presented some of his work to [High-Low Tech](http://hlt.media.mit.edu) a couple of months ago--and then invited us back over to his place to experiment with some new software that [Erik Demaine](http://virtualglass.org/team.html), among others, have been working on. It's called [Virtual Glass](http://virtualglass.org), essentially a CAD tool that lets you experiment with different configurations of _cane_ (colored glass rods) and see how the cane will appear once pulled. I don't know if "pulled" is the technical term, but that's what it seemed like to me. Making glass has a lot in common with pulling taffy and baking--at least in these early stages.
{{ macros.render_figure('<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samjacoby/8252050527/" title="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab by s_jacoby, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8067/8252050527_b8093028b8.jpg" width="500" height="375" alt="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab"></a>', "White and red cane, being pre-heated on a blow torch") }}
Erik gave us a quick demo--though the software is fairly self-explanatory, especially after you've seen the cane made--and we came up with a number of designs of varying degrees of practicality. The point, really, was to push the designs as far as we could go--and see what kind of things Peter, Marty, & Erik could put together. This is what I came up with:
{{ macros.render_figure('<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samjacoby/8253121374/" title="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab by s_jacoby, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8065/8253121374_f649ef3764.jpg" width="500" height="313" alt="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab"></a>', "The [Virtual Glass](http://virtualglass.org) software and my squiggly design.")}}
{{ macros.render_figure('<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samjacoby/8253121374/" title="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab by s_jacoby, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8065/8253121374_f649ef3764.jpg" width="500" height="313" alt="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab"></a>', "[Virtual Glass](http://virtualglass.org) software.")}}
The main tool that you have is the distance of each color from the center. When a piece of hot glass is pulled out and spun--I'm sure this process has a lovely Italian name that I don't know--the colors rotate around the axis in concordance to how far they are from the center. Colors near the center of the cane show hardly any rotation at all--a vague waver, maybe. Those towards the edge wrap around dramatically. In using a spiral design, the distance of the various canes from the center of the larger cane varied in a way that seemed pretty cool.
It was quite a show. In corner one, we've got a dual furnaces, each heating a white-hot pull of glass. In the corner, a glory-hole -- an insanely-hot furnace in which dabs of glass are reheated and heated. A blowtorch off in the corner, braying its firey mess. For some additional (anthropological) thoughts on the subject, please see: [Conner, Erin: Embodied knowledge in glassblowing the experience of meaning and the struggle towards proficiency](http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CDgQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.scasss.uu.se%2FIIS2005%2Ftotal_webb%2Ftot_html%2Fpapers%2Fembodied_knowledge.pdf&ei=mR7CUPSeOLGG0QHL0IHICA&usg=AFQjCNEurTuRIijIgxjSkvYBr88V9uoA7g&sig2=OtTGICr3kqIYG77wUhMrdQ).
At any rate, the Team Glass Lab decided to made it happen. There was only about a half-hour, but somehow, they made it happen. It was quite a show. In corner one, we've got dual furnaces, each heating a white-hot pool of glass. In the corner, a glory-hole -- an insanely-hot furnace in which dabs of glass are reheated and heated when on the end of an uh...punty? I may have made that up--a long metal rod, at any rate. A blowtorch is off in the corner, braying its firey mess. (For some additional anthropological thoughts on the subject, please see: _[Conner, Erin, Embodied Knowledge in Glassblowing: the experience of meaning and the struggle towards proficiency](http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CDgQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.scasss.uu.se%2FIIS2005%2Ftotal_webb%2Ftot_html%2Fpapers%2Fembodied_knowledge.pdf&ei=mR7CUPSeOLGG0QHL0IHICA&usg=AFQjCNEurTuRIijIgxjSkvYBr88V9uoA7g&sig2=OtTGICr3kqIYG77wUhMrdQ)_. I read this paper for a class on qualitative ethnography last year. Smutty stuff.)
{{ macros.render_figure('<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samjacoby/8253115392/" title="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab by s_jacoby, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8208/8253115392_20b5c1662a.jpg" width="500" height="375" alt="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab"></a>', 'Something critical taking place.')}}
Watching Peter, Eric, & Marty work was impressive. They zipped around, waving flaming gobs of glass, while we gawked and generally got in the way. In the end, they managed to make one of the designs that we came up with. It seemed pretty intricate, involving bonding together several different pieces of cane in a variety of ways, and then dousing the resultant mess in yet more glass. Something like making an elaborate pastry. The finished cane came ot pretty cool too--this is part of the end, that they let me take home after it had annealed.
{{ macros.render_figure('<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samjacoby/8252044655/" title="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab by s_jacoby, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8347/8252044655_3f27724bd1.jpg" width="172" height="500" alt="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab"></a>', "Ooooo.")}}
Watching Peter, Eric, & Marty work was impressive. They zipped around, waving flaming gobs of glass, while we gawked and generally got in the way. In the end, they managed to make the design that we came up with. It was intricate, involving bonding together several different pieces of cane in a variety of ways, and then dousing the resultant mess in yet more more glass. Something like making an elaborate, deadly, pastry.
I really wish this was in focus, but alas. This is molten glass being stretched out. Peter's on one end, Marty the other. By the time it hardened, they'd gotten it up to probably 30 feet long.
{{ macros.render_figure('<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samjacoby/8253114588/" title="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab by s_jacoby, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8209/8253114588_29474548e1.jpg" width="500" height="299" alt="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab"></a>', "The cane being pulled. You can see the dyes in the glass radiating their heat.") }}
The finished cane came out pretty cool too, though I think, more subtle than we had hoped. This is part of the end, that they let me take home after it had annealed. The finished cane--even, pencil-long sticks--will be used in blowing a larger, finished piece.
{{ macros.render_figure('<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samjacoby/8252044655/" title="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab by s_jacoby, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8347/8252044655_5e42c65c15.jpg" width="500" height="172" alt="High-Low Tech visits the MIT Glass Lab"></a>', "Ooooo.")}}

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