scientific glassblowing workshop
Welcome to the glassblower’s workshop at the Norwegian University for Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim - Norway’s biggest university. Currently, NTNU has about 42.000 students and 7.500 employees.
The scientific glassblowing workshop at NTNU was founded in the 1960s as an institute-workshop at the institute for physics. After a while the workshop was put under the administration of the faculty of natural sciences. The customers are mainly from NTNU, but orders from external research institutions are also accepted.
The workshop has two full-time scientific glassblowers, Sebastian Bete and Astrid Salvesen, who is the head of department. Their paths to glassblowing have been somewhat different.
Astrid has always been fascinated by glass as a material, how one can transform and shape such a solid material with the help of heat. As a 16yo she dreamed of becoming an arts and crafts furnace worker, but at that time no one in Norway was taking apprentices. After a few years, there was an opportunity for starting as an apprentice at the university’s scientific glassblowing workshop right in her hometown of Trondheim. Since 1980 Astrid has been employed at the university, serving as head of the workshop for the last 21 years
Sebastian had originally planned to become a goldsmith. But right before starting his goldsmith apprenticeship, he got the opportunity of a work experience placement/internship at Schott in Mainz.
During the internship he discovered his fascination for glass, and in 1997 he became an apprentice scientific glassblower.
After the apprenticeship, he worked for several employers (both in production and research environments) in Germany, Switzerland and the UK, before he settled in Norway in 2006. He worked for a small company further south in Norway before he accepted a position as a stand-in for Astrid at NTNU for a few months. He became a permanent employee at NTNU in 2012.
As for today the workshop has sufficient capacity with two employees, but there will probably be need for a new glassblower when Astrid retires in 3-4 years. Planning ahead already today, they consider how to accomplish that - take an apprentice, or employ an experienced glassblower?
Teaching an apprentice is a very time-consuming task for a small workshop, and it would be very demanding keeping the normal operation running at the same time. It seems it would be most advisable to employ an experienced scientific glassblower. Time will tell.
Tasks and challenges – make what is needed
NTNU’s workshop is a typical university glass workshop. The tasks are extremely varied, which provides new and interesting challenges almost every day. Customers usually come with a requirement and a rough idea of what they need. But, as most fellow glassblowers know, they may have limited knowledge of glass, qualities, components and possibilities.
Together with the customer, the parts are designed to fit their actual requirements. In other words, build what they need, not necessarily what they thought they needed. A good portion of the work is the production of specially designed equipment and prototypes, but occasionally they also make small series of items, and of course they do repairs. The university has two big research hubs that use a lot of quartz in their experiments, and about 50% of the items produced here are in quartz. That means that tools and machinery are well suited for the higher demands of quartz glass.
Researchers‘ Night is an annual event at the university.
Pupils between 16 and 18 and their teachers are invited to an evening event where NTNU presents many interesting research-related activities, from social research to natural science and technology.
The idea is to promote research as a career choice for young people, with about 1200 pupils taking part in the event every year.
The glass workshop contributes every year with its own stall. It is a demanding but also very nice and beneficial task.
They move their torches, tools and gas supply to the exhibition area and demonstrate glassblowing throughout the evening. They get many questions like “Do you teach glassblowing?” or “Do you offer apprenticeships?”. The answer is: No, but if you choose to study natural sciences, you may get your own custom designed glass equipment.
Workshop, tools, machines and workplace safety
The glass workshop moved to a newly erected building on campus called Realfagbygget (“natural science building”) in 2000. That gave the opportunity for the glassblowers to design and plan the new workshop according to their needs and wishes. This has resulted in very modern facilities with a high standard of gas supply, ventilation, ergonomics and general workplace safety.
The glass workshop is located next to an equally well-equipped mechanical engineering workshop which enables easy cooperation on complex tasks where special metal or plastic parts are needed, as well as providing custom tools for glassblowing.
In the years since the workshop was newly built, regular investment in new machines and equipment is keeping the workshop up to date with present and future challenges and the constant changes in research.
Expanding skills and competence
The scientific glassblowing community in Norway is very small. Today, there are only 7 active scientific glassblowers. As head of department, Astrid has always deemed it necessary to keep in touch, get new inspiration and expand the workshop’s competence by attending international glassblower symposiums. Thanks to the understanding of the university administrations for that need, Astrid and Sebastian are able to attend symposiums in the US, Great Britain and Germany on a regular basis, thus staying in contact with the international glass community. These meetings have always been very important for the workshop, making it possible to learn about new tools, machines and techniques.
The workshop during the corona pandemic
As far as possible, teaching and studying at the university has been moved to online systems, but some critical research and technical services had to keep running on campus.
While access restrictions and adjustments to work routines have been necessary, the glass workshop has been kept open and operational since the corona pandemic started in 2020.
Together with St.Olav’s university hospital, NTNU developed its own corona test, and the glass workshop makes equipment for the production of these tests
Kontakt, Anfragen und Anzeigenschaltung:
Redaktion des VDG e.V.
c/o Eberhard Karls Universität Tübungen
Karin Rein und Thomas Nieß
Auf der Morgenstelle 6