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Kyle Meyer, master glass blower at the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at the University of Georgia, works on some glass in Athens, Georgia, Wednesday, March 15, 2017. (Photo/Austin Steele, info@austinsteelephoto.com)

For Kyle Meyer, glass blowing is more than just a hobby: it is the way he makes a living. Meyer, the latest manager of The University of Georgia’s Scientific Glass Shop, has been working there since July 2016.

The shop has been a part of the university since 1960 and was created to give the science department at UGA cheaper and more convenient access to glass repairs and creations.

Meyer studied scientific glass blowing with Sigma-Aldrich, a chemical, life science and biotechnology company, on a scholarship paying for his entire training in glass on the condition that he worked for Sigma-Aldrich for at least three years.

“I ended up working for Sigma for about 12 years,” Meyer said. “I came here because I just saw the position and figured it’d be kind of fun to run the shop.”

The shop was without a manager for several months at the beginning of 2016 until Meyer was hired for the position. Prior to the previous manager retiring, the chemistry department had been in charge of operating the shop. However, when Meyer was hired, the department of applied isotopes took charge.

Jeff Speakman, director of applied isotopes at UGA, said it made sense for his department to be in charge of directing the shop as they are responsible for a large portion of the orders Meyer receives.

“We probably make up at least 50 percent of Kyle’s workload,” Speakman said. “The rest come from physics, chemistry, other research programs or other companies in general.”

Speakman said Meyer’s work is paid for with federal funding, and the shop is kept in operation from payments made for each commission.

“Kyle is paid personally by federal funds, but also each department that requests a repair or something custom will pay,” Speakman said. “That’s mostly just for materials, and the money usually goes through the department of whoever is asking.”

A limitless medium

Meyer said he receives a wide variety of complex designs from researchers in need of specific glassware for their experiments.

“A lot of times they’re really excited because they don’t realize that I’ll be able to make it,” Meyer said. “A lot of what I make are one of a kind pieces, or it’s something that’s not mass produced by a glass-making company, so I make it for them.”

Meyer said he gets various glassware from local areas to repair, including the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“I’m working on a couple manifolds from Georgia Tech,” Meyer said. “The majority of the work is at UGA, but there are outside companies that we work for.”

A manifold is made up of a glass pipe or chamber that splits off into several openings along its body.

Henry La Pierre, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, said Meyer makes shock lines for their gas vacuum manifold systems, which work with nitrogen, argon and other sensitive radioactive materials.

“Kyle is an exceptionally talented glass blower, probably in the top two—if not the best—I’ve ever worked with,” La Pierre said. “His lines are spectacular. They work without any modification. He knows both intuitively and is very objectively gifted in his work.”

Custom glassware has decreased in demand despite being an essential component of scientific research. La Pierre said finding someone who can create and fix custom glass is a “rarity.”

“The demand for customized glassware has dropped dramatically making it difficult to finance a glass shop at a university,” La Pierre said. “The pipeline of young glass blowers has been really cut off.”

Meyer said he is typically able to do a lot of repairs in about an hour. This turnaround is faster than the weeks required to finish when shipping to glass repair companies and is at a lower price.

“Basically a manifold costs about $1,200, and for me to fix it is only like a hundred bucks,” Meyer said. “So yeah, it does end up being cheaper and quicker for me to fix it. Plus shipping this stuff can be tricky.”

A variety of clients

Ashley Rasys, a graduate student studying eye development, said she came to the glass shop to work with Meyer and design a culturing system that would allow her to grow lizard embryos outside of their egg shell.

“We wanted to design a method so we could better see development, and part of that was designing a culture tube,” Rasys said. “That’s why we went to Kyle, so he could help us design something that we could use.”

Rasys said she expects Meyer to be able to make the glassware she needs, and she will “definitely” go back to him in the future.

“I didn’t know if—depending on how complicated the design was—he would be able to do certain parts, but he could,” Rasys said. “So far, it appears to be working, and I’ll be culturing an embryo next week.”

David Smith, a lab supervisor for the Center of Applied Isotope Studies at UGA, said Meyer has made several custom glassware for his department.

“He makes what we call carbonate tubes, which help us separate out the acids from the samples after it’s been on a vacuum for a while,” Smith said. “Those have a little stinger off the ends that Kyle is able to do for us, which is helpful.”

Smith said the glass shop is a valuable asset, and the best part of the shop is the convenience.

“We rely on our glassware, and if stuff breaks, we could be out of commission for a while,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have the glass shop that we can call right away.”

Sharing his skills

Meyer said he plans on teaching a scientific glass blowing class during the coming fall semester.

“If I can get a class going, that would be fun,” Meyer said. “I’d like to open it up to everyone and hopefully have that going next fall.”

Speakman said he also would want a glassblowing course to “definitely” be open to all undergraduate students at UGA, even those not in an art or science department.

“I’m going to get with Kyle to talk about getting with the art school and doing work with colored glass,” Speakman said. “Maybe we would get something going and have alternating semesters with the scientific glassware.”

Meyer said he hopes to have some student helpers work in the shop in the future as well.

“Eventually, once I get everything set up, I do want to get someone that can help out, just to do the easier stuff,” Meyer said. “I know I have to do 200 ampoules a week, so once I get the shop to where it needs to be, I’ll do that.”

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