Tom Perks' creations may not be on display at the Art Gallery, but some of his work does appear on the most recent NASA space shuttle mission.
A member of Memorial's Division of Technical Services for the past 33 years, scientific glassblower Mr. Perks has been both the designer and constructer of more than glass ornaments for some time.
Ketene generators, vacuum systems, stills, and condensers are among just some of the laboratory apparatus requested by Memorial researchers and professors. Mr. Perks has also worked on some unique projects, including the design and construction of eye glasses for fish in the Department of Psychology and a "glass man" for the Faculty of Medicine. Says Mr. Perks, "You can be requested to do just about anything."
The presence of the glassblowing shop on campus has proven to be both cost effective and convenient for Memorial teachers and researchers.
"Ordering in a vacuum line, for example, from a company catalogue, can cost upwards of $800 and there's always a risk of breakage," said Mr. Perks. "The same vacuum line made in the shop here will cost $200 or less and any necessary repairs can be done on site."
As well, Mr. Perks and the rest of the staff at the glassblowing shop are able to consult directly with researchers on the design, construction, and purchase of research apparatus.
Given that the scientific apparatus will one day be relied upon to serve under exacting standards, the scientific procedure for glassblowing is executed meticulously. The glassblower must follow a series of steps, choosing the appropriate design, corresponding glassware and thermal conditions. The shaping of the glass is then done entirely by hand, a process which Mr. Perks said, "takes years to master." Once the glass has achieved a form, the apparatus is baked in an oven, again under the appropriate heat and for a time period dictated by the thickness of the glass.
Considering the amount of precision involved, it is not surprising that Mr. Perks claims to occasionally prefer the artistic side of glassblowing.
Said Mr. Perks, "Making glass ornaments is the more relaxing side of glassblowing," a side that he seems to have mastered.
Among the glass art on the shelves of the glassblowing shop stands a foot-long replica of the Matthew, a miniature bowling alley, and a humming bird with gold-tipped wings. But don't be fooled by Mr. Perks' exceptional artistic talent.
"If I had to say which I preferred, scientific or artistic [glass blowing], I would have to say scientific, because of the challenge," he said.
Anyone who's seen glassblowing at work knows it's a mesmerizing sight to behold. For those interested, a demonstration is planned for the Chemistry Department's open house in September, and the glassblowing shop plans to auction some of Tom Perks' glass art in support of The Opportunity Fund sometime early this fall.