Written for Rohm & Haas Employee Magazine
Creating Art for Science
The usual mental images of the ancient art of glassblowing include fragile, colorful glass vases and bowls slowly rotating at the end of a long pipe as a glassblower painstakingly shapes and molds them. At Rohm & Haas, a master glassblower creates a different type of art that is vital to the company’s business.
When our scientists need specialized glassware for research experiments or when a piece they’re using breaks, they seek out Research Glassblower Victor Valentin. Victor, who has been sculpting scientific glassware for Rohm & Haas for 25 years, can craft a new piece or repair an existing one quickly, which helps keep research projects moving forward.
“The researchers use exotic glassware every day and each piece serves a specific purpose for their work,” Victor explains. “At times, the glassware breaks and they bring it to me to repair it. I also help them design special glassware for research projects or modify existing glassware to fit their needs.”
The Craft of Glassblowing
Victor acquired his rare skills growing up in Elkton, MD. As a high school student in the ‘70s, he worked in maintenance for a local glass company. The master glassblowers there tutored him in their craft and a career was born. In 1992, Victor bought the same company at which he learned the trade and has been running his successful business—Delval Glass—ever since.
Victor works three days a week at our Springhouse site—he’s the only glassblower the company uses. For his demanding projects, he doesn’t use the technique of blowing into a long pipe—he says that “old style” of glassblowing is primarily for artistic glasswork. To create glassware for scientific research, Victor starts with ready-made, four-foot-long tubes of glass that vary in overall size depending on the project.
As he shapes the hot (565 degrees C), pliable hunks of glass with a torch as they spin on a horizontal lathe, Victor relies on a high level of manual dexterity—he describes it as the same hand-eye coordination it takes to play golf well.
To complete his work on time—a prompt turnaround is essential to meet the demands of busy researchers—requires physical endurance as well. “On some projects for intricate pieces of glassware, once you start working on it you can’t stop until you’re finished because the glass will cool and become unworkable,” Victor says. “A piece like that can take five or six hours to complete and you have to be prepared to stand next to that piece of glassware for the entire time.”
Victor often creates glassware for Senior Scientist Paul Morton. “My group, Calorimetry, supports practically every Rohm & Haas business, so we do a variety of research projects,” Paul says. “When I need a custom piece of glass equipment, I’ll call Victor and tell him what I need and he’ll fabricate it for me. It’s a great advantage that he’s on-site. I can walk over to his office and talk with him about my ideas and he’ll draw sketches to come up with the exact design I need. This really speeds up the turnaround time for the glassware.”
For the Calorimetry group’s lab work to improve our process for making potassium borohydride—a more efficient process means more, better product made at lower cost—Paul asked Victor to create a custom-made two-liter reactor. In their experiments, the team of scientists pours liquid and solids into a reactor and observes how the mixture reacts when it is heated.
The glass reactor Paul needed resembled a widened two-liter soda bottle with lab instruments inside. The piece would be very difficult—Paul thought maybe impossible—to make. Victor had it ready in three days.
“If I had to go to an outside company for that type of piece, I might have to wait a month for it, our work would be delayed and we’d waste time and money. Since Victor gets the glassware to us quickly, we can more forward with our research projects without delay. Keeping these projects rolling is important for the success of the company.”
The master glassblower finds the variety of work he does for Rohm & Haas rewarding—a different type of project every day, with many of them requiring custom craftsmanship. He also gets satisfaction from collaborating with our researchers and seeing the finished product of his work.
But his greatest satisfaction comes from knowing that his efforts help the company: “When someone has broken an expensive piece of glassware and they’re under severe time constraints for their project, they bring the piece to me and ask if they can have it back within a week. When I can tell them they’ll have it the next morning, seeing the smile on their face and knowing that I saved them time and money by helping them keep their research going, that’s very rewarding for me.”