University of Wisconsin–Madison

Glass & Glassblowing in Making Modern Chemistry with Catherine Jackson and Tracy Drier

A video recorded for Wednesday Nite @ The Lab on April 4, 2018

Chemists today use complex instruments to reveal the molecular structure of the substances they study, but chemists have understood molecules in three dimensions since the late 19th century. As a historian of science, Dr. Catherine Jackson is interested in how chemists learned to connect the substances they work with in the laboratory to abstract ideas of formula and structure.

Historical sources place glass and glassblowing at the heart of this issue, and they show how collaborations between chemists and glassblowers made chemical glassware into a powerful technology for understanding and manipulating the natural world. Now Jackson and Tracy Drier are building a present-day collaboration that explores how past chemists created the three-dimensional molecular micro world.

About the Speakers

Dr. Catherine Jackson originally trained as a synthetic organic chemist and is completing a book on the origins of organic synthesis. She has published on Liebig, Hofmann, and the chemical laboratory; and she has coedited (with Hasok Chang) “An Element of Controversy: The Life of Chlorine in Science, Medicine, Technology and War” (British Society for the History of Science, 2007). Jackson teaches a range of undergraduate and graduate courses at UW­–Madison in the history of modern science, the history of the lab, and material culture as an approach to the history of science.

Tracy Drier began his career as a paper engineer, but glassblowing was always his first love. When he turned 30, he decided to make the switch and moved to south New Jersey to enroll in the nation’s only scientific glassblowing program at Salem Community College. The following year, he took a position with Aldrich Chemical Company in Milwaukee. In the fall of 2000, he moved to Madison to take on a new role as the master glassblower for the UW’s Department of Chemistry. In this position, he particularly enjoys working with end-users to design, build, and refine glassware to meet their research needs.