Student shapes research, art experience through glass-blowing studio

Paula Hermsdorf
April 10, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Students and faculty in Penn State’s Material Sciences and Engineering Department (MatSE) can take the heat when the furnaces are blazing in Penn State’s glass-blowing studio. 

MatSE offers unique experiences for its students and MatSE junior Briana Bennett is among one of those students getting a special hands-on experience in the studio. 

Bennett was first introduced to glass blowing while a student at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). After transferring to Penn State, Bennett was eager to get involved in Penn State’s glass-blowing studio. During her first week on campus she sought out Carlo Pantano to learn more about how to get involved.

Pantano, then a distinguished professor of materials science and engineering and now an emeritus professor at Penn State, founded the glass-blowing studio about 15 years ago as a way for his students to get hands-on experience with the materials and theories being taught in the classroom.

Hands-on learning in the studio helps Bennett put theories she learns in the classroom to good use, making concrete connections between theory and practice.

Bennett said, “It’s nice to be able to learn the science and then go into the shop, and be like ‘Oh wow, this is doing this because of this.’ And that’s really cool because you can actually see what’s happening.”

Glass Blowing Briana Bennett

Students and faculty in Penn State’s Material Sciences and Engineering Department (MatSE) can take the heat when the furnace and glory hole are blazing in Penn State’s glass blowing studio.

A glassblower must also understand the art. Being able to create elaborate patterns and color for a product is a process in itself. There are many ways to create colors and pattern in blown glass. 

“I am a very hands-on person,” Bennett said. “My interest in glass led me to pursue a degree in MatSE because I wanted to learn how to develop my own colors and maybe even incorporate metal into the glass.”

Bennett also plans to get involved with glass research.

“Dr. Pantano is helping me with my academic career by being really supportive, and hopefully we are going to be able to conduct some research. Right now, we have just been throwing around some ideas,” she said. 

“One thing that is nice about the MatSE department is that you can be active in undergraduate research," she added. "Dr. John Mauro is researching the properties and chemical formulas of ancient glass and I will be helping him try to recreate it and test its properties.”

Bennett is passionate and works hard at both her studies and art.

“The whole art of glass blowing is just inspiring. There is a lot that goes into it — standing in front of a 2000-degree glory hole [a furnace which is used to reheat a piece of glass in between steps of working on it], sweating to death, manipulating heavy tools and glass, and trying not to get burned is hard work," said Bennett. “But, it’s rewarding in the end.”

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Last Updated April 10, 2018