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ASU specialist: A glass act

Quartz cover on Mars rover made at ASU's Scientific Glassblowing Facility.
Christine Roeger, head of ASU Scientific Glassblowing Facility, makes key parts.
April 25, 2017

Christine Roeger leads ASU’s Scientific Glassblowing Facility, which creates custom work for sensitive research

Two hundred and fifty million miles away, glistening on the Martian surface, sits a NASA rover fitted with a quartz cover made at Arizona State University’s Scientific Glassblowing Facility.

Most people probably don’t think much about where the glass tools in scientific research come from. While beakers and test tubes are mass-produced and easy to buy online, custom pieces — including the cover of a Mars rover — are created by an estimated 650 scientific glassblowers across the country at educational, industrial and government research facilities.   

Dating back to the ancient Egyptians, scientific glassblowing has allowed researchers to advance technology and further their studies. Thomas Edison’s light bulb; Galileo’s thermometer; and early televisions, radios and computers were invented thanks to scientific glassblowing. Today, researchers use glass tools to collect air samples from volcanoes, precisely dilute chemical mixtures and mix gases in closed systems, among other activities. 

Christine Roeger is a third-generation scientific glassblower who leads ASU’s facility. She is one of an increasing number of women entering the previously male-dominated field — bending the glass ceiling, so to speak.

“I belong to an American glassblowing society, and there are a lot more women now than when I first started. People don’t think women can do scientific glassblowing, but the female glassblowers that I have met are really good glassblowers,” Roeger said.

Over her 26 years working at ASU, Roeger has created a wide variety of customized products. For example, she made a glass birdhouse with a valved chamber that allowed a researcher to collect and analyze a bird’s respiration.

Generations of glassblowers

Roeger was introduced to the trade early. Her father worked with her grandfather for a glassblowing shop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He went on to lead the ASU glassblowing facility starting in 1975.

“My dad always had a little shop at home. He would do side work, and my sisters and I would go out to his shop and just watch him. When I was 7 or 8, he would let us blow into the glass and blow big bubbles. Then when I was 10 to 12 years old, he would have me helping him do basic cutting and getting jobs ready for him,” Roeger said.  

In college, she realized she shared her family’s passion and talent for glassblowing. She switched her major from education to business and became a student worker alongside her dad in 1991.

“Glassblowing has always been in my life. I didn’t really know I wanted to be a glassblower until I got to college and actually experienced what my dad would do on a daily basis. I thought ‘This is really cool. Maybe this is something I want to do,’ and I did a four-year formal apprentice program,” Roeger said.

After graduation, she became a full-time worker in the facility, taking over in 2006 when her father retired. However, Roeger never lost her love for education. In addition to running ASU’s Scientific Glassblowing Facility, she also teaches a graduate chemistry course on the topic.

“This course gives students a basic idea of glassblowing techniques,” Roeger said. “We start simple with cutting and polishing, and by the end of the class, they are making a full-scale distillation apparatus.”

ASU’s house of glass

Located in the Bateman Physical Sciences Center on the Tempe campus, ASU’s Scientific Glassblowing Facility allows faculty and students from all schools and departments to request customized glassware for their research needs. This includes distillation glassware, custom reaction vessels and vacuum glassware, among other tools.

“I don’t make beakers or test tubes. I take an idea from a researcher here at ASU, then using raw material of Pyrex tubing or quartz tubing, I heat the glass in a flame, and I can manipulate it to a shape or system needed,” Roeger said.

One common product Roeger makes is vacuum glassware.

“Researchers often need to collect samples with no air in them. I can make a glass vacuum system that hangs on a wall in their lab and is a tool to take out all the air in a sample. I can also add valves that allow researchers to put a specific gas like nitrogen into the sample,” she says.

No two pieces are the same — every order is custom-built. Roeger can even modify or repair pieces from catalogs, including test tubes. Modifications can include adding new valves, connecting new pieces and adding drain mechanisms. The facility is a cost-effective way for researchers to create customized glassware and repair pieces they already have.

“If you order from a catalog, and you try to customize those pieces from a manufacturer, it is going to cost ridiculous amount of money,” Roeger said. “A lot of times, repairing glass — repairing a bucket of glass— is way cheaper than buying all new parts, too.”

Roeger consults with researchers during daily office hours. Starting with nothing more than an idea, she can draw out a design with the customer and create the project. Service occurs on a first-come, first-served basis, with a typical turnaround time of a week-and-a-half to two weeks.

“If any researcher has an idea in their mind, I can make it for them,” Roeger said. “I have never had to say no to anybody.”

For more on ASU's glassblowing services, click here

By Cheyenne Howard, Knowledge Enterprise Development

RED INK indigenous dinner cooks up a great evening

April 25, 2017

Celebrity chef Nephi Craig, who made a guest appearance at ASU last weekend, doesn’t run a swanky New York restaurant or yell insults on a reality TV show. Craig, who is of Apache and Navajo heritage, doesn’t generally serve fry bread, and he believes that food has a role in healing. You could say that he believes in a kinder, more indigenous approach to food.

Craig, founder of the Native American Culinary Association, headlined the first RED INK Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Sustainability Dinner held on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe this past Saturday, April 22, in Old Main’s Carson Ballroom. In addition to Craig's great food, dinner guests also enjoyed the classical stylings of guitarist Gabriel Ayala, a fashion show of indigenous-inspired designs by ASU art major Tyson Powless, and the poetry and stories of ASU Regents’ Professor of English and American Indian Studies Simon Ortiz. Chef Nephi Craig chats with attendee at RED INK Sustainability Dinner, April 22, 2017. / Photo by Henry Quintero Chef Nephi Craig described his food ethics to NPR in 2016: "Native American cuisine is right now, to me, in my generation and in this time frame, not about fine dining as a priority. ... It's about restoration of balance, equipping families and individuals with the ability to change their lives and cope with and live an indigenous life under all these different forms of colonialism in America." Download Full Image

Craig prepared hors d’oeuvres and dinner from a carving board and action station. The menu, which focused on indigenous, sustainable foods, included: slow-roasted bison; chili- and honey-roasted wild turkey; smoked salmon; Ayacucho quinoa salad; roasted young vegetables; Apache cornbread; zucchini fritters; Western Apache Nada’ban and braised beef tongue; spring three sisters mix of Tohono O’odham tepary beans, Anasazi beans, yellow squash tomatoes, and yucca blossoms; and an assortment of roasted seeds and nuts. Beverages included Apache Pinon Cloud coffee, White Mountain Apache wild tea and sweet corn tea.

While he worked, Craig shared his knowledge of the rich history of indigenous foods and cooking, explaining that food is inseparable from — and at the heart of — a people’s history, culture, tradition, identity, family and home. Craig has infused his holistic beliefs about food into plans for his new restaurant, Café Gozhóó Western Apache Café and Learning Center, set to open in Whiteriver, White Mountain Apache Nation, later this spring.

Classical guitarist Gabriel Ayala plays at the RED INK Sustainability Dinner on April 22, 2017. / Photo by Henry Quintero

Guitarist Gabriel Ayala, an internationally renowned artist who is Pascua Yaqui from Tucson, plays varied selections at the first RED INK Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Sustainability Dinner.

Ayala, an internationally renowned artist who is Pascua Yaqui from Tucson, played varied selections from classical, flamenco and jazz traditions as well as from his own compositions. With each piece, he related personal anecdotes, such as the time he played music with Carlos Santana and another time with the Temptations.

The dinner was attended by people all ages, and by representatives from many different indigenous nations, local and distant. Attendees included Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez and his family and members of local indigenous nations, such as the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, Pasqua Yaqui Nation, Gila River Indian Community and White Mountain Apache Nation. ASU guests in addition to Ortiz included tribal liaison Jacob Moore and his wife, as well as friends and family of RED INK staff members.

The RED INK Indigenous Initiative for All is a collaborative endeavor conceived and equally implemented among all stake-holders/partners with an interrelated set of campus, regional, national and international ventures, including an international journal (RED INK: International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, & Humanities) and other projects to achieve goals set in collaboration with indigenous communities. It is housed in the Department of English, an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For more information, visit the RED INK website at