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How Glass Changed the World

Speaker(s) / Presenter(s):
Dr. Seth Rasmussen


Seth C. Rasmussen

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry / Materials and Nanotechnology Program

North Dakota State University, NDSU Dept. 2735, P.O. Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050, USA

Abstract: Silicon in the form of silica (SiO2) is the basis of common glass, a material whose use predates recorded history. The production of synthetic glass, however, is thought to date back to no earlier than 3000 BCE. This glass technology was not discovered fully fashioned, but grew slowly through continued development of both chemical composition and techniques for its production, manipulation, and material applications. This development had become fairly advanced by the Roman period, resulting in a wide variety of glass vessels and the initial use of glass windows. The modern application of glass to chemical apparatus (beakers, flasks, stills, etc.), however, was still quite limited due to a lack of glass durability under both rapid temperature changes and chemical attack. After the fall of the Roman Empire, glass grew to new heights in Venice and Murano, where improvements in composition and production resulted in both more chemically stable and clearer forms. The quality of this new glass ushered in the development of lenses and eyeglasses, as well as the greater use of glass as a material for chemical apparatus, both of which changed society and the pursuit of science. Finally, glass in the North developed along different lines to ultimately result in a new form of glass that eventually replaced Venetian glass. Known as Bohemian glass, this then became the glass of choice for chemical glassware and dominated the chemical laboratory until the final advent of borosilicate glass in the 1880s. A brief overview of the early history of silica glasses from their origins to the development of borosilicate glasses will be presented.