Five questions for a master of glass

Trond Foree

Tucked away in the northeast corner of the Gilman Hall basement is a one-man shop. Trond Forre is a scientific glassblower -- one of only two in the state of Iowa -- and manager of the chemistry department’s glass shop. The Ames native has been at Iowa State since 1988, learning and mastering a craft that’s serving clients on campus and around the world.

The basics

Name: Trond Forre (pronounced TRON FOUR-ee)
Position: Scientific glassblower
Time at ISU: 28 years
Previous post: Glassblower, Hach Chemical (Ames)

How did you get started?

I worked at Hach Chemical -- they had a production glass shop. We made vials, little flasks and pieces for some of the equipment that they sold. They were more on the scientific side. When this scientific glassblower position opened up, I took this job and started my [five-year] apprenticeship.

How is scientific glassblowing different from what the Gaffer's Guild does?

They're artistic. They have a big furnace that runs 24/7. It's soft glass -- like window glass -- and doesn't take as much to heat it up. Once the piece is done, they have to hurry up and rush it into the oven.

I use borosilicate glass, which is pyrex -- like your cookware at home. It's really, really durable. The other type of glass I use is quartz. Mainly, I use tubing and rods, and sometimes plate glass [of all types]. I can set [my glass] in the annealing oven and it won't crack. It's that much stronger. I use torches and a bench torch, with natural gas and oxygen -- the flames are super hot.

What kind of items do you work on?

Trond Foree

Photos by Christopher Gannon.

It's all customized, specialty and repair work. If somebody wants a beaker with four tubes sticking out of the side of it so they can add stuff, I'll do that. If a researcher comes in with a drawing, I know what they want and that's what I build. I may not know exactly what [experimentation] they want to do with it, but the function of the glassware I do know a lot about. I take into consideration things like temperatures, pressures, chemicals, light sources and durability. There are different properties of different glasses that they don't know, but I know. Then we figure that out as they're wanting a piece made.

Who are your clients?

I keep pretty busy. I do a lot of work for other universities and outside companies. I do work for all of Iowa State, the research park and anyone who has an account -- pretty much anybody and everybody that needs the service. Usually, summertime is the busiest. I mainly do work for the grad students, scientists and professors. In the summer, they may not have to teach classes and they really concentrate on their research. I've also made wedding cake tops, swans, pigs and turtles. And, I get quite a few tour groups. The kids like it.

How often do you clean up broken glass?

I've learned. It doesn't happen very often. Every once and a while, I'll be working on something and it will crack. "Tink." That's the worst thing a glassblower can hear ... "tink." So then, I've got to start over. It's a little on the dangerous side, as far as fires and getting cut. I've had stitches and burned myself. It's part of the job. 

Trond Foree