Argonne National Laboratory

Joseph Gregar

By Imelda FrancisOctober 6, 2014

Joe Gregar is a scientific master glassblower in the Physical Sciences and Engineering directorate at Argonne.

What does your role as a scientific glassblower entail?

At Argonne, our scientists and engineers conduct cutting-edge research that often requires specialized equipment and instruments that must be hand-crafted. That’s where I come in. I create glass tools that researchers need to accomplish game-changing science.

The glass blowing process begins with a personal consultation. From there, I design and fabricate the instrument. I also generate safety data associated with the project and conduct a quality assurance inspection so researchers are certain they’re working with a safe, uniform apparatus. It is my goal to produce the finest quality glassware available.

How does your work support Argonne’s scientific mission?                   

Each day I work with Argonne researchers, helping them envision the glassware tools needed for their experiments. Custom prototypes are often needed, and once they have been tested, I make modifications to develop the custom piece to fit the scientist’s exact needs. With an experienced in-house scientific glassblower, it is very easy for the researcher to quickly communicate their needs for modifications—this makes for a smooth design process that is efficient and cost-effective compared to working with third-party vendors. 

What attracted you to work at Argonne?

I had worked as a scientific glassblower for 14 years in Milwaukee when I was recruited for a glassblowing position at Argonne. Once I visited the lab, I quickly realized how great it would be to work directly with the scientists at such a renowned research facility. The direct interaction and working as a team member on large research projects has been absolutely fantastic, and through the years I have developed great relationships with Argonne researchers.

What are the things you like most about your work?

Glass is an amazing medium to work with. I have dabbled in the art glass world but for me there is nothing better than designing a complicated piece of scientific glass. Heating and melting glass with a variety of torches and watching it turn from clear to a cherry red glow is fascinating. Then shaping it into something scientifically useful while it is soft and liquid-like gives me a strong sense of accomplishment. There is no better reward than to have an excited researcher tell you how great the apparatus worked and that their results were outstanding. Glassblowing is hard and involves intricate and precise work, but there hasn’t been a day that I did not want to come to work. I tell people who do not understand what a scientific glassblower does that I solve puzzles every day.

What sorts of positive mentoring experiences, formal and informal, have you had at Argonne?

I have been a member of the American Scientific Glassblowers Society (ASGS) since 1971. The ASGS is a professional society for scientific glassblowers that seeks to further the education of its membership through the gathering, promotion and dissemination of technical and scientific information. Through the ASGS, I have shared my knowledge and skills with countless junior members. As the Junior Liaison Chair for 26 years, I teach novice scientific glassblowers skills and techniques in annual workshops. The classes involve two intensive days of glassblowing for 12 junior members. The ASGS has honored my contributions and effort by renaming this program the “Joseph S. Gregar Junior Member Workshop Seminar.”

I contribute my time to this cause to ensure there will be qualified scientific glassblowers long after I retire. I began this quest because I realized that younger generations of glassblowers may not have the advantage of learning under master craftsmen like I did. This is my way of passing the torch. Argonne has supported this effort and I greatly appreciate it. I host local ASGS Midwest Section meetings at Argonne, including live torch demonstrations, instruction, technical presentations and product information.

What sorts of Argonne activities or clubs do you participate in?

I enjoy giving scientific glassblowing demonstrations at Argonne events, including the lab’s open houses, Science Careers in Search of Women, Hispanic/Latino Cultural Education Day, Bring Your Child to Work Day and Argonne Community Round Table events.

I have also participated as a member of the Argonne Music Club, played guitar in Argonne’s Jazz Group and played in many of the Argonne Club Golf Leagues. I also enjoy taking advantage of the lab’s fitness center, where I’ve taken some exercise classes during lunchtime.

What sorts of career development opportunities has Argonne provided you with?

Argonne has been very supportive of my career development by encouraging me to attend the ASGS Annual National Symposia. The annual meetings provide me with an opportunity to learn what other scientific glassblowers are doing through professional paper presentations, live technical workshops, seminars and posters. It’s also helpful to discuss and compare different scientific glassblowing techniques with other experts in the field. These meetings are the only place that I will have the opportunity to meet and collaborate with other craftsmen like myself, so it’s great that Argonne has been so supportive of my attendance. 

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