Though she is no scientist, Sally Prasch has a hand in countless chemical and physical experiments at the Life Sciences Complex at Syracuse University. As the university’s scientific glassblower, Prasch alters and repairs scientific glass equipment of all kinds according to a project’s unique demands.
Since 2005, Prasch has spent Monday through Thursday manipulating test tubes, beakers and vials in the Glass Shop, located in the basement of the Center for Science and Technology.
Because Prasch is one of only a handful of scientific glassblowers on the East Coast, she sometimes takes on work from other New York universities. The result is an endless pile of projects.
“I usually give them more than 40 hours a week here, and I’ve never caught up,” she said.
For Prasch, home is in Massachusetts where she has her own glass studio known as a “hot shop.” Every Friday morning, she returns home to work on artistic projects. Her current projects include a collection of glass clothing for the Glass Art Society’s upcoming fashion show.
Prasch began working with glass at the age of 13 as an apprentice to a scientific glassblower. She went on to receive a BFA in glass and ceramics from the University of Kansas, a certificate in scientific glass technology, and an AAS from Salem Community College in New Jersey. She says the latter helps her understand the science behind the experiments her glass facilitates.
“Most scientists here [at SU] are working on projects so specialized that I often have to say, ‘Wait a minute, can you explain that to me?’” she said.
For Prasch, knowledge of chemistry and physics is essential when creating and sculpting glasswork. When generating glass from raw materials, Prasch adds a variety of minerals to alter the composition and color of her creations before stretching and squeezing her work using specialized machinery. Through her scientific studies, Prasch can easily predict how different elements and applications of torque will alter her projects. Still, Prasch continues to learn and make new discoveries through experimentation.
“My feelings about what can be done and what can’t be aren’t always accurate,” she said.
Her glass isn’t all science-minded, however. Recently Prasch traveled to Japan where she visited the tsunami disaster area, which inspired a number of her current projects.
“Some of the artwork I’m doing now is dealing with my thoughts of the tsunami. It was very hard,” she said. “Usually there’s a story with my work, somethings happened or something has hit me and then I have to make something."
Prasch’s artwork has been exhibited in galleries across the United States and Europe. While her job is rooted in science, she sees a large overlap between her work as an artist and that with the university.
“I really feel that scientists are artists,” Prasch said. “You are reaching for the unknown, reaching for something out there.”
But when Prasch finally grasps onto something, she doesn’t hold on for long.
“I try to sell everything I make,” she said.