New Glassblower appointed at the University of Leicester

Posted by fi17 at Mar 06, 2012 10:15 AM |
Gayle Nicholson is breath of fresh air in Department of Chemistry
New Glassblower appointed at the University of Leicester

Gayle Nicholson (click for larger image)

The University of Leicester’s Chemistry Department has appointed a new glassblower. 

Gayle Nicholson has succeeded glassblower Roy Batchen and provides a wide variety of services to the University including repairs, alterations and general maintenance of the University glassware.  

Gayle has been in the glassblowing trade for 14 years and prides herself with being one of lucky few who enjoy their chosen career path. She was trained by William McCormack at Glasgow University who actively encouraged her to explore the creative side of glassblowing through regular projects, from figurines of dogs to a Viking long-boat.

Gayle explains that over her years in the trade she has solved problems with scientific apparatus by using a decorative hand, creating innovative artwork for scientific purposes. She says: “Glassblowing is both art and engineering at the same time and I cannot imagine one without the other.”

Throughout her time in Glasgow, she was involved in the construction, repair and maintenance of the vacuum lines and associated apparatus, as well as being regularly appointed to provide bespoke glassware for influential outside companies such as The Glasgow School of Art. Gayle’s commissions included everything from glassware for experimental explosives testing through to duplicate Rennie MacKintosh items for period dramas with the BBC.

She then worked for Hull University and had an important role in rebuilding the university’s glassblowing service after the flood of 2007 destroyed the entire facility. 

Gayle says:  “It was a great source of personal pride for me to see the workshop become one of the most modern and best equipped in the country during the time I was there. My duties were mainly repair and maintenance of the existing laboratory equipment but as the region is so heavily industrialised I did have a few outside contracts from BP and some smaller chemical companies.”

The University of Leicester’s workshop is equipped to deal with most requests that Gayle encounters. These can include bench work, lathe work, “wet” work (which includes the cutting, grinding and drilling of glass) and vacuum system construction. 

“There’s been a steady trickle of glassblowing work since my arrival and I’m gradually learning about the various research projects within the department. I’m also looking to remodel the workshop a little bit in the coming months and upgrade some of the more important pieces of equipment. Thankfully I have a good working relationship with a lot of outside suppliers from my time in Hull, so I’m confident there will be no problem with continuing to provide the kind of glassblowing service that my new colleagues have come to rely upon over the years,” Gayle explains. 

Gayle’s primary customers at Leicester are the teaching laboratories who require large amounts of apparatus at short notice. She says that by remodelling equipment, the department can update older experiments which will provide an efficient learning experience for students. 

Research groups also provide Gayle with regular custom. She says: “The research groups tend to provide the biggest challenges since they require bespoke glassware to suit whatever experimental procedure they’re currently undertaking. It’s not unusual to alter the same piece of glassware every day as their research evolves with each new result.”

Gayle also highlights how her strong connections with outside companies affect the University of Leicester: “Since taking up position here I’ve also found myself providing a service for some outside companies, which is a brilliant way to make strong commercial ties with business providers and raise the profile of the University in the public eye.”

Professor Andy Abbott, Head of Chemistry, said: “"We are delighted that Gayle has joined us and she is already beginning to have a significant impact upon our research and teaching. Cutting edge research really needs skilled craftspeople who work with the scientists to create state of the art apparatus in which to carry out experiments. Gayle brings her considerable skills to the University and is also keen to help businesses that have a need for unique custom designed apparatus."



Report by Hannah Adkins

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