Texas Tech University

Texas Tech Glassblower Makes Contribution To Campus Research

By: Karen Michael 

Jeanne Bertonazzi may not develop a new vaccine, modify a cotton plant to use less water, or make improvements to cell phone download speeds.

But her contributions in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Texas Tech University make a difference to research on campus all the same.

Bertonazzi is the university's scientific glass blower. For researchers who need a particular kind of glass tubing for their research, Bertonazzi can use her skills to fabricate new glassware. For unlucky or clumsy researchers who have broken a particular beaker or flask, Bertonazzi can repair it.

A good day, she said, is any day that she can be of service. Giving an example of this, she said, “If somebody brings me a box of broken glassware and it takes me three hours to fix it, and they just saved $4,000 because they don't have to re-order it, then I'm tickled near to pieces, and so are they.”

Many of the custom projects that Bertonazzi works on would cost a lot of money to order.

“It is crazy expensive. With me here on staff, I can do it cheaper and to manufacturer standards, as I was trained,” she said. “That's what I enjoy.”

Many of her creations are specific to certain experiments.

“That's the fun part. Just the word research implies, ‘We don't know what we're doing, so we're going to try this and see how it goes,'” Bertonazzi said. “Students will bring me their drawings with their ideas, and I will translate them out into a blueprint. Most of the time, it works pretty good. Sometimes you have to tweak their designs a bit, but that's what I really like, is the non-typical, non-standard glassware.”

She also makes standard glassware, and she fixes broken items if they aren't too badly damaged.

Bertonazzi works on a piece in her workshop in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry
Bertonazzi works on a piece in her workshop in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

“If I can fix something for you, you're going to save a lot more money than replacing it. Usually the litmus test is a dustpan. If you need a dustpan to pick it up, I probably can't fix it. But I can make you a new one,” she said. “That's where a lot of my value is here. My offering as university glassblower is not only custom things, but to keep your costs under control, so that you're spending money where you want to, and not where you feel that you need to.”

Never knowing what she will be working on each day appeals to her, although she admits that sometimes, she can be booked for projects for weeks.

She also makes an effort to understand what researchers are actually doing so that she can create equipment that is functional, easily cleaned, easily managed, and not easily broken.

“There was a lot of learning the first year I was here trying to get myself up to speed on anyone who came through that door,” she said. “Most of the time when they come in, they're looking for just function. ‘I need it to perform this function.' And it's my job to include, ‘Well, OK, how are you going to clean it? And where are you going to clamp it?' So I have to bring up all of those other things to make a better design.”

Bertonazzi has been at Texas Tech for 10 years, having taken over for the previous glass blower, who was also her brother, Donald Hodgkins. When he became ill, he asked her to fill in for him, she said, and after his death, she was asked to continue.

“He was one of the best in the world,” Bertonazzi said. “I got to come here, and it's been the most amazing journey.”