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Published On September 28, 2017

TECHNOLOGY

A Dwindling Craft

With new advances in 3D printing, scientific glassblowing may soon be obsolete.

The craft of glassblowing has gone hand in hand with scientific research for centuries. Labs still work with glassblowers to design flasks, beakers and other tools to exact specifications. The collaborations can also become more intricate, as shown in this handcrafted section of the vascular system made by Farlow’s Scientific Glassblowing, Inc. Such anatomical forms help train surgeons in complex procedures, show researchers how fluids move in veins, and perform many other functions.

Glass is easy to shape, can withstand many physical conditions and interacts with very few chemicals. But while glass remains king in the lab, the craftsmanship of glassblowers could face a new threat. Researchers have been increasingly studying the potential of “printing” glass. In 2015, a team at MIT’s Media Lab developed a special printer that heats glass and extrudes it through a nozzle to form an object. And in April, German scientists successfully created tiny glass items using a standard 3D printer. That could open new doors for even more elaborate anatomical models—and change a very old partnership. 

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