2022 Is the International Year of Glass

The UN highlights the key component of fiber-optics and touchscreens.


Happy New Year!

It’s 2022, and I like to ease into the year gently and see what this year is the “year of.” The United Nations always selects a couple of areas, and there are events all over the world during the year.

International Year of Glass

First, it is the International Year of Glass, or IYoG2022.

Our vision of a United Nations International Year of Glass (IYoG2022) is to celebrate the past, present, and future of this transformative material following the United Nations’ goals in Agenda 2030. Specifically to:

  • Demonstrate the role of glass in advancing civilization throughout recorded history.
  • Organize international glass science and art festivals, with workshops to excite and inform the public of this rich history, and highlight links between glass, art and culture.
  • Stimulate research on glass amongst organizations in education, industry, research and the public domain, including museums, to address the great challenges the world faces: achieving sustainable and equitable growth, and improving the quality of life everywhere.
  • Build worldwide alliances focused on science and engineering for young people, while addressing gender balance and the needs of developing countries/emerging economies.

Of course, in electronics the most important role that glass places is in fiber-optic signal transmission. And the touchscreens on our smartphones. As the IYoG2022 website puts it more grandiloquently:

Glass is the main conduit for information in our knowledge-based society. Glass optical fibers have led to a global communications revolution; they are the backbone of the internet. Glassmakers have given us touch-sensitive covers for our mobile phones, revolutionizing the way we communicate.

As it happens, I know something about glass. I took two courses over a decade ago. One at The Crucible in West Oakland on kiln-fired glass, and one in San Jose on glass blowing.

All glass ends up in a kiln, but kiln-fired glass is assembled cold out of sheets of glass, powered glass (known as frit), and other bits and pieces. It is flat, or rather flattish since you can put the piece into a shallow bowl. All the pieces from the whole class are put into the kiln. The kiln has a controller that runs it on a very carefully controlled temperature sequence. All the glass fuses and the pieces that were separate become one piece of glass. Any pieces in the shallow bowls sag into the mold and become bowls themselves.

Here are a few of the pieces I made. The “breakfast in glass” piece is stuck in my office in San Jose where on a work-from-the-office day I would put my coffee (coffee for breakfast, cute huh?). The little blue slug-like things are chopstick rests.

I thought I had some pictures from the glass-blowing course, but I can’t find them. This was before the days of smartphones (remember, the iPhone only launched in 2007) but I’m sure I took my point-and-shoot camera with me at least one of the evenings of the course. I never got any good at glass-blowing, but it is tremendous fun. It takes two people to do anything much, one to do the blowing and the other to use various tools to shape the piece. The first piece you make is a paperweight, swirling together two different glasses, one clear, one colored, to make a ball shape with a flat base. I still have mine but it is in my office where I’ve not been since we went work from home.

There’s a Cadence Europe connection to glass too. In Biot, where I lived for about half the time I lived in France, there is a famous glassworks, La Verrerie de Biot. This is not far from the Cadence Sophia Antipolis office. Here’s a short video, which also shows more details about how glass blowing is done:

In a weird coincidence, when I moved to San Francisco in the early 2000s, I purchased a condo opposite what was then Pac-Bell Park, the Giants’ Stadium in a building called…The Glassworks. It was the site of Pacific Glassworks, the first glassworks on the West Coast. Prior to that, glass bottles and jars had to come from the East Coast and a lot of them got broken. You can read the whole history (pdf).

International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture

It is not just glass, it is also the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, or IYAFA2022. I guess growing food in a big aquarium would combine the two.

As it happens, I know something about that too. When my Dad retired from the Royal Navy, he and my mother moved to Cornwall (that’s the end of that long peninsula in the southwest of England, that ends at Land’s End). The cottage and land they bought had a stream running through it and no issue with water rights, so he dug out (or paid a contractor to dig out) four trout ponds and for ten years he farmed trout there. He mostly sold them directly to local restaurants who could put it on the menu as artisanal and local. So yes, my father ran an artisanal fishery using aquaculture to produce fish for the local Cornish market.

My own personal contribution to artisanal fish is in bronze. At the Crucible in West Oakland where I learned kiln-fired glass, I also took a class in making bronze sculptures. I decided to make a fish since it seemed it wouldn’t be beyond my limited artistic skills. There was a model maker from Industrial Light and Magic on the course who was making a bust of a friend of his as a present, which was on another level completely.

You may know how bronze casting is done. You actually make the sculpture out of wax. Then you coat the wax every day in a sort of silica sand, letting it dry, and gradually get thicker. You also need to shape a sort of funnel on top and add additional wax pipes to ensure that when cast all the nooks and crannies of the design will get filled by the bronze. I forget all the details. When everything is set, the molds are turned upside down and put in a kiln. All the wax melts and runs out leaving just the mold.

Then comes the big day. Bronze is melted in a big crucible and poured into everyone’s molds. It is pretty heavy and took two of us to do that. You let it cool for days and set and then spend a couple of weeks cutting off bits you don’t want where bronze set in the funnel and in the pipes. You also have to clean up where bits of silica got stuck in sharp corners on the original sculpture.

Et voila, my artisanal fish.

So we started off this post with glass, used in fiber optics. And ended up with a bronze fish which is mostly copper. In datacenters, everything is going in the other direction. Transmission over copper is gradually being superseded by transmission over fiber (glass).

Learn more

The IYoG2022 website.

The IYAFA2022 page at the UN, or technically the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

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