Chemical Engineering Chair Mark Burns recently presented Dan (BSE ’60, BSC ’60) and Nancy Chapel with a sculptural glass plasma display in appreciation of their recent gift to the department. In 2012, the Chapels generously endowed the “Dan Chapel Professorship in Chemical Engineering.
Burns asked Harald Eberhart (to the left with display), the department’s master glassblower, to create a glass sculpture uniquely designed for Dan & Nancy. The Chapels are owners of Cardwell Hill Cellars, a boutique winery located in Oregon, so Eberhart decided to make a work that would represent their passion for winemaking—a vine of grapes. Eberhart was given complete artistic license for the project and he created a beautiful one-of-a-kind plasma display for the couple. This is not the first art piece he has made for a Michigan alumnus; two years ago he made a custom work for Larry Page, co-founder of Google.
The vine was made from Pyrex glass and the leaves were formed with uranium glass that was blown hollow; they both contain pure argon gas. The grapes, blown from Pyrex also, have an inter tube with a hollow sphere at each end. The sphere was filled with steel wool so the energy would be distributed evenly in all directions to ignite the neon gas inside to produce the plasma.
In the pottery base sits a single electrode transformer with a hot lead wire that is embedded on “sticky” aluminum foil. The foil acts as an “antenna” to ignite the entire glass display. To make the piece safer for display, the neon and argon is illuminated using radio frequency (60 Hz/14 V/ 1 amp), rather than electrodes. A wall adapter reduces the line power to a lower voltage.
Eberhart likes to push the envelope of 3D glass technology when he designs new pieces to show the public the versatility of the art form. The skill needed to create such pieces is much higher than what is needed to produce the common 2D neon signs you see in restaurants & bars. Eberhart says that only expert research glass blowers like himself have the skills to design these three dimensional sculptures. This kind of artistry lends itself best to designing nature forms (trees, flowers, etc.) & imaginary characters. So Michigan alumni may be disappointed to learn that Eberhart would probably have to say “no” to any requests to make a Block M, the Big House, football helmets, or most other Michigan man-made icons.