The Mystery Of Libya’s Desert Glass

I was on my last few hours of my open studio event recently, when in walks a woman who begins to tell me a story about how her father had gotten funding to study the presence of a naturally occurring form of glass in the desert of Libya in the ’50’s.

I was hooked because….well….chemistry, that’s why. And….glass of course!

You see, naturally occurring glass is rare because most often the glass is close to being pure silica simply because sand beds where the glass is formed is made up of almost exclusively silica. When you make a glass so pure as 90%+ a silica, it takes extraordinary temperatures to get the silica to go into a glass phase. It is why we humans have added things to silica to coax it down from the high temperatures required to melt it. Simply put, we use fluxes to achieve a lower melt temperature  

But the temperatures! My God! 
To melt pure silica you need temperatures in excess of 3100° Fahrenheit. It’s hotter than even the best constructed open air fire could hope to reach on earth. 
Without going into great detail, the types of magmas found coming up out of the earth have temperature ranges that depend on their mineral content. High silica magma, like the glass found in Libya, is recorded with a high mean temperature of 1472° Farenenheit. This is called Felsic magma and it’s lower temperatures are due to how magma, we believe, is formed in the earth, which is that iron is melted first, and then flows up through cracks and fissures in the earth into what we know to be volcanos and volcanic vents. As a result of this, sand, which we think lies at layers higher up, only tends to get a lesser heating effect so that it’s average temperature is lower than iron rich magma, whose temperatures are much higher.
Comparing the melting point of silica and it’s average melt temperature through natural means yields us a very broad temperature disparity. What gives? How on earth could this glass have been formed here so close to the surface of the earth where so much of this material has been found?
First, you should know that glass (or silica) does not have a discreet melting temperature. Instead, it has what we call a melting range. It’s not unlike how honey will change viscosity from thick to thin all depending on the temperature that is affecting it. So while silica forms a perfect union all on its own of a glass we call quartz glass (nearly pure silica) at 3100° F. it begins to go into a glass phase at lower temperatures. At 14-1500° F. silica is glass-like, but it’s also very much sand-like, too.  You would look at it and tell that its a very crude form of glass (very unlike the glass found in Libya).
The question on everyone’s mind has been, how did this Libyan desert glass form to begin with?
The Comet Theory
First, there are a lot of theories. One theory is that the silica was heated in our atmosphere as a result of a comet that fell to earth millions of years ago. This, the theory goes, was what created the extraordinary heat necessary to melt the silica.
But there are problems with this theory. A body falling to earth only takes a few minutes to go from our upper atmosphere to the surface of the earth, which may not be nearly enough time to heat up a comet and fuse the quartz into the glass that has been discovered on the desert floor. To make glass like what my visitorsfather studied in the ’50’s, you need enough time to really get the melt right. A meteor can enter our upper atmosphere and fall to earth within 15 minutes time (or less). Hardly enough time to get the silica cooking deep down in a comet.
The Volcano Theory

Another theory is that the silica was heated by volcanic means. Normally, however, we wind up seeing either basalt glasses, or very crude lower temperature glasses of the kind I described earlier. The Libyan glass is different from both of these kinds of volcanic glasses.
So as a result, researchers who have been studying this for a while now have looked at the region and have offered a new theory.

The Sol-gel Theory
When researchers began to study the geology of this area they found evidence of ancient volcanic activity. in fact in what they considered to be the bullseye of where most of the glass is found they also found a corresponding evidence of ancient volcanic activity in exactly the same area. Normally volcanic activity is not enough to melt silica into the type of glass that we find in the Libyan Desert glass.
There is a process however where silica can be heated over and over many times in order to create glass from silica. Researchers posit that the glass was made through a process called sol-gel which consists of small silica particles that melt and then slowly form glass, a process that could take many years of repeated heating and cooling in order to form a solid glass. One example of a sol-gel that you might be familiar with are opals, which are silica based particles along with other minerals that are repeatedly heated in volcanic vents that form the gems with rainbow colors that we know so well. The reason why the Libyan glass does not look like opals is because the conditions and the substance of the silica beds were very different than the ones in Australia that produce opals (which is a sol-gel process).
This theory offers the most likely possibility for how the Libyan glass was formed. While we can never be completely sure, it seems that in this one place on earth conditions were right many millions of years ago for this unique form of glass to be created.
I’m very thankful to have had such an interesting conversation with Robin who first told me about her father’s work because it put me on the path of a great mystery that lies in the sands of the Libyan desert. And of course, since it’s about glass, it naturally piqued my interest!
Source: http://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/magma/

American Glass Manufacturers Under Fire

This just in…..this article is from Architectural Glass Arts.  I am including the article in its entirety for all who might be concerned about over reach of regulation from up on high.  Spread the word. -Parker

SOURCE LINK:

http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=6b0adb646b23845dc5f96fed3&id=3a40357fe1


 

Advocate for Glass Art
View this email in your browser

If you’ve been following the news in the glass world…

You already know that Spectrum Glass is halting production and going out of business in the next few months. Uroboros Glass in Portland will be picking up production of the System 96 product line. However, the situation in Portland is growing out of control with knee jerk reactions to some sensationalist journalism not based on science, but based in fear and speculation. Production at Bullseye Glass is being suspended with the prohibition of use of the heavy metals necessary to produce colored glass.

There are a handful of glass manufacturers in the US who are being forced to introduce expensive equipment into their manufacturing process without a clear and reasonable timeline for implementing these procedures. If you would like to contact your Representatives in Washington to let them know that the glass art industry is a precious part of the US economy that we don’t want to see disappear due to unreasonable regulations, a sample letter is below. Feel free to change it up. If you’d like to learn more about the situation, there is a group on Facebook dedicated to Glass Artists for Air Quality.

To find your Senator: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
To find your Representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Dear Senator or Representative,
This week Spectrum Glass in Washington announced that after 40 years of producing colored art glass they will be closing their doors in July. They are the main American manufacturer of many types of colored art glass. This affects an estimated 30,000 Stained Glass, Fused Glass and Glass Blowing Artists, Stores, Art Studios and Hobbyists across America. Fortunately, arrangements have been made for Uroboros Glass in Oregon state to take over production of some of their Art Glass Product line. But there is still a huge problem threatening the American Art Glass Community.
The entire U.S. art glass industry is now being evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with respect to potential new regulations. Spectrum is the first to announce it’s closure, but other glass producing companies are also evaluating their options. Uroboros Glass has suspended production of two-thirds of their glass while EPA re-evaluates their standards. Long-standing interpretations of air quality regulations are being reevaluated, and if new regulations are applied to our industry, it would require substantial capital expenses. Spectrum Glass Company has operated well within existing environmental guidelines and has been the only stained glass manufacturer to employ baghouse technology on furnace exhaust. Still, they have already accrued extraordinary, unanticipated expenses since the start of the EPA evaluation and cannot withstand additional investments of an unknown scale. These business collapses will have a ripple effect across the country.
What you need to know:
  • The stained and colored glass industry is a small, but home grown American manufacturing phenomenon. It’s unique in the world, provides steady manufacturing jobs for American workers, and is an exporting industry as well.
  • This industry of just six manufacturers is facing $2.5-3.5 million of capital investment due to regulatory changes with no advance warning. This investment may prove too much for several of them to bear.
  • Government intervention is needed for them to meet the goals of the new regulations in such a short time frame.
  • The industry is willing to meet new regulations, but it needs reasonable time to do so.
  • The manufacturers are all owned by single individuals and their families, who work daily at their plants. They don’t have the resources of publicly traded corporations to simply pay up and move on.
  • These manufacturers supply thousands of other businesses and craftsmen who depend on their unique glass styles to complete their work. They are now at risk of being put out of work themselves.
  • The very suppliers who have created the iconic glass of the American stained glass legacy are at risk due to this situation.
  • There is currently no actual verification that the glass industry is connected to the detected toxins. EPA did moss testing, a new science, which raised public concern. They retested and found the levels to be safe. The current EPA review and imposed freeze of production is all based in fear not fact.
I want to protect the environment, but I do not want to crush an American Art Industry on assumed causation.

Please do whatever you can to prevent the loss of small businesses, jobs and and entire art form. The American Art Glass community needs your help.

Regards,
Your Name

Copyright © 2016 Architectural Glass Arts, All rights reserved.

 

New Year (Glass) Wishes

Orbit Slice Copyright

Over the last few years I have been taking photographs of my glass and finding that the more I zoom into the work, the more interesting the landscapes are that I get.  This is a process that believe it or not does not involve any post-production manipulation like filters or special effects. Everything that you see is as the camera saw it.  The difference for me with many of my pictures is HOW I choose to shoot the work.  Again, this is using direct sunlight, no special effects of any kind.  The key has been how I shoot the work, the lenses I use, the light I have and the object that I am photographing.  In my case, I have determined that some work photographs better than others in this way.

As we near a new year, I am reflecting a little on some of the pieces that came about this past year and I thought I would share some with you.  These are just a few of them.


 

Deep Orbit 2 Copyright

 

Some of my pictures look like surreal landscapes, maybe even from another world.  This is due to the fact that I am giving people a view into glass that most people do not see.  I am shooting glass objects at a high degree of magnification and under very high resolution.  As a result, I might turn a half-inch square into a 72 inch square.  Under these conditions, levels of detail emerge that the naked eye simply may never see.  In other cases, I am not photographing quit this tightly.  In this case, the glass will most often LOOK more like….glass.

Orbital Landscape Copyright

I like both ends of this spectrum and I have shot thousands of photographs now using my own blown glass as a subject.  You might wonder what I am trying to achieve.  Its a good question. In the beginning, I had no idea where the work was going.  I was photographing my work because a friend had sent me some photographs she took of some of my orbs up close. They were high resolution.  I blew one up and kept blowing it up until I realized that the lens she used continued to give good resolution of the glass surface.  This got me thinking and exploring.  I still am not sure where this type of work is going, except that I like it and I am going to continue doing it.  Something interesting happens when you allow yourself to not know where something is headed; it is suddenly free to go anywhere….even places you had never considered before.

From 0862-2Copyright

As I get older, technique does not dazzle me as much as it used to.  Its important, don’t get me wrong, its just that there is more to artistry than just technique. Sometimes our biggest problems lie in what we are unable to imagine….because we have limited ourselves creatively too much.  I see this all the time in school where people want to play it safe and get a good grade. The real fun is out on a limb, never sure when you might plop down on the ground.  Its there, on that limb, that the good fruit is nearly always plucked.

So often I find I am limited by my own biases of what I think I should be doing or that I am capable of doing that I literally squeeze out vast tracks of possibilities in my creative life.  As artists, we have to do this in order to create work that is coherent and focused, but this is a sword with two sides.  I use this work to keep me with something new and different running in the background.  And really, does it need to be anything?  After all, what are most of the “beautiful” materials in the world but a deep visceral reaction to things that are shiny, brilliant and brightly colored? When we say “eye candy” this is what we mean.

IMG_0876Copyright

Often “eye candy” gets smeared with a sense of vacuity though, as though this feeds the eye but not the soul. I am not entirely sure that this is so. In fact, I think that our need for great color and brilliance is so total that we could probably look at these kinds of things and be fed at a deep level.  In fact, this is just what we do when we look at a cut diamond, or a shiny metal surface.  What I am saying is that we ought not feel bad for loving the simple pleasure of a brilliant color.  After all, art emulates nature, and what we see in my glass is what we also see in nature, and it is that very nature that has informed our likes and dislikes.

Vertical Orbit Full resized Copyright

I find that when I am creating this work, I am an explorer.  I am seeking to see how far into the glass I can go to see what there is to see, to even go beyond the eye and its capacity to see the ordinary in order to pluck something from it that is extraordinary.  These are interesting pieces in their own right, and as they continue to emerge in an ever-interesting array of new forms and landscapes, I remain engaged in seeing where it will take me. Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone!  Here’s hoping that 2016 is a great year!Thanks for all your support!