2017 Keynote Lecture

ASGS Keynote Lecture, Austin TX, July 27 2017
Liebig’s Kaliapparat and the Origins of Scientific Glassblowing


In the fall of 1830, a young chemist named Justus Liebig developed a new piece of apparatus for organic analysis called the Kaliapparat (potash bulbs). Using the Kaliapparat, Liebig established his reputation as one of Europe’s leading analytical chemists, ultimately assuring his status as one of the nineteenth century’s greatest chemists. But the Kaliapparat changed much more than the course of Liebig’s career. Jackson explains in this talk how Liebig’s decision to produce the Kaliapparat by bending and blowing glass tubing radically changed how chemists do experimental work – so much so that an image of Liebig’s Kaliapparat was incorporated into the logo of the American Chemical Society. This transformation of chemical practice had profoundly important consequences. As chemists came to rely on hollow glassware, they sought skilled assistance in its manufacture. This is the origin of the scientific glassblower.

Author BiographyGlassWorkshop CatherineJackson Feature 645×415

Catherine Jackson is Assistant Professor of History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A native of the UK, Jackson originally trained as a synthetic organic chemist in Cambridge (PhD, 1989) before working for almost a decade in the petroleum industry. Drawn to the history of science through a second career teaching chemistry, Jackson retrained as a historian of science at the University of London (PhD, 2009). She held research fellowships at the University of Notre Dame and Chemical Heritage Foundation in the USA, and at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany, before joining the faculty in Madison in January 2015. Jackson has published on the work of leading 19th century chemists including Justus Liebig, August Hofmann, and Emil Fischer, and on the material culture of chemical laboratories. She co-edited (with Hasok Chang) An Element of Controversy: The Life of Chlorine in Science, Medicine, Technology and War (BSHS, 2007).

Jackson is completing a book explaining the origins and development of organic synthesis in 19th century Germany. Her historical approach revealed the central role of scientific glassblowing in the science of chemistry, examined in two essays published in history of science journals Isis and Annals of Science (March and April 2015). More recently, Jackson published (with Tracy Drier) an article on this subject in Fusion (February 2017). Jackson and Drier are developing a collaborative project that investigates the relationship between chemical knowledge and the craft skill of scientific glassblowing, today and in the past.