The Glass Laboratory inside a Mountain
Experimental research on volcanoes has been the main focus of the well-known researcher Professor Dr. Donald Dingwell’s work since the 1990s. The Canadian researcher was presented with the 2014 Otto Schott Research Award for his work.
Even back in the Stone Age, we humans used volcanic glass to produce cutting tools and spearheads. Donald Bruce Ding-well first met up with obsidian, which is rock formed by cooled lava, during his junior high school days in his home country of Canada when he discovered a photograph published in a school book on the geosciences. He certainly didn’t realize at the time that he would one day conduct research on the natural laboratories where volcanic glass is produced. He went on to study physics and chemistry with geology as an elective.
The researcher born in 1958 didn’t discover his passion for volcanology until he reached his thirties. Although volcanoes have accompanied us through history and evolution, they were studied in a rather one-sided manner from a modern science perspective. The current Professor of Experimental Volcanology and Director of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the LMU in Munich recalls that this was ”limited to a descriptive approach.” Researchers closely examined all of the deposits that eruptions had exposed and then attempted to draw conclusions as to the physical and chemical processes that went on inside the mountain. ”This type of field work is almost an art,” says Dingwell – and yet colleagues in the fields of physics and biology would have hardly referred to volcanology as a modern science due to the lack of the elements of simulation and experimentation. In the meantime, this has changed completely – the latter thanks mainly to Donald Dingwell and his work in the area of experimental volcanology.
At Dingwell's laboratory at the University of Munich, pressure is exerted on rocks at a temperature of 1,300 degrees Celsius and a volcanic eruption is simulated. Photo: SCHOTT/H.-J. Schulz
Dingwell and his colleagues had to overcome a number of obstacles in order for experimental volcanology to reach this point. In order to be able to determine the effects of hot liquids and their cooled down glass end products on a volcanic eruption, the researchers needed information on the exact properties of these substances. Their precise determination has made Dingwell what he is today for the world of glass: one of the most renowned experts on characterizing glass and glass melts.
Professor Donald Dingwell (2nd from left) was honored with the Otto Schott Research Award for his research on volcanic glasses. The award was presented by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ernst Abbe Fund and SCHOTT Board member Dr. Hans-Joachim Konz (2nd from right) at an international conference on glass held in Aachen, Germany, at the end of May. The picture also shows Board of Trustee members Professor Reinhard Conradt (RWTH Aachen; left) and Professor Carlo Pantano (Penn State University; right). Photo: SCHOTT/A. Sell
”Professor Dingwell is an outstanding researcher whose work on the thermomechanical properties of silicate glasses and melts has a major impact on the geosciences, glass science and glass technology,” emphasized Professor Carlo Pantano, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Research Award, at the award ceremony. ”These basic insights have also resulted in a better understanding of melting and shaping of industrial glasses,” he added. <
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