At age 11, Glen Cook‘s experiment with melting aluminum on his parents’ stove ended badly, at least as far as their new kitchen floor was concerned. The beaker broke, and spattered burns remained on the otherwise-pristine vinyl for years afterward. But the willingness to take risks — and learn from them — propelled young Glen into a life of scientific exploration.
Appointed the Museum’s new chief scientist in January, Glen spent over 16 years at Corning Incorporated, where he became one of the company’s most acclaimed exploratory researchers. Applying his passion for discovery to this new role, he will continue to research scientific and technical aspects of glass technology, and his work will help shape the exhibits, programs, and publications of the museum.
Helping to elevate how the museum showcases glass science – in artistic expression as well as technological exhibits – feels like a natural fit for Glen, who grew up in suburban Los Angeles, Calif.
His father was an industrial artist, doing paintings and photo-realistic renderings for a defense contractor. He encouraged Glen, the youngest of five, to use the airbrushes and other artistic tools he’d bring home from work. While expressing himself with artwork at a young age, he also had a keen interest in science – perhaps inspired by the Gemini and Apollo space missions of the 1960s and 70s. At 5, he was delighted to receive a chemistry set for Christmas, purchased with the S&H Green Stamps his homemaker mother had carefully saved.
While his parents were somewhat dismayed at the ruination of their kitchen floor years later, they still encouraged his learning. Glen tried to develop a better grease for his bicycle chain, and the overheated mixture of water, oil, and wax left a permanent splotch of greasy goop on the ceiling plaster.
“No paint could cover it up,” laughed Glen, now 50 and the father of two sons. “I’ve always been an experimentalist. I always pushed the boundaries, whether it was in art or science.”
Through his undergraduate studies in materials engineering at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Glen built on his love of process – changing one thing into something else. At the University of Wisconsin to pursue his Ph.D., he became fascinated with glass science. His graduate advisor was a former Corning Incorporated scientist, Dr. Reid Cooper.
That led him to Corning in 1998. After a few years of fundamental research, he joined the Display Technologies group as an expert on flat-glass formation, just as the LCD business was beginning to take off.
Glen eventually moved into other areas of fundamental process research, often collaborating with partners like Dow Corning. He won Corning’s top honor for exploratory research – the Stookey Award – in 2013.
He also continued to pursue art as a hobby. He’s always felt a comfortable convergence of science and art in his approach to life and work. And that synergy became even more clear to him when he began working with museum glassblowers experimenting with the application of some of Corning’s specialty glasses.
“Their mastery, their dedication, their willingness to experiment beyond the edge of what their craft had told them was possible – I saw that, and I recognized a kinship there,” he said. “They were doing this dance on the edge of science, and they were making objects that were masterfully beautiful. I thought, I want to be a part of this.”
He began leading a liaison between Corning and the museum in new research for design applications. He also became technical advisor for a new Specialty Glass Artist-in-Residence program.
And when the museum’s executive director, Karol Wight, began searching for a new chief scientist – a role that had been vacant since the 2008 retirement of Dr. Robert Brill – she knew she had the perfect candidate in Glen.
“He’s such a gregarious person – so well-spoken, so friendly,” Karol said. “Plus, he’s an accomplished research scientist, so we’ll work with that aspect of his skill set to study glass in unique ways at the museum.”
Glen has already forged a close partnership with science and technology curator Marvin Bolt, and is helping guide much of the science-related strategy behind the expansion of the museum, set to open in March.
“Through Glen and Marv, we’ll be able to more strongly link our historical collections to the science of the day in which they were made. We want to emphasize that science story so much more than it has been,” Karol said.
Glen has spent much of the last few months informally observing hot glass demonstrations, educational programs, and tours at the museum, answering people’s questions.
“Seeing the lights go when someone understands something, and seeing the joy when they make that connection, and knowing I helped them to do that – that’s what helps me know this is the perfect place for me at this point in my career,” he said.
“Everything I do, all the passion I’m throwing into this new role, will somehow result in somebody knowing something they didn’t know before. That’s really joyful for me.”