Crafting the Jamies: where chemistry and art meet

Crafting the Jamies: where chemistry and art meet

terri adams at work

Meet Terri Adams, the glassblower designing the trophies for the upcoming Jamie Ferguson Chemistry Innovation Awards.

When Terri arrived in Oxford 31 years ago, there were up to eight glassblowers. Now it’s just Terri, and her skills are in constant demand. Oxford is still pushing the boundaries of research, requiring specialist scientific glassware and skilled craftspeople. Back in the day, Terri was making large scale glassware, including a 130 mm diameter Soxhlet extraction apparatus. Now, the focus has shifted. Glass vessels for magnetic physics experiments have been replaced by magnetic free steel and Terri makes much smaller, but just as intricate, glassware such as mini electrochemical reaction chambers with embedded electrodes.

big fish glass sculpture by terri adams

For Terri, glass is not just a job: it’s an artform. When she gets home from the office, she’s off to her glass studio where she lets her imagination run wild. She’s in a world of beautifully crafted dragons brought to life with an intertwining of electric purple plasma, beam balancing gymnasts reminiscent of art-deco bronze sculptures, and beasts from the depths of the ocean imbued with the bioluminescent lights that shine in the darkness of the watery abyss.

gymnast sculpture by terri adams

Every now and then, Terri is asked to combine her day job with her art, such as for the upcoming Jamie Ferguson Chemistry Innovation Awards. The Jamies, as they have affectionately become known, were created in memory of Jamie Ferguson, a beloved colleague of Oxford University Innovation (OUI) and the Department of Chemistry who tragically passed away during the pandemic. The Jamie’s are an annual award co-developed by the Department and OUI that build on Chemistry’s legacy for innovation and impact by recognising entrepreneurial students with a passion for creating positive impact.

OUI asked Terri to create four prize trophies for the Jamies winners. Each trophy stands 20 cm high and consists of a 500 ml conical glass flask, sitting on a beautifully turned oak base. On the outside of the flask is an inscription which reads “Jamie Ferguson Chemistry Innovation Award”. Inside the flask, rising from the base to the capped top, is an undulating stream of brightly coloured bubbles.

Terri describes the Jamies trophies as “very simple and easy to make”, but there is beauty in the simplicity. As Terri discusses her process, she holds a stick of glass between the thumb and forefinger of both hands, and delicately rolls it back and forth in a raging jet of blue flame. As the glass heats up and turns yellow, Terri moves it out of the flame, still gently rolling the glass as she applies gentle inward pressure from each hand to form a glass ball. She returns the glass to the flame and repeats the process to form a second ball, next to the first one, and then finally a third. 

The result is a series of three equally sized and spaced glass bubbles. She then creates a similar series of bubbles, but of increasing size, and together they form a string about a third longer than the height of the flask. Finally, she heats up the string of bubbles and forms it into a wave the same height as the flask.

jamies trophies by terri adams

The Jamies inscription is applied as a ceramic water slip transfer to the exterior of the flask, and then baked overnight in a kiln on an annealing cycle at 565 degrees Celsius. Terri heats up the flat bottom of the flask and creates a peak in the middle of the base – this will be used to secure the flask to the oak base. Next, the bubbles are secured in place within the flask of the trophy, the trophy neck is capped off and sealed, and the whole is secured onto an oak or teak base.

The base itself is infused with Oxford’s history of knowledge and learning. The oak comes from old bench seating which was salvaged during refurbishment works of the 1940s Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory (PTCL) lecture theatre, whilst the teak comes from old laboratory benches. The reclaimed oak and teak have been expertly turned by Charlie Jones, a retired mechanical engineer involved in the student workshop of the PTCL, and Paul Mitchell, PTCL Building Manager. 

Where the individual trophies are elegantly simple and understated, Terri is also about to start work on a larger one-of-a-kind masterpiece Jamies Trophy, intended for permanent display in the Chemistry Research Laboratory. This trophy will have nods to the smaller personal trophies, whilst symbolising innovation in Oxford, as represented by Terri’s special blend of hollow blown technique, imagination and creativity. 

The final piece will be unveiled at the end of the summer. However, Chemistry students aspiring to get their hands on one of these iconic pieces will have the chance to do so in June when we host the second edition of the Jamies. For more information on the awards and how to apply, visit the Chemistry intranet.