By Jeongmi Kang and Jamie Woods

What is glass?

To first understand why we use glass in our kitchens, we need to understand the material. Glass is a very unique material. The Corning Museum of Glass is a not-for-profit museum that devotes itself to the art, history, science, and technology of glass. According to the Corning Museum of Glass, glass is a rigid material that is neither a solid nor liquid, but exists in a crystalline state. The rapid heating of a silicate substance create the un-structured alignment of atoms, often referred to as a rigid liquid.

Glass has some interesting properties. Unlike a solid such as quartz, glass is a material that flows. It is often a hard, brittle, and transparent material. It may or may not have color. It can withstand sudden temperature changes, it is an electrical insulator, and it is corrosion resistant to most acids. It occurs in a natural way when the intense heat of a volcano melts the sand around it (forming obsidian), when lightning strikes the sand, or when meteorites pound the earth.

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Bottom: Glass formed from lightning strike from

What are the past uses of glass?

The earliest known man-made use of glass dates back to 4000 BC, where ancient Egyptians used it as a coating for stone beads. There is a legend that man first discovered glass when a group of seamen were camping on a beach one night. They heated their cooking pots over stones of natron (stones used in embalming the dead) and fire. An unusual liquid began flowing from the fire, which became the origin of man-made glass.

Glass was a precious material in ancient times used only by pharaohs, priests, and nobles. However, the Romans discovered a method of blowing glass into shapes instead of shaping it with molds. Romans then produced a new furnace that could melt up to 40 tons of glass at a time. Although glass didn’t have the same appeal as precious metals, Romans were attracted to its ability to not impart a taste or smell on the substances they contain. Therefore, glass became a common household material for storing food, perfume, and medicines.

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Top: A mid-century A.D. bottle possibly used for perfumes from

Bottom: A Roman lady preparing perfume

Glass became a popular choice among Romans for serving food, drinking, and washing hands between meals. It was also used for preservation, as written in a treatise of agriculture by Columella (written ca. AD 60-65). He describes the formula for best preserving the flavor of pickles is storing it in a compressed jar with vertical sides. The transparency allowed people to view the contents of the jar before opening the container, which was a very beneficial characteristic in a time when many common people did not have the ability to read or write.

During the Italian Renaissance, Venice and Murano became the centers of glassmaking. During the early 1200’s, the Venetian Glassmaker’s Guild was formed. The Venetians attempted to perfect its transparency and mixed metal oxides to create a rainbow of colors. This intensified the use of glass for colored decorative items and windows.

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Top: A Roman bottle with handle from

Bottom: A Murano Wineglass circa 1575-1625 from

A turning point in glassmaking was the invention of lead crystal glass by George Lavenscroft in 1676. The new glass eliminated the clouding that occurs in glass by putting lead in the raw materials. The new glass was softer, easier to manipulate, and had a higher refractive index.

What are the present uses of glass?

Today, glass is part of our everyday lives. Imagine a world without glass for a moment. There would be no architectural glazing such as windows or doors which provide light and protection for interior spaces. There would be no enclosed automobiles such as cars or airplanes. There would be no optical aids such as corrective lenses, telescopes, or microscopes. There wouldn’t be modern lighting because glass is a key factor in the design of the light bulb. There wouldn’t be any glass tableware or art to express our individuality or to store are food or beverages.

Traditionally glass was primarily used for storage containers or tableware. It wasn’t until 1915 that Corning Glass Works developed a type of glass that would preserve “time, labor, and fuel” named Pyrex. Pyrex glass is a lead-free glass that was made to be more energy efficient and easier to clean than metal. Glass became a popular material in the kitchen because of the ease of cleaning. Other kitchen utensils and appliances were designed to incorporate similar ideas related to the kitchen as a “well-oiled machine”.


<7Part of a Pyrex advertisement in 1916 from

Gas stoves waste about sixty percent of the energy by heating up the area around the kitchen rather than the food. Induction cooktops are more energy efficient way of cooking. The cooktop holds a copper coil which produces a magnetic field when electricity passes through it. The magnetic field only heats the area under the cookware. Glass is typically used as the surface of these cooktops to make it easy to clean and to act as an electrical insulator. These surfaces are not warm to the touch because the magnetic field is only activated by a material high in iron.


Diagram of the transfer of heat of an induction cooktop through glass from

What are the future uses of glass?

There is no doubt that glass will be a desired material in our future kitchen. Because of the many desired properties of glass, it is inevitable that people will continue to use glass in some way. The first property is its physical, crystalline state. This particular property allows us to shape the material in unique ways that other solids cannot replicate easily. Colors, textures and objects can be inserted within the liquid to create unusual artistic effects. Because of its shape, it may be used in the future to reduce the size of induction cooktops. This would allow disabled people to take advantage of a cooktop within a comfortable range of movement.

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Top: Corning Museum of Glass Glassmaker from

Bottom: Modern textured glass countertop from

Lighting is an essential element in a kitchen. Because glass is a versatile material, lighting glass surfaces will become more integrated. Fiber optic lights and LEDs could be incorporated into surfaces in order to light work areas or to have a dramatic effect to awe guests. Since people tend to take pride in their kitchens, lighting may begin to be more controlled. Electrochromatic glass, or smart glass, is an electrically switchable glass which changes the light transition properties when a voltage is applied. It may be used in screens, dividers, or even in the cabinets to have the capability to change the opacity of glass to fit the user’s needs. It is also being used instead of shading devices to block harmful UV rays.

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Top: A LED lit glass countertop from

Bottom: An example of electrochromatic glass from

Research on glass is improving its other properties such as its scratch resistance. A company named Guardian Inglass created a carbon fused glass that withstands abrasion and appears newer ten times longer than the average piece of man-made glass. In 2007, a U.K. based company named AGC Glass, claimed they created an anti-microbial glass that kills 99.9% of bacteria and stops the spread of fungi. This new glass would be excellent for families with health problems or want to benefit from a cleaner environment.

Touch screen capabilities are already available on handheld devices and computer monitors. The Corning Museum of Glass is proposing surface technology that would be used throughout the home similar to our electronic devices we own now. These surfaces could easily become integrated with the kitchen of the future. Movies, pictures, calendars and other apps accessible to any mobile device could be integrated with this glass.


The convenience of this technology integrated within the architectural elements of the home would be appealing in this information age because the users of the kitchen could seamlessly multi-task at one work surface. The user could read a recipe, watch a cooking show, or control the heating element without moving across the kitchen. And because it would be easy to clean, this could ultimately reduce the need for larger kitchens.

To watch Corning Museum of Glass’ vision of the future of glass at

Finally, with a new wave of interest in eco-friendly materials, glass is a viable option. Because the simple raw ingredients of the material can be broken down and most impurities can be removed from the glass, it can be virtually re-used over and over.