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Aaron Kirchhoff


Emily and Nancy

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Originally from Iowa City, Iowa, I attended The University of Iowa, where I studied biology and the arts. I graduated in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in studio art, but also maintained a strong foundation in the sciences. Upon graduating, I was very fortunate to receive an apprenticeship, and later employment, with Glass Heritage, a revered glassblowing and stained glass studio nestled in downtown Davenport, Iowa on the Mississippi River.

After a year-long indoctrination into glass working, I discovered the niche overlap between science and glass working. This was the same time I learned there was only one institution in the nation where I could study scientific glass -- Salem Community College. I visited during the annual International Flameworking Conference, and I promptly decided I would double major in glass art and scientific glass technology. I graduated from Salem Community College in 2008. I am currently employed by the federal government at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

What made you decide to pursue a career in glass?
The field of glass working is vast in that there are innumerable avenues of study. I thought it would be a wise professional choice to possess a specialized glass degree in a particular vein.

I was endowed with a second stroke of good fortune when my performance at SCC qualified me for the first-ever scientific glassblowing internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The internship at ORNL was phenomenal. I gained crucial professional and technical experience. When my internship ended, I embarked on the daunting endeavor of creating a private glass studio and business. I did this while continuing to apply as a scientific glassblower to research facilities and educational institutions.

Tell us a little about your career.
Ultimately, thanks to my degree from SCC and my internship at ORNL, I now work at NIST. I am one of only three employees in the Glassblowing Shop and the Optical Shop. In almost all cases, the glass instruments and components we make cannot be found anywhere else because they are tailored specifically for the research at NIST. We fabricate, modify and repair blown apparatus, instruments and components. We also make optical-grade components and blown apparatus from countless types of glass, including proprietary glasses made from scratch in our shop. The glassware is ultimately used in research from the chemistry department to our nuclear reactor and anywhere in between.

What is your favorite part of your career?
My favorite part of my career is that on a daily basis I am able to focus my meticulous nature, satiate my desire to fabricate and engage my scientific interests. A large part of why I enjoy working at NIST is that everything we do in the Fabrication Technology Division is custom, one-of-a-kind work.

Was there anyone in particular at the College who really helped mentor or inspire you?
(Former glass art instructional chair) Anna Boothe is an extraordinary mentor and educator. She was one of the most influential instructors I have ever had, in addition to being a world class artist. Also, Dennis Breining, the chair of the SCC Scientific Glass Technology program, has continued to improve that program in many ways. I am continually impressed by the positive changes he has been able to implement. Also, being able to work with Paul Stankard was a very special opportunity.

How did your education at SCC help in your career today?
SCC provided me with a specialized education in a field that would have otherwise surely remained out of reach. I was exposed to the knowledge, experience, and social networking that allowed me to reach my current position. I truly cannot imagine where I would be today if I had not chosen to attend SCC.