What’s on : Lectures

What can ‘Glass’ bring to the UN International Year of Glass

8 Mar 2022
Start time
7:30 PM
Professor Emeritus John Parker, University of Sheffield
What can 'Glass' bring to the UN International Year of Glass

Event Information

What can ‘Glass’ bring to the UN’s 2030 humanitarian goals?
Professor Emeritus John Parker, University of Sheffield

2022 has been designated as the UN International Year of Glass. My talk will explain what is behind the award: the human stories over millennia behind the making of ‘Glass’; why it’s become the material we look through and yet don’t see; how it can contribute to pressing human problems such as climate change, sustainability and health; and finally show how it enriches our culture through communications and the arts.


Emeritus Professor Parker joined the University of Cambridge in 1964; he achieved a first class MA in Natural Sciences, a PhD and for good measure added 2 years post-doctoral experience. He next moved to the department of Glass Technology at the University of Sheffield (1971-2009). His interests ranged from optical fibres, dental cements, defects in glass making, to glass structure and optical absorption. Although formally retired he still teaches in Sheffield and remains heavily involved in the Society of Glass Technology, as an Honorary Fellow. He is also an honorary member of the Deutsches Glastechnische Gesellshaft. For 21 years he was secretary of the International Commission on Glass Coordinating Technical Committee and still assists with their Winter (China) and Summer (France) Schools and has had a major role in organising the 2022 UN International Year of Glass. He has published 200 books, technical articles and reviews. As Curator of the Turner Museum of Glass, he frequently talks on the collection.

This lecture will be held on Zoom and invitations will be sent to YPS members and the general mailing list two days before the event. This is a free event but non members can help to cover our lecture programme costs by donating here:

Donate here – Thank you

Member’s Report

Professor John Parker’s lecture was a lively and impassioned description of how he and his colleagues managed to make 2022 the International Year of Glass. Lowering their sights from a full blown Glass Age akin to the Iron or Stone Ages, this project arose from the 2015 Year of Light and sought to address the Cinderella status of glass. Why was glass not really recognised? Was this a function of its success? Glass works best when it cannot be seen, in windows, telescopes etc., but this was no reason why it should be ignored.

Professor Parker explained that the UN had its own agenda when considering applications for a special year, and illustrated the particular areas thought relevant to glass, providing examples. First up was Good Health and Well-Being, broken down into three categories: sustainability, medical benefits and social art. Glass is a major player in resisting climate change in the form of double glazing, insulation and affordable, clean and renewable energy. Work was also being done on the possibility of translating nuclear waste into glass. Medically, glass has a significant role in spectacles, dental fillings, bone grafts, epipens and, more domestically, in cooking. He also pointed to the use of glass in artworks and museums.

As for sustainable cities and communities, the role of glass in mobile phones has contributed to information sharing and better communications across the world. This was especially apparent when a ‘phone call could save a walk of, say, ten miles, reducing time spent and effort. The fact that glass can be re-used has reduced waste considerably (though in the Q & A session it emerged that companies were interpreting the regulations differently). Work was in progress to reduce the carbon footprint of glass to zero, possibly by later this year.

Professor Parker also made a case for glass in leading to gender equality by pointing to a sit-in by female delegates to a glass conference arguing for greater representation on the podium and in the book, Welcome to the Glass Age which he has co-edited with Alicia Duran and which is free to download. He did however concede that they had not quite reached their 50/50 target of contributors. A link to this work will be provided to YPS.

The Q & A session was equally lively, centring on recycling, stained glass in All Saints Church North Street and the effects of sand and glass in desert conditions.

A trip is planned to the Turner Museum of Glass in Sheffield later this year, where Professor Parker is curator and it was hoped to meet him in person there. Members might also like to note that in this UN International Year of Glass, a new museum has been opened to house the Stourbridge Glass Collection.

Dorothy Nott