11. November 2014
Volcanic eruptions in Iceland, Hawaii, and Papua New Guinea have brought renewed attention to one of the most powerful natural phenomena on Earth. Volcanoes can transform landscapes, influence the climate, and sometimes even offer technological breakthroughs that are hard to find anywhere else.
That’s what Dr. Donald Dingwell discovered. Dingwell, the Secretary General of the European Research Council, is one of the top experimental volcanologists in the world. He’s also one of the world’s most renowned experts on glass.
A recent recipient of the Otto Schott Research Award, Dingwell has been studying volcanoes for decades, even recreating volcanic eruptions in the laboratory. Additionally, his group was the first to simulate eruption-induced lightning in the laboratory, which represents just one of the many highly innovative experimental programs that Dingwell coordinates.
Simulated eruptions start by heating rocks under pressure in a furnace to temperatures up to 1,300 degrees Celsius. And just like a real volcano, it erupts when the pressure is suddenly allowed to escape. The eruption is a highly kinetic and potentially dangerous outcome that must be safely controlled and monitored.
Dingwell and his researchers measure the compositions of the ejected particles, including glass fragments left after the explosion. In order to determine the effects of these hot liquids and glass byproducts in a volcanic eruption, Dingwell and his colleagues needed information on the exact properties of these substances.
His work has been invaluable to the glass manufacturing industry and is often cited by industrial researchers working to purify glass. The process of purifying glass drives out the water and soluble gases from the melt in order to prevent bubbles from forming in the final product. His work as a volcanologist means he rarely deals in absolutes when it comes to identifying the components of glass. This has made him one of the experts on different aspects of glasses, including the thermomechanical properties of silicate glass, and how the composition of a glass affects viscosity and thermal expansion.
Dingwell’s findings and the papers published by his researchers have increased the understanding of melting and shaping industrial glasses, and his lab’s published research has opened new doors in the geosciences and glass science fields that are fueling tomorrow’s glass technology.