Posts Tagged ‘physics’

I’m afraid the fact that my kiln is called Kelvin seems to have drawn more physics interest to this blog than I’d ever anticipated, despite it being of no obvious relevance or utility to the world physics community.

Kelvin having also apparently contravened the laws of the physical universe can only have attracted more unwarranted scientific attention, and he and I would both like to apologize for any distress caused. I am pleased to report that he is now behaving more normally and provoking less anxiety both for me, and – I imagine – any passing scientists. If, however, any such passing scientist would like to point out any errors made by Kelvin or myself, we would be delighted to be given the opportunity to rectify them.

Also, if any competent, suitably qualified person would like to explain the whole surface tension thing in words of one syllable* (*all values approximate), I’d be extremely grateful.

In the meantime, I made a blue bowl the same size and shape and thickness as the red one posted recently. I’m enjoying the contrasting white opal segment thing I’ve got going.


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There is nothing more disturbing than this.

Luckily it is unusual to wake up and discover that the laws of physics have been contravened during the night, but believe me, when it does happen, it puts a kink in your day, not to mention the universe. A serious kink not straightened out by the suspicion that the reason might be that the kiln is sick. Universe-bendingly sick.

OK, so what happened exactly? In your own words, ma’am. Take your time.

I went to the opera with a friend (Barber of Seville, since you ask, sung in English with the most fabulously witty libretto), came home, shoved some stuff in the kiln and went to bed. On the bottom was a red and white two-layer disc to go in the dog bowl mold, on top was a 30cm disc. The details of this are important. The bottom layer was Bullseye 2mm transparent glass in charcoal gray and dark plum covering approximately the surface area shown in the somewhat dodgy illustration to the right. Over it was a 30cm disc of 3mm Bullseye Tekta (clear). I set a top temperature of 1345°, for 15 minutes. I reckon the total thickness was 1½ x 3mm layers.

Now one of the few things I thought I really knew about glass was that when you heat it up to fluidity, it will look to be around 6mm (two standard layers) thick when left to its own devices. A thinner disc will tend to contract (to a footprint that will allow it to be 6mm thick), giving those characteristic needle-sharp projections where the glass is said to have “grabbed” the shelf (clinging on by its fingernails?) in contracting. A thicker disc will likewise tend to overflow its footprint until it reaches the 6mm level. Simple. I understand it to be something to do with surface tension.

I know this is why, when your toddler upends a glass of milk, it doesn’t just conveniently fall on the floor in an upside-down glass of milk shape but spreads out into an unholy mess over an area several times the size of the kitchen, covering all available surfaces (including, but not limited to, the dishwasher door, the walls and the ceiling). This is because spilt milk has a surface tension equal to parental tension/infinity -1. Mercury has a much greater surface tension, which is why a spilt thermometer will roll around forever like poisonous marbles. All it means to me in glassworld is that a dichroic pendant comes out a nice even 6mm even though it’s made of several different pieces of glass and would otherwise come out in lots of little lumps and bumps, or flow into a flat and fragile disc of immense thinness. So this much I thought I knew.

Why then, did the glass disc on the top shelf spread out to a thickness of about 2mm, such that it flowed right over the edge of the shelf on one side? And it split in half, to boot. As I say, worrying non-conformity to the laws of physics.

Except of course, it wasn’t that at all. Rather more mundanely, I think the kiln wasn’t level, because the floor isn’t entirely level (I’ve now pulled out the spirit level and am planning on checking obsessively before every firing). Also it almost certainly overheated because I may have had the shelf edge too close to the thermostat, baffling it in both senses of the word. The red and white bowl also came out not level, and needed to go back in. Now it’s fine: I’m fabulously pleased with it.

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