Technical Staff Profile: David Marshall


Scientific Glass Department, School of Chemistry, Faculty of Science & Engineering

The Glassblowing workshop we have located in the chemistry building isn’t what most people’s idea of a glassblowing workshop might be. We don’t for example, make our own glass on site, we don’t pull glass either direct from a furnace like conventional glassblowers do.

Our workshop resembles more of an engineering workshop type environment , we have a varied selection of tools that we use to work with glass. We work with pre-formed glass tubing in different diameter’s , for larger diameter glass we have glass working lathes that we use to essentially turn the glass for us while we melt and shape the glass.

We also have bench mounted glassworking torches that we use for apparatus that can be manufactured on the bench.

We use a selection of carbon formers and paddles to shape and form the glass into specific shape’s , We use Carbon/ Graphite tools because they can withstand high temperature’s without sticking to the molten glass surface .  Carbon can be easily cut and shaped into specific shapes or profiles this also benefits us as we have to manufacture our own tools for specific jobs. Being able to make your own tools is an important part of being a scientific glassblower, while there are numerous standard techniques we use day to day, we have to be able to adapt and have the ability to create tools specific to one off jobs or specialist apparatus.

We also have cold working equipment in the workshop, a glass diamond cutting disc saw that we use for cold cutting of glass and a glass lapping wheel that is mainly used for creating a ground finished surface on flanges .

In terms of importance, the Glassblowing workshop is an incredibly important part of any Science based University.

The work we do is so varied and complex to cover here but perhaps the most an important factor to consider is that of time.

If you are 2/3rds of the way through doing a PhD for example and require a complicated and bespoke reaction system building then you simply do not have time to go to an outside private company to build it for you. Due to the complexities involved to certain research projects, its simply not a feasible as nearly 90% of the time things need to be tweaked or modified in some way . Therefore it is very important that we are able to work with face to face with people on specific projects. Another point to consider is that not every student knows the limits or limitations, or indeed what they actually need. So it’s important that we can work with them to build system that works for them specifically. Building bespoke apparatus can be very time consuming for both myself and the person who requires it. So it’s essential that they can have access to the service we provide.

Describe what a typical working day would involve

A typical working day starts at 7:30am. It is not easy to say what a typical day involves because the work we do is so varied, it is very unlikely that we have 2 days the same.

Of course we do have a general workload of standard lab apparatus that we manufacture and repair and we also build a lot of Schlenk  line vacuum systems as well as a sample sealing service.

Also part of my day involves dealing with enquires and responding to emails, calls etc.

What qualifications are required for becoming a Glassblower?

Generally a good standard of education in science based subjects, however its more important to have to have the right attitude in my opinion. It’s a long process and although a grounding in science is a good start, most of the work we do requires an ability to learn hand’s on. You cannot learn to become a glassblower in a classroom.

How long would it take to train an apprentice to becoming fully qualified in this field?

The standard apprenticeship term is 5 years. This has been the standard for many years through the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers.

Generally it takes 5 years to become competent and 10 years to reach the point where you are able to sit your master craftsman’s examination.

One unfortunate aspect of our profession is that there are no formal training opportunities available in the UK to train a Glassblower, so even if you wanted to learn to become a Scientific glassblower there simply isn’t any avenues for you to do this. I believe there is a training school in France and another in the US but as yet non in the UK. We are very much on the endangered species list.

What are the highs and lows of the job?

I always get satisfaction from the fact that I have produced something that could have at least helped in some way to real advances in sciences, whether that’s from an environmental perspective through waste water management, hydrogen fuel cell technology or to advances in cancer research. The list is endless. There are many high points to being in this field and its always great when you get feedback and appreciation from the people you work with on projects.

Low points, not many really. It can be frustrating at times when you have spent 2 hours working on a complex piece of apparatus only to have it crack on you at the last min but that’s is the nature of the material and the battle we as glassblowers have to deal with and overcome . Ive been glassblowing nearly 30 years and it still goes wrong from time to time.  You never stop learning in this field.

This is a niche area, and requires very specialist skills, what would you say to someone who might be interested in becoming a Glassblower?

I would say great! Unfortunately and sadly this unless one can persuade a private company to train them for 5 years with the hope of a position at the end of it is simply not available.

We at the British Society are trying to address these issues and have been for some time, the government are aware of the situation and the decline in our field but unless certain action is taken then I believe it’s only a matter of time before we as a Society disappear forever.

I have been approached by 2 people since taking up my post here 2 years ago (one a chemistry undergrad) absolutely desperate to become a glassblower, it’s a little disheartening to inform them that its not something we offer but perhaps we may in the future.

Technical Achievements

Well done Alison Thomlinson, from Division of Cell matrix Biology & Regenerative Medicine, SBS. She gave an oral presentation on “Polyacrylate Polymer Dressing Reduces Inflammatory Response In A Partial Thickness Burn Wound” at the British Burns Association conference (Swansea) last month.

Yvonne Duxbury, David Dennington, Colin Greensmith and their new member of staff Sarah Warburton gave blood at the blood donation centre Plymouth grove on the 11th May. They, Stu Marshall and Sally Ashe, staff  from MVU (Microbiology and Virology Unit) are booked to donate again in August.




Jordan Gaskell successfully completed his IOSH Working Safely in April, well done!

Sandra Taylor, Senior Research Technician at Synbiochem was recently shortlisted for the FSE Better World Showcase. This is the forerunner to the university wide Making a Difference awards, which she was also commended for. Excellent work!




Learning For All

Have you seen this season’s addition of Learning For All, your easy access round up of what is available from Staff Learning and Development?

This online guide helps you identify suitable development opportunities and allows you to take control of your own learning. Take a look through the suggested resources and build on your development with short bite-size learning or see what courses are coming up over then the Autumn term.

Technicians Make It Happen Campaign

The Gatsby Charitable Foundation launched the Technicians Make It Happen (TMiH) campaign in March 2016.

It started as a gallery exhibition, which now tours around the country (particularly at education conferences) and has a campaign website

The message: The demand for technicians is growing. Their diverse skills are critical to the UK’s performance in the global business arena. Yet we face a growing skills shortfall. By training to be a technician, you could work for some of the top employers across the UK. And with opportunities available right now in an incredible range of exciting sectors including music, gaming, aerospace, film, automotive, fashion and more, there has never been a better time to become a technician. Make it happen.

There are many and varied technician stories on the TMiH website: It seemed that The University of Manchester would have some interesting technical stories to offer to the campaign.

Working with various individuals across all three faculties, some suitable technical roles were identified. Having willing participants, in November 2017 I submitted four “technician stories” to the campaign for consideration. The campaign organisers were so impressed with our range of technical staff they decided to come and meet with them all. In February 2018 Lauren Golding (Communications Officer, Gatsby) came along with a camera crew to meet with the technicians. This visit allowed Lauren to get a real sense of each of their stories: understanding their background, how they came to be in their technical role and why they do it. Being a very visual campaign, they were pleased to find such photogenic faces and work spaces. The technical case studies are designed to feature on the TMiH website and on social media.

The first of our case studies went live on Friday 25th May, and it looks fantastic! You can read more about Stephen Lindsay-Smith (Mortuary Technical Manager, FBMH) on the website:

Throughout June and July the campaign organisers are hoping to feature the other three case studies on their website. So keep an eye out for Claire Fuzipeg (Electronics Technician, FSE), Thomas Bishop (Laboratory Technician, Humanities) and Dominika Knych (Analytical Chemistry Technician, FBMH) in the coming months.

I’m very pleased that each of the Faculties has been supportive about contributing to this campaign. It is a great demonstration of our Technician Commitment within The University of Manchester.

Author: Cassandra Hodgkinson (Technical Operations Manager, FBMH)

Textiles Workplace Tour

The Faculty of Science and Engineering opened its doors at the Sackville Street Building so that technical staff from across the three faculties could see some of what goes on within a component of the School of Materials. This well attended Workplace Tour offered an opportunity to learn about the diverse and sophisticated industry of textiles, observing industrial scale sewing, weaving, knitting, dyeing and fabric printing equipment.  These facilities are used to develop sound technical knowledge and an understanding of all the processes involved in the manufacturing of fabrics and development of fashion products. This tour looked at the facilities as well as the technical roles within the School who assist students and researchers understand the fundamental principles of materials and the manufacturing processes. Everyone enjoyed meeting with each of the technical staff as they walked us through the environment they work in.

First stop was the Spinning Laboratory where Peter Moroz explained how they prepare/process the raw materials to produce the different types of thread, and demonstrate the various types of machinery that can be used in the process. This then lead to the Weaving Laboratory where Mark Chadwick introduced 17 commercial looms and associated preparation equipment. In this area students and researchers come to understand the craft of fabric manufacture.

Laura-Ann Kavanagh is a relatively new member of the technical team, and she walked us through the Knitting Laboratory. There were around 18 commercial systems in the room that included flatbed, circular and warp technology for producing garments. This accompanies the hand knitted range as well, with plenty of examples of garments and other items produced available to view.

There was a lot of interest in the room that housed both the Laser Cutting and Digital Print Workshops. David Kenyon was able to show the range of Digital Print Technology and Computer Aided Design (CAD) Print Systems, as well as the laser cutter.

Hannah Rampley greeted us in the Dye House and talked us through a vital component of the industry – the ability to engineer the chemistry and colouration palette. The research being conducted is primarily involved with the synthesis, application, performance and measurement of novel coloured and colourless molecules. There is an emphasis on improving on conventional technology by developing ways of doing things better, quicker, cheaper and with decreased environmental impact.

We were introduced to the idea that if you are going to go into the field of Fashion Business you need to understand how the garments are produced. Fiona Colton showed us everything the Sewing Laboratory had to offer, where students are taught the basics of sewing, different types of stitches, and how to put a garment together. All of this helping them to identify what makes the difference between a quality product and a cheaper product.

It is clear that the School of Materials has gone through a technological regeneration. This makes for an evolving work place for the technical staff, passing on experience with conventional techniques and helping develop applications with new technologies.

Many thanks to Mark Chadwick and his team for hosting this tour.

Cassandra Hodgkinson (Technical Operations Manager)


Electronics Workplace Tour

The Electronics tour was a first class talk with so many interesting aspects to it including how to design and make electrical circuit boards. We met the whole team and we were all given an insight into what each of them do both in the office and workshop.

We were introduced to the many different types of jobs they are faced with that come from across different areas in the Faculty and in some cases outside of the Faculty from repairing electrical items to designing circuit boxes along with the time spent on each of their jobs. We were shown loads of demonstrations in the office and the workshop and was thoroughly enjoyable to listen to.

I would definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in working in this field, or science which relies so heavily upon this kind of support.

Steve Mottley, senior systems manager



Wolfson Molecular Imaging Centre (WMIC) Workplace Tour

The TEaM Tour of the Wolfson Molecular Imaging Centre (WMIC) took place on the afternoon of January 10th 2018. The WMIC building contains aseptic radiochemistry production facilities (cGMP) and operates an ambitious PET (Positronic Emission Tomography) radiotracer development programme for both GMP and non-GMP activities. Production Team Leader, Michael Green acted as the guide for the tour, showing the attendees the various areas where technicians work to help the centre achieves its research goals.

The tour started in the lower ground floor level of the building, the area were the cyclotron, cleanroom and QC lab are, along with radiochemistry and analytical labs, and the write-up area for the technical staff.


Upon entering the radiochemistry facilities, everybody donned a lab coat and pair of safety spectacles, as well as a pair of overshoes; a couple of people also wore a dosimeter badge.
Feedback from the tour was all positive which one attendee describing it as “a great learning curve as well as a networking opportunity for technical staff from FSE and FBMH who were in attendance on the tour”.


Thank you to Hamza al-Qasmi (radiochemistry technician) and Michael Green (Production team leader) for putting on the tour.
Nathan Murray, biomaterials technician (Pictures & Comments); Fidel Peacock, research technician (Comments)

Technician’s excellent lab book secures patent application

A technician working in the MIB building was recently rewarded by the University’s Thank You scheme for the excellence of her record-keeping, and its impact on a patent application.  Anu Balasundaram works for Professor Clare Mills’ Molecular Allergology group, preparing and analysing ‘challenge meals’ for their commercial partner, Reacta Biotech.  Challenge meals are foods containing precise quantities of a known food allergen, e.g. peanut protein, or a placebo.  When administered to people with food allergies in a double blind placebo-controlled food challenge under medical supervision, they can be used to give an accurate food allergy diagnosis.

Reacta Biotech are in the process of applying for a patent in this area and leaned heavily on Anu’s lab book to provide evidence to support the application.  Dr. Martin Wickham, Reacta’s Commercialisation Manager wrote that Anu’s lab book record “provided us with exactly the evidence required, and therefore made my job of progressing the patent, really easy.”  He went on to say “I genuinely do not know what we would have done without the laboratory records” and praised their clarity and the speed with which she was able to produce them.

Anu’s supervisor, Professor Clare Mills, said “A good lab book is vital for substantiating data and conclusions made in papers, and also in identifying and protecting intellectual property…  Her exemplary lab book, with experiments clearly described, dated and signed off, has been essential in providing documentary evidence to the patent examiner.”

As part of its commitment to recognising its staff’s achievements, the University rewarded Anu with some gift vouchers under its Thank You Scheme.  Her line manager, Geoff Blunt, said “It’s so great to see Anu’s hard work and attention to detail being acknowledged and celebrated; it shows her work has real impact and she performs a vital role for the University and its partners.”

For more information on the University’s Thank You Scheme, and how you can request a card or present for a member of staff who should be acknowledged, please click here.

May Coffee Morning and new Technical Tours

The TEaM quarterly coffee morning was on 29th May and was well-attended.  Perkin Elmer demonstrated FTIR and ICP spectrometers and attendees were able to find out about upcoming Technical Tours.  More information on these shortly but they will include:

  • Chemistry’s electronics team
  • The Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama
  • A repeat of the Biological Facility tours from last year

Lord Sainsbury opens the National Technician Development Centre at the University of Sheffield

Lord Sainsbury was a special guest at the opening ceremony of the National Technician Development Centre for Higher Education which took place at the University of Sheffield on Tuesday 13 February 2018.

Welcoming him at the ceremony were the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, and the Director of the National Technician Development Centre and Chairman of the Institute of Science and Technology (IST), Terry Croft.

The National Technician Development Centre for Higher Education was set up following an investment of £1.125 million, including £546,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and funding from the University of Sheffield and other partners of more than £580,000.

The centre will provide higher education institutions with access to information, expertise and tools that will enable them to create a sustainable future for their technical staff and services.

It will work with partners in higher education and related institutions to provide a national framework for standardised job titles, grading and career pathways across the technical workforce, including plans to increase the number of apprentices working in the sector, ensuring the workforce of the future is fully equipped to meet the needs of higher education institutions.

On opening the centre, Lord Sainsbury spoke of the importance of developing the technical workforce: “I believe the work that the National Technician Development Centre is doing is of national importance due to the tireless efforts of Terry Croft and his colleagues and the inspirational leadership of Sir Keith Burnett.

“It is also a real breakthrough that HEFCE has committed serious funding, alongside the University of Sheffield and other partners, to enable the National Technician Development Centre to expand the support it offers to higher education institutions around the country”.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, who is President of the Science Council and the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, has been a long-term advocate for technical education through his work with HEaTED (Higher Education and Technicians Educational Development) and the Science Council. He said: “I am absolutely delighted that Lord Sainsbury formally opened the National Technician Development Centre, a national facility to support and develop the professional technicians who are so crucial to universities and to the UK’s future in science and innovation.

“Today is also the expression of many years of hard work by people such as Terry Croft who have recognised the importance of professional technicians for many years.

“As a scientist, I am only too aware that from the most delicate medical experiment to the great Hadron Collider at CERN and the grand fusion project at Culham, Science often relies on the most skilled technicians. Yet these vital individuals do no come from nowhere.

“They need support to develop their careers and the recognition that will motivate the most able young people to flourish in their work. The National Technician Development Centre will offer exactly that.”

The work of highly skilled professional technicians can often be overlooked by the Higher Education sector and the challenges of recruitment are widely known. Research by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation suggests that the UK needs 700,000 more technicians by 2020.

The expertise of the team at the new national centre is available to universities across the UK and covers a number of strategic issues around restructuring technical services, business continuity, succession planning, recruitment and other related areas. This includes the Higher Education Institutions’ Technical Resources Toolkit, available to aid universities in understanding their technical staff and improving the sustainability of their technical services.

Terry Croft, Director of the new centre said: “We are delighted that Lord Sainsbury has officially opened the new national centre. It is a major landmark in professionalisation and modernisation of the UK technical community, especially in the higher education sector.

“It is vital to have this one stop shop at the National Technician Development Centre, where we can bring together expertise from across the sector, to solve the issues that employers and employees face today and into the future.

“We look forward to working with all higher education institutions and research institutions to deliver a sustainable future for technical staff and services.”

Lord Sainsbury also visited the University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), which carries out world-leading research into advanced machining, manufacturing and materials and has more than 100 industrial partners, ranging from global giants like Boeing, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Airbus to small companies.