Will's cover image

Will TYS

Year of Award: 1970 Award State: Australian Capital Territory Science > General
To study the latest developments in glass technology (techniques and design) and to attend the 15th Symposium of Scientific Glassblowers Society - USA, Netherlands, Germany

Endless creative potential

As well as a master scientific glassblower, Wilhelmus (Will) Tys (1922-2015) is also the father of current CEO of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Paul Tys. Elvie Munday remembers Will as ‘a wonderful man, a real gentleman with a good sense of humour’.

Will Tys qualified at the University of Leyden in 1949. Canberra’s Australian National University (ANU) sponsored his immigration with his family from the Netherlands in 1951 because they needed someone with his qualifications. As Will points out, the world of science could not exist without glass.

His 1970 Churchill Fellowship was to widen his knowledge in scientific glassblowing. He was working at the Research School of Chemistry, ANU, at the time, and travelled to the United States and Europe on his Fellowship.

In his thorough and fascinating report he tells us that in the 13th century, ‘Master Glass Blowers were important people. In some countries they were allowed to carry a sword and were able to marry into nobility. I am obviously living in the wrong time span!’

The art of glass making, writes Will in his report, is at least 4,000 years old.

When merchants or sailors tried to cook their meal on a sandy beach in Syria and supported their utensils with blocks of soda from their ship (the soda being part of their cargo) the heat of the fire fused the soda and sand and produced a quantity of transparent viscous liquid that hardened on cooling.

Scientific glassblowing is the manipulation by hands and blowing of glass into the intricate shapes required by science. It resisted mechanisation for a long time by the great demand for individual items, making economies of scale impossible.

Will visited Chemistry departments at various universities, attended the Symposium of the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers in September 1970, and scientific glass companies and manufacturers such as Corning Glass in New York. He spoke with people such as the supervisor of the glass shop at General Electric and attended the 15th annual Symposium of the American Scientific Glassblowers Society in Los Angeles, as well as laboratories in the Netherlands and West Germany.

A highlight of Will’s Fellowship was seeing the Ware Collection in Harvard University’s Botanical Museum. ‘These flowers and insects have to be seen to be believed’, he writes. ‘The models are made entirely of glass’ by father and son, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka. The first was made in 1887 and the last in 1936. Will writes that ‘painstaking observation and superb craftsmanship made these unique works. Most of the parts were shaped by hand after the glass was softened by heat. They were not blown and the basic colours are in the glass itself. The final shading was done with a lacquer made by suspending powdered coloured glass in varnish.’

More than 847 different species of plants were represented. There are 3,000 botanically accurate models, including anatomical sections of floral and vegetative parts of flowers, which are used extensively for teaching purposes. The collection provides the only way in which students can, in a single day, study representations of the entire plant kingdom in three-dimensional colour.

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

Related fellows
Michael GORE AO, Michael
Science > General
Barrie HULSE, Barrie
Science > General
Linden WOODWARD, Linden
Science > General
Gail KELLY, Gail
Science > General
Richard SHELDRAKE AM, Richard
Science > General
Phillip ALLAN, Phillip
Science > General
Penelope STOYLES, Penelope
Science > General
Mike ROACH, Mike
Science > General
Matthew RYAN, Matthew
Science > General
Jennie YOUNG, Jennie
Science > General