Things could have turned out differently for Mathieu Hubert had he not taken a job offer whilst studying chemistry at the University of Rennes 1 in France. “I came into contact with the world of glass by chance,” he explains, “when the father of a high school friend who worked in a glass and ceramics lab at a local university contacted me as he knew I was into chemistry, and I started working in his lab in 2006. I have been hooked ever since.”
Mr Hubert’s enduring fascination for glass is tangible, and infectious – an asset given that he now fits in teaching lectures on glass science and technology at Corning Community College, “which I really enjoy,” in addition to his day job.
“Glass is a fascinating material,” Mr Hubert extols. “Natural glasses, such as obsidian, have been around for millions of years. Glass has also been manufactured for thousands of years. Yet, despite being one of the oldest human-made materials, it’s not an old or obsolete material. The world as we know it relies on glass and on all the possibilities it offers. So, on one hand, the glass industry is almost 5,000 years old. Yet, on the other, glass is an industry of the future – having both a rich history and virtually infinite amount of new possibilities. "
“However, while glass is so critical to our everyday life, the glass industry is quite unknown to the general public. Most people will encounter glass hundreds of times a day, every single day of their life, and never know where all this material came from. Wanting to know more about the glass industry overall and all it has to offer was what got me into it.”
Graduate becomes teacher
Focusing on chalcogenide glasses and glass-ceramics for infrared applications, Mathieu graduated with an MSc in Materials Chemistry and a PhD in Chemistry from the Univ. of Rennes, along with a PhD from the University of Arizona in Tucson for good measure. “Surprisingly, I did not do any work on oxide glasses, the most common glass type, until after I was done with college,” he recalls.
Finishing his studies in 2012, he joined CelSian, in 2013, as a Glass Scientist/Technologist for the Netherlands-based company. “When I joined CelSian, I had a chance to work with people with a great wealth of knowledge in the industry, and from whom I learned a lot of aspects of the industrial glass-making process,” he reflects. “My role revolved mostly around contract research for different facets of the glass-making world including raw materials suppliers, glass producers, and equipment suppliers. My main focus areas at CelSian were the melting, fining and redox of glass. I also joined the team of teachers for the CelSian Academy and had the opportunity to teach lectures on glass science and technology in several countries.”
Tantalisingly, a lot of the areas Mathieu worked on at CelSian were “proprietary/confidential”, and therefore he cannot divulge any details. However, CelSian runs GlassTrend – the worldwide consortium of glass companies and institutes that amalgamates R&D activities for better production technologies across the industry – and “I can share that I was engaged in the execution of a few GlassTrend projects,” says Mr Hubert, “including a project on fining in reduced glasses, which led to some improved understanding on the behaviour of chromium in antique and olive green glasses and its interaction with the amber chromophore. One of the most successful projects I was actively engaged in while at CelSian was the development of a UK-based Glass Technology course.”
The Netherlands to New York
In 2016, Mathieu accepted a position as Glass Development Scientist at American materials science technology and innovation company Corning Incorporated. Before starting work in New York, he spent a few months at the Corning European Technology Centre (CETC) in Fontainebleau, France, where he had interned in 2008 whilst studying for his master’s degree. “This ‘internal networking’ has helped since I moved to the US,” he notes, “as it’s easier to communicate with your colleagues when you have spent some time together working in the same place.”
At Corning, Mr Hubert’s main responsibilities relate to supporting the transfer of new products and scaling from the lab to industrial-scale manufacturing. “This entails navigating between different areas such as the research labs where I’m interacting with the scientists who invent new glasses to understanding the product and its critical attributes. I also work with engineering groups to ensure compatibility with our production assets as well as plants to support production of the material, and quality/product engineering to ensure the product meets our customers’ needs.”
In 2020, he was promoted to Development Associate, with a broader area of responsibilities and a team of his own to manage. “There is a new challenge every day!” he enthuses. “There are always new glasses or applications being developed, and there is always a lot of exciting work to be done. Prior to Covid-19, I had opportunity travel to different plants to see different parts of our processes and interact with different colleagues on a regular basis which I enjoyed,” he continues. “My managers at Corning also support me in remaining involved in outside activities such as conferences or participation in organisations such as GlassTrend or the International Commission on Glass.”
Government backing and futuristic projects
Corning’s markets include optical communications, mobile consumer electronics, display, automotive and life sciences. The company’s products range from damage-resistant cover glass for mobile devices to precision glass for advanced displays; optical fibre, wireless technologies, and connectivity solutions for state-of-the-art communications networks.
There has understandably been a strong push on the pharmaceutical packaging sector in the last 12 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “With the introduction of Corning Valor Glass in 2017, Corning has prioritised pharmaceutical packaging for a number of years,” says Mr Hubert. “Corning accelerated its glass vial production capacity to support pharmaceutical manufacturers with grants from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), under the White House’s Operation Warp Speed Initiative.” [To date, Corning has received $261 million from the US Government to meet escalating requirement for glass tubing and vials driven by the global demand for Covid-19 vaccines.] “Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies has thus played, and will continue to play, a key role in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines across the world.”
In 2017, Corning celebrated its one billionth kilometre of optical fibre delivered; “a mind-boggling number” underlines Mr Hubert. “Our world could not function as we know it without glass,” he notes. “Between fibres and their critical role in 5G and telecommunications, augmented reality products, and biomaterials, the future is made out of glass and there are probably new ways that glass will enable the way we approach our everyday life that we have not discovered yet!”
Corning’s goal is simple: to remain at the forefront of the glass and ceramic developments for the next 170 years.
“I believe we are headed towards a Glass Age,” continues Mr Hubert. “Scientists around the world are continuing to develop new and stronger glasses. But not only that, there are also new coatings conferring windows with new optical properties as well as new technologies using glass as substrates such as augmented reality. Bioglasses are also likely to take a larger place in medical use. The development of 3D printed glass will also enable new ways to produce specialty materials or manufactured highly complex shapes for optics.”
However, this progress could be hampered in the future if there is not sufficient uptake from the next generation. There is a “critical need” to sustain the talent pipelines of the glass industry, according to Mr Hubert. An academic himself, he points to the fact that “universities/institutions training people on glass are not that common. The industry is looking for the talents of tomorrow, and at all levels, there is a strong need to bring more light on the glass world, and what it has to offer.”
Ambassador for GlassTrend
Mathieu became an Advisory Board member of GlassTrend (GT), now in its 20th year, at the end of 2019. “I knew GT from a participant perspective since 2013, and I am glad to be more involved in the consortium,” he says. He has also recently taken on a redefined role as Speciality Glass and International Commission on Glass (ICG) Ambassador, responsible for staying in touch with GlassTrend member companies/institutes from this sector to provide an overview of the challenges specific to speciality glass. At the ICG, his ambassador duties entail “facilitating communication between the different organisations.”
Knowledge sharing for the benefit of the industry is the biggest benefit of GlassTrend membership, according to Mr Hubert. “The thing that amazed me when I participated in my first GT event was how many competing companies gather and openly share challenges and understand how concerting efforts on pre-competitive areas are beneficial for everyone,” he recalls. “It has provided a critical platform for knowledge sharing and promotion of new technologies.”
Encompassing individuals from diverse glass sectors across several continents, the structure of GlassTrend’s board “allows us to gather a lot of different opinions, interests, concerns, etc. from a wide range of perspectives, and to try to address the most pressing and relevant topics,” he explains. “Many board members are engaged in several other organisations, and always try to seek possible collaborations.”
Glass Trend hosts seminars and webinars (predominantly the latter during the pandemic), and Mathieu credits the “great variety in topics” for helping him to stay current on subjects closest to his line of work, “and to get more familiar with the parts of the industry that I am not typically working on as well.”
Industry support and networking
Since 2017, Mathieu has been a member of the Coordination Technical Committee for the International Commission on Glass. He is also a member of the Technical Committee TC23 on Education, and TC18 on Glass Melting, and recently joined the Executive Committee for the ICG2030 project. “I was briefly part of the Melting Technical Committee of the Society of Glass Technology (SGT) and am a member of the French Union for Science and Glass Technology (USTV), the UK SGT, and the American Ceramic Society (ACerS),” he adds. “All of these associations and organisations play a critical role by bringing together different players within the glass science and glass technology worlds, and provide platforms to offer support and networking opportunities for the glass community.”
A regular attendee of “extremely valuable” industry gatherings, “going to conferences is one of the best parts of the job!” according to Mr Hubert. “It’s a good opportunity to meet friends and to keep learning from them. The Glass Problems Conference (GPC) is a great place to keep up to date with the latest technology updates in the glass industry,” he elaborates. “The format, with plenary conferences during the day, and exhibitions in the evening,
is unique and very conducive to discussions and networking."
“One thing that I particularly appreciate is the efforts of the GPC to promote the participation of students – taking them on a tour to local plants, and pairing them with a mentor during the event to help them navigate through and meet the key players in the glass industry. I didn’t have a chance to participate as a student myself, but I wish I did. As a student, it tends to be much easier to navigate the glass academic world, but getting in touch with the industrial world can be a little harder and there is no better way to motivate the future talents than to bring them to a glass plant.”
Career highlights and achievements
“I’m very fortunate in my current role at Corning that I get to work on so many interesting projects related to glass and work with some of the best glass scientists in the world,” reflects Mr Hubert. “I participated in the creation of a Glass Science and Technology course at Corning Community College and have been teaching part of it for the past three years. With other colleagues, I taught an internal Glass Course at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, when most were working from home, which was a great experience."
“I also had a chance to organise or co-organise several outreach events at ICG conferences (in Istanbul in 2017, Yokohama in 2018, and 2019 in Boston), which I particularly enjoy doing. "
“Finally, I had a chance to participate in the production of a video to support the ICG proposal for a United Nations International Year of Glass 2022 (see Glass Worldwide July/August 2021, p24), together with Julian Jones (who led that effort), Randy Youngman (Corning Incorporated), Alicia Duran (the Spanish National Research Council) and John Parker (Sheffield). I am proud to have contributed, even so slightly, to that effort. And I am now really looking forward to that IYOG 2022!” l
Corning Valor is a registered trademark of Corning Incorporated