In 1962, Texas A&M University’s first campus glassblower, Jack Shannon, inspired William “Bill” Merka to follow in his footsteps and take up the profession. Now, as a master scientific glassblower, Merka has been the university’s go-to man for all glassware needs for 35 years.
Growing up, Merka spent his time in the campus glass shop learning simple glassblowing techniques with Shannon's son, Sean. When Merka turned 18, he accepted a two-year apprenticeship with Shannon, where he learned the subtleties of glassblowing, machinery operation and the intricate glassware design process.
Today, Merka oversees the campus glass shop in the basement of the Chemistry Building, where he and his student worker design, produce and repair the 2,000-plus work orders submitted each year. They create one-of-a-kind glassware products for professors and researchers across disciplines using only heat, air and glass like Pyrex and quartz. As the flame melts the glass, Merka blows air through a tube to form elaborate designs, from beakers and complex models of heart chambers to detailed apparatuses used throughout the entire Texas A&M System. Given the diverse research environment at Texas A&M, he constantly brainstorms new techniques to satisfy requests.
“I embrace the challenges that come with the job,” he said. “I love what I do because I’m not doing the same thing every day; I can design, build and see my artwork in action.”