Retired Corning scientist helps spark glass research interest where industry needs it the most: Academia
Many Ivy League material scientists used to think glass was boring.
Then they met Dr. Pete Bocko.
Bocko teaches Glass: Structure, Properties, and Modern Applications at Cornell University. And while he covers the fundamentals of glass chemistry and formation, he strives to get students to connect these basics with glass functionality in real applications.
“I want to encourage students to become knowledgeable consumers of glass,” says Bocko, who spent 34 years as a Corning researcher and innovation advocate.
“My goal is to help create a generation of scientists and engineers that may be working on a new phone or an application that we can’t even imagine today – and because they are so comfortable with glass, they design it into an application that enables their entire system.”
For his students, the formula makes perfect sense. Over just one year, Bocko’s class has become one of the most popular electives in Cornell’s School of Material Science and Engineering.
Rachel Connolly, a Cornell senior majoring in biomaterials and polymers, signed up for Bocko’s class last fall because she needed another elective. Since then, she said, “it’s become very influential in my interest in in materials science.
“Now I understand how altering just a tiny bit of an element can vastly change glass properties and result in a whole new application. Even if I don’t end up working with glass directly, it’s on my radar now – and there’s no telling how I might be able to put it to use when I’m working in industry.”
“My goal is to help create a generation of scientists and engineers that may be working on a new phone or an application that we can’t even imagine today..."
- Pete Bocko
Bocko retired from Corning in 2014 as Chief Technology Officer for Corning Glass Technologies. Over his long career, he was one of Corning’s most ardent promoters of new glass applications. Customers and media regularly turned to him to explain technical information -- LCD glass during the 2000s, for example – in understandable terms.
Corning also depended on Bocko’s insights as a keen technology trend-watcher. He was the glass innovation expert for the viral video series, “A Day Made of Glass.”
And like many Corning technical leaders, Bocko had long been concerned about academia’s lagging focus on glass research.
“Glass has so much more to be explored!” he said, affirming the sentiments other Corning scientists put forth in a 2015 white paper.
And now -- with a steady stream of real-world anecdotes, solid scientific knowledge, and a self-acknowledged irreverent style -- Bocko is able to help students make the link between glass properties and its usefulness in solving tough design problems.
“I came into the course knowing very little, but I was curious to learn more about a material that is so prevalent in current technology and daily life,” said undergrad student Catherine Davis, a materials science and engineering major.
“Professor Bocko’s stories make the subject more real and relevant, helping us connect theory to application. Without his instruction, I would not have learned so much about such a broad subject and the current challenges facing the glass industry.”
Bocko helps students not only understand glass and its application potential, but also to communicate about it effectively.
“All the students, whether undergrads or at the Ph.D. level, are looking at their first job in the foreseeable future,” Bocko said. “It’s oriented toward helping them be successful in that job.”
Bocko’s efforts underscore a comprehensive Corning program designed to build a pool of glass and material science talent for potential hiring.
The Glass Age Scholar program, now in its second year, encourages graduate research in topics that relate to the precision glass industry. The company also sponsors a six-month sabbatical program for material science professors and a well-attended Glass Summit series to stimulate conversations on glass innovations and potential applications within the research community.
Bocko hopes the combined efforts will help not only stimulate interest in glass research, but also lead to committed research and new discoveries.
“The real benefits come about when a creative scientist or engineer understands glass fundamentals and properties, then designs them into a system,” he said.
“It starts with interest – and from there, they can go on to actually create the science. Time will tell if it makes a difference, but I like what I’m seeing with my students.
“And by investing in so many other academic programs, Corning is putting its money where its mouth is and making more research and experimentation possible.”