Kathleen Richardson, a UCF Pegasus Professor in Optics, is one of a handful of international experts who will be kicking off the United Nation’s Year of Glass celebration in Switzerland Thursday (Feb.10).
Richardson, whose expertise is in high tech glass design and fabrication, is part of the team that petitioned the UN for the designation in 2018. She worked with industry partners, the International Commission Glass, the Community of Glass Associations and industry and university leaders internationally to help make glass this year’s theme a reality.
“Most people don’t realize the role glass plays in our lives,” Richardson says. “From Egyptian glass art to infrared security cameras made possible because of glass with special properties, glass has changed our lives. And only now is glass really being recognized for its versatile and renewable possibilities as a sustainable option for challenging problems.”
The kickoff event is a two-day conference which includes 30 internationally renowned speakers. They come from industry, academia, the media, museums and art. Topics range from biomaterials to energy generation and conservation, from gender issues to the history of glass making, and from telecommunications to sustainable production. Also speaking from UCF is College of Optics and Photonics Professor Leonid Glebov.
Richardson will speak about the impact infrared glass has had throughout history and the possible uses in the future that can help address some of the UN’s 2030 strategic development goals (SDGs) in quality education, gender equality, climate action, and sustainable cities and communities, among others.
Richardson established and directs UCF’s Glass Processing and Characterization Laboratory where she and a team of students design and process novel glass and glass ceramic materials for diverse applications. The unique optical properties embedded in the materials have a vast field of applications from thermal imaging instrumentation on a Mars rover to optical phase change materials that change their physical state once triggered by an outside source such as light, which may be useful for detecting toxic leaks.
Sponsors of Richardson’s work include Lockheed Martin and the Florida High Tech Corridor, as well as many small optical commercial companies working on everything from agriculture to building energy efficient buildings. Her work is recognized by her colleagues and industry leaders worldwide, which is how she ended up part of the UN team.
“Glass is renewable and has so many potential applications to address things like climate change,” Richardson says. “My talk is focused on illustrating the history of glass, and its potential for the future. It is a good way to get the international community thinking about ways we can collaborate to solve some of these big problems.”
The UN has designated international years since 1959 to draw attention to major issues of concern and encourage international collaborations to solve those problems.
The Rochester native will speak as part of the opening day activities. Her talk begins at 7 a.m. EST (1 p.m. Geneva time). Some of the speakers will be live in Switzerland while others, like Richardson, will be providing her talk via Zoom.
Richardson is a Pegasus Professor of Optics and Materials Science with joint appointments in the College of Optics and Photonics and the College of Engineering and Computer Science. She has multiple degrees including a doctorate in ceramics and a master’s in glass science from Alfred University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in ceramic engineering. She’s been at UCF 23 years and previously worked at universities in France and Germany as well as at Clemson University in South Carolina. She has been recognized with numerous awards from industry and professional organizations and published more than 275 peer-reviewed articles. So far, she has 23 patents over her career.