Konrad Gleissner shapes a tube used for growing crystals, which will later be sliced into sensor chips for imaging equipment


Glassblowing is in the genes for Konrad Gleissner

Konrad Gleissner, a Production Specialist at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in Goleta California, is an expert in glassblowing techniques. He uses these techniques to help in the production of important infrared (IR) sensor components. Mercury Cadmium Telluride (HgCdTe) night vision systems allow our customers to see through complete darkness, dust and sandstorms, and even into far away galaxies. They are employed in the U.S. military’s optical targeting systems and night vision sights. HgCdTe is the only common material that can detect IR radiation in both accessible atmospheric windows. These are the mid-wave infrared window (MWIR) from 3 to 5 micrometers (µm) and the long-wave window (LWIR) from 8 to 12 µm. The advantage this capability provides is clear (see photo), but these systems are not easy to produce. While HgCdTe is very good at sensing IR light, it is a difficult material to work with, requiring material deposition on native substrates that are not widely available.

Comparison of a nighttime scene as observed through a visible camera (left) and an Infrared camera (right)

HgCdTe night vision systems are fabricated on Cadmium Zinc Telluride (CdZnTe) substrates. Because the substrates are not readily available, Raytheon had to come up with its own method to grow the substrate. The CdZnTe substrate fabrication process begins with the creation of a high purity quartz ampoule that varies in both size and shape. This is the device in which the three materials are then grown into a solid boule. The three materials comprising the CdZnTe are inserted into the ampoule, sealed off under vacuum and grown in a furnace for approximately one month. This process is performed using a Hydrogen and Oxygen torch flame and must ensure that no contaminants are introduced into any of the materials, as impurities that get into the substrate will impact sensor quality. The end result of the overall process is a single CdZnTe crystal boule with a very high success rate.

It is at several steps throughout this activity where Konrad’s skill as a master glassblower comes into play. His main responsibility is to make the custom glassware to grow the crystals which are then cut into substrates for the sensors.

Interestingly, Konrad’s background in glassblowing comes from his father, Konrad Gleissner Sr., who himself was a master glassblower at Raytheon for more than 35 years. Konrad Sr. had a workshop in his garage where he did glassblowing as both a side job and hobby, and introduced Konrad to the craft at a young age. Watching his father create works of art out of glass fascinated the young Konrad, who was anxious to try his own hand at it. So, as he grew older, his father started him experimenting with several glassblowing techniques, and eventually he began working on projects, such as thermocouple wells, which then led to the more scientific applications of glass blowing.

Along with the scientific techniques, Konrad’s father also had an artistic flair and would often create glass artwork figures. Konrad however decided he should stick with the technical applications when, in an attempt to duplicate one of his father’s creations, he turned out a dolphin that more closely resembled a shark.

Demonstrating the artistic side of glassblowing: a dolphin and a ship in a bottle made by Konrad Sr.

After 35 years with the company, when Konrad Sr. announced his retirement from Raytheon, Konrad Jr. was the natural choice for his replacement. Konrad has now been with Raytheon for 22 years. He continues to evolve his skills as a master glassblower, and is always exploring new ways and new directions to apply his talent.

Along with his responsibilities in the HgCdTe products, for which there is a constant demand, Konrad is also known to his fellow employees as the man who can make specialized equipment. His skills have been requested to make custom beakers, experimental equipment, specialized quartz boats for furnaces and other one of a kind apparatuses. As glassblowing is a dying art, required glassblowing equipment can be difficult to find, and often requires modifications or repair. As Konrad’s skills remain in high demand in the Raytheon glassblowing arena, he is always able to complete the tasks at hand.

Konrad lives with his wife, Michelle, who prefers not to have a glassblowing workshop in the garage like Konrad’s father had, since having liquid hydrogen in the house is not a good idea. While Konrad’s son, Conner, has not yet shown interest in glassblowing, Konrad is hopeful that he might one day be the third generation of Raytheon glassblowing experts.

Konrad appreciates his value to the company and the importance of the skills he provides. “I love Raytheon,” he states, “It’s a wonderful company, and our products help our military be one of the strongest in the world.” Raytheon employs many specialists from around the world, and glassblowing is an example of one of these exceptional talents.

— Lisa Hubbard