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Old World Craft, New Tech Marvels

This Glassblowing Artisan Helps Soldiers See at Night

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

Suited up in his white shop apron, tinted goggles, heat resistant gloves and earplugs, Konrad Gleissner switches on an industrial lathe and fires up his blow torch, producing a loud “pop!”

With searing blue and gold flames, Gleissner is turning quartz tubing as wide as a one-liter soda bottle into a container for growing pure crystal at Raytheon Vision Systems' laboratory in Goleta, California. It is the first step in a time-consuming process that produces world-class defense technologies like the U.S. military’s Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems and night vision sights.

Gleissner’s trade runs in the family. His father, Konrad Gleissner, Sr., was born in Germany and apprenticed at a glassblowing shop in the small town of Amberg.

The elder Gleissner immigrated to the United States at age 21 and found work at a glass factory in California. Raytheon recruited him from there. His son joined the company in the 1990s. 

A solid crystal of cadmium telluride, eight centimeters in diameter.

“My dad used to joke that they wouldn’t even have to change the name on the door when he retired,” Gleissner said.

Using a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen gas, Gleissner forms glass and quartz in a way that shuts out impurities. The sleeves he creates provide the pure environment needed to grow solid balls of cadmium telluride crystals.

“I’m a perfectionist. Basically, I strive to be as good as my dad was,” Gleissner said. “If I get a drawing from an engineer, I want it to look exactly like the original drawing.”

Once the pure materials are sealed in a quartz ampoule, they are loaded into a Bridgman crystal growth furnace – their final stage before wafer production and assembly into the detectors and integrated circuits used for infrared sensors.

The crystals grown in Gleissner’s tubes are turned into what engineers call ‘starting wafers.’

“We basically start out with the fundamental elements of the periodic table,” said Raytheon’s Stefan Baur. The wafers undergo eleven months of washing, scrubbing and testing before they become integrated circuits. 

“About 12 months later, this transforms them into absolutely the best-performing detectors possible.  And these materials can last for 10-20 years through the harshest environments,” said Paul Hamlin, director of operations for Raytheon Vision Systems.

Last Updated: 01/27/2016

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