Bill Merka

Bill Merka working at his on-campus glass shop. He has ran the shop for 33 years.

You don’t need to be an expert in glassblowing to know Bill Merka does the impossible with just his bare hands, glass and a flame.

Since 1985, William “Bill” C. Merka has served as Texas A&M’s research instrumentation specialist in the university glass shop.  He designs and blows custom glassware for students, departments and other universities throughout the state. 

Born and raised in College Station, Merka spent much of his early life in and around A&M, specifically the university’s glass shop, which first opened in 1961.

“Well, we grew up in here,” Merka said. “When we were little kids we came in here and used to have a blast.”

During a typical day of work, Merka will see various students, professors and faculty of other departments to develop concepts and work orders for the glassware they require. The rest of his day is spent behind the flame, physically constructing the desired products. 

“What we mainly do is custom scientific glassware,” Merka said. “We wouldn’t build a flask, but if you wanted a flask inside of a flask, inside of another flask with platinum electrodes going through the middle, we would build that. We’ve sent stuff into space, the bottom of the ocean, pretty much all around the world. ”

With most of the glassware being custom-made, Merka often collaborates with William Seward, research instrumentation specialist of the university’s machine shop, which is located across the hall from the glass shop.  

“Helping students is the best part of the job,” Seward said. “A student will come in here and just doesn’t know how to get there and we show them.”

Horticulture junior Seth Kellenbeck is currently the glass shop’s only student worker and said he is considering taking over the shop one day.

“I’m learning stuff that I’m going to need one day,” Kellenbeck said.

In his off time from the glass shop, Merka has crafted a number of unique pieces of glass art including Christmas ornaments, hummingbirds and wine glasses. Merka said that in his opinion, the custom glassware he produces is artwork.

“We have to conceptualize something that’s never been done before and then run it through your hands,” Merka said. “In my mind, that’s art.”

As Merka approaches year 33 of his career at A&M, he said he has considered the possibility of retirement but for now enjoys his time here.

“33 years of doing something is a long time,” Merka said. “But I’ll be around for a little while longer.”

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