Jamex de la Torre, right, and an assistant create a work of art from glass. Similar pieces will take shape this weekend at the S.T.E.A.M. Off competition, part of the Tucson Glass Festival.


Participants in this weekend's S.T.E.A.M. Off competition have creating beautiful works of glass art down to a science.

They know what the temperature of the furnace needs to be and at what point their materials turn into liquid in intense heat.

They are familiar with how fast glass cools and the physics involved with rotating their works to prevent them from falling to the ground.

The competition, part of the third annual Tucson Glass Festival, will showcase their collective knowledge as Arizona artists in the field go head-to-head to determine who is at the top of the glass.

The winner will walk away with a $1,000 grand prize.

And audience members will gain a little knowledge on the technical aspects of the art form.

Nick Letson, spokesman for the Sonoran Glass School, which is putting on the event with the Philabaum Glass Gallery & Studio, said the competition is part of a larger, national movement known as S.T.E.A.M., which promotes education by emphasizing science, technology, engineering, art and math.

"There is so much in regards to science and physics that goes into every piece of making glass art," Letson said.

Using wireless mics, artists involved will give insight into each scientific aspect of the creative process in real time, as they race the clock to produce unique works at both the Sonoran Glass School and Philabaum.

Artist Tom Philabaum will be competing. As will other glass art elites, such as Paul Stout and Michael Joplin.

After the pieces are created, Roger Angel, the director of the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory, will choose a winner.

"We didn't know if we could get Roger to participate, but he seemed happy to do it," Letson said. "He is like a rock star among science geeks."

The top artists will be announced at a free award ceremony and gallery reception at Philabaum on April 20.

The pieces, along with draft posters, will then stay on display at the gallery until June.

"This is something that is definitely different, even for us," Letson said. "I think there is something behind it. We are trying to play into the thought that Tucson is America's science city.

Most of the proceeds from the competition will go to benefit the Sonoran Glass School's various youth development programs.

"We believe we teach S.T.E.A.M. education every day with all that we do," Letson said.

If you go

• What: Tucson Glass Festival S.T.E.A.M. Off: The Science Behind the Art.

• When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

• Where: Sonoran Glass School, 633 W. 18th St. and Philabaum Glass, 711 S. Sixth Ave.

• Tickets: $25 per day through steamofftickets.eventbrite.com online. Proceeds benefit the school's youth development programs.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@azstarnet.com or 807-8430.