Students participating in one of Kenneth Isman’s engineering classes at the University of Maryland (UMD) are tasked with designing a fire protection system and putting it to the test. Now with a little help from glass, they can see exactly how their systems are performing.

Isman, a professor at the engineering school—which has the only accredited Bachelor of Science program in fire protection engineering in the U.S.—periodically hosts a three-credit course for high school students highlighting the basics of fire protection engineering as a profession.

Students in UMD’s introductory fire protection engineering class use fire-rated glass to watch in real time the performance of their projects.

During the class, the students build a model two-room home the size of a large dollhouse containing combustibles and design a fire detection and suppression system for the house. Toward the end of the class, they set the homes on fire to see how their system performs—with the goal of having the homes burn as little as possible.

The project has been a success in past classes, but with one small issue.

“We’ve been doing this for little while now, and we’ve found that it’s very hard to see what is going on inside of the model home,” says Isman. “Then it dawned on me, we should see if someone would donate some fire-rated glass, and we could make one of the walls clear. Then we could actually see inside to see what was going on as opposed to sitting back and guessing.”

Isman ultimately connected with Kevin Norcross of Vetrotech Saint-Gobain, who arranged to have 20 lites of 24-by-nine-inch glass lite samples sent to Isman for the project.

Students design and test a fire suppression system for a dollhouse-sized model home.

“It’s a really interesting project and one of the ways UMD is getting young people interested in fire protection engineering, so we were happy to do it,” says Norcross.

Isman’s summer class used the fire-rated glass in the project for the first time, and it was a success. “It worked perfectly—the glass fit right in,” says Isman. “It was really helpful for us and for the students to see how the suppression systems were working in real time.”

Isman says the program has now expanded to the fall, and he will continue to use the fire-rated glass for the projects.

Norcross adds that this project is also another way to give glass exposure as a building material that can be used in fire-protection applications. “Big picture, any time we can get in front of people on the college level, it’s a positive thing,” he says.