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By Mary Wolbach Lopert

Gunbarrel’s HDP makes waves with Nobel Prize winners


October 27, 2017

Photo by Mary Wolbach Lopert Kevin Miller and Charlie Danaher of High Precision Devices, Inc. stand by a photo of the ultra-high performance isolation system, which was a part of the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics-winning experiment that proved Albert Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves.

In an unassuming building in Gunbarrel lies a hidden gem, High Precision Devices, Inc. HPD has been in the headlines recently, because its seismic isolation platform was an integral part of the experiment that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics.

The prize was awarded to three physicists, Drs. Rainer, Weiss Barry Barish and Kip Thorne, for the detection of a gravitational wave that was generated by a collision of two black holes over one billion years ago. Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916, based on his general theory of relativity.

Because it is extremely difficult to detect a gravitational wave, or “ripple in time-space,” it has taken almost 100 years to confirm his prediction.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory (LIGO) was built to detect these waves. LIGO consists of two identical facilities, one in Harford, WA, the other in Livingston, LA. Each facility used a laser interferometer to measure a tiny gravitational wave.

Between 2000 and 2008, HPD built seismic isolation platform prototypes for the LIGO interferometer. These platforms credited the stability needed to measure gravitational waves, which with a wavelength of one 10,000th of the diameter of a proton, are incredibly small.

According to Charlie Danaher, HPD vice president of cryogenic sales, “The ground is ‘flopping’ around, from lumberjacks in Louisiana knocking trees down to tides … all these things are making the Earth move at different frequencies. So we can’t measure at this level of precision until we get the Earth’s vibration and noise out of the picture. The [seismic platform] isolated the laser optics from the movement of the Earth.

“If you’re going to isolate something, you are going to want to hold it, and control it, in what’s called a ‘non-overconstraint’ configuration. This is very complex, but this is a six degrees of freedom isolation suspension system,” Danaher said.

With the aid of HPD seismic platform, both LIGO facilities were able to corroborate the detection of gravitational waves.

There is also talk about HPD continuing work with LIGO, Danaher said. “… LIGO is thinking about getting even more sensitive with their instrument and they want to consider cryogenic cooling of the optics in the system. We’ve been talking to them about a possible further collaboration. Only time will tell.”

According to Director of Business Development Kevin Miller, HPD moved to Gunbarrel this past July, because the company outgrew its old facility.

“We’ve had steady year-over-year growth,” Miller said. “We’ve managed to find a good space, with the added benefit of being closer to some of our suppliers and still in close proximity to many of our customers.”

The LIGO participation is only a small part of what HPD does. Miller said the company has four divisions.

“We have an instrument development division, which is the home for [LIGO] type of work.,” Miller said. “We have an environmental monitoring division, where we do climate research equipment for NOAH.

“We have a wholly owned subsidiary, QalibreMD where we build calibration standards for quantitative MRI. Our fourth and largest division is our cryogenics division.

All aspects of the company are in the one location.

“Everything is here,” Miller said. “Everything from engineering, through design, fab, assembly, test and all the support functions are under this roof.”

As to what HPD is working on now, there’s HIRMES - a spectrometer system for NASA at Goddard, Greenbelt MD. HIRMES is an ultra low temperature cryogenic assembly to support operations in a 747-based aircraft that does astrophysics observations.

The aircraft system is called SOFIA. HIRMES is focused on the primordial growth of planets.

Additionally, HPD’s QalibreMD and CEO, Dr. Elizabeth Mirowski, are working with NIST to develop and commercialize calibration standards for MRI.

At the moment there are no set standards for calibrating MRI.

While there are standards, which verify that the magnetic fields are properly located, that is the extent of it.

The team at QalibreMD is developing the calibration assemblies that will be worldwide for diagnostics and the support of MRI.

For both Danaher and Miller, being associated with a project that won a Nobel Prize brings a lot of intangible satisfaction that their efforts contributed to something that was recognized.

Their principle customers work in cutting edge environments, so the cache of having made a significant difference on a Nobel Prize-winning effort definitely gets their attention.

For a concise overview of the LIGO Nobel Prize winning experiment go to



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