Boulder-based High Precision Devices built the seismic isolation platform seen here used in the LIGO experiment that won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics. From left, Charlie Danaher, Brian Lantz, Ben Addott, Hugh Radkins.

Boulder-based HPD’s equipment helps LIGO team win Nobel Prize

BOULDER — A Boulder-based company provided some of the equipment used in the gravitational waves experiment that won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics.

High Precision Devices, a 30-person company, built the seismic isolation platforms where the measurement devices could be placed while eliminating any errors that could be picked up in small ground disturbances.

Using HPD’s platforms that eliminated those small disturbances, the winning LIGO team – Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory – was able to pick up small vibrations that ultimately measured gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago.

HPD was selected to provide the platforms for the experiment because of its reputation among advanced-research organizations around the world, said Kevin Miller, director of business development for the organization.

“We’re able to develop new technologies and new solutions to problems in a really collaborative way,” Miller said.

The experiment was done in two locations, one in Washington state and one in Louisiana. Miller explained that the set up consisted of very long vacuum chambers, about 2.5 miles long each, set up in the shapes of two Ls connected at each right angle. At the vertices were HPD’s isolation platforms, where measurement devices were set up. Because of the length of the vacuum chambers — usually such chambers are about 30 feet, not 2.5 miles — a laser sent down the chamber was able to pick up the smallest amount of vibration. These vibrations ended up being the measurement of the universe’s gravitational waves, caused by the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago.

The fact that this measurement has now been observed is big news for the physics community, which can continue to build on the LIGO experiment to measure more cosmic phenomena, said Miller.

As to HPD, the fact that it was involved at all has made the company the source of attention from its peers and colleagues.

“Suffice to say, folks who are doing amazing work in the state were really highly complementary to HPD,” Miller said, referring to an event the governor’s office held this week for high impact researchers in Colorado. “That’s a thrill. They’re doing exceptionally high-class work and they recognized what HPD is doing as a 30-plus person outfit here in Boulder.”

But make no mistake, it’s no coincidence that HPD based itself in the Boulder Valley.

“To steal the phraseology that the governor used at the award ceremony, Boulder is the focus of an innovation ecosystem here in the state and the Front Range,” Miller said. “There is an enormous amount of incredible new technology and research going on in this area that really discriminates this area from virtually any place in the world. There are things happening here in this day and age that are recognized worldwide.”

He added HPD hopes to continue its work with LIGO, and is in discussion now for continuing its involvement in future experiments.