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One thing Paul Nordine of Physical Property Measurements, Inc., 825 Chicago Ave., says he appreciates about his business is the relative lack of competition.
“Nobody else is going to try to do this,” Mr. Nordine, said on April 21, shortly before a public demonstration of the “Aero-Acoustic Levitator,” a device that offers scientists unimpeded views of the properties of liquids and other materials.
Mr. Nordine described the basics of the levitator as its inventor, Dennis Merkley, operated the controls. A small drop of liquid seemed to defy gravity as it floated between several cylindrical canisters above the base of the levitator.
Mr. Nordine explained that the device allows researchers to study substances at different temperatures without their having to be concerned about corruption from a container.
“Liquids are corrosive, and if temperatures get too high, you have contaminated materials,” Mr. Nordine said.
Mr. Merkley activated small lasers within the canisters. As the liquid increased in temperature, it shone so brightly that most in the audience had to avert their eyes. Then, in a matter of seconds, Mr. Merkley brought the droplet down below the point of freezing. The audience could see its rapid crystallization in close-up on his computer monitor.
“Scientists like to do this sort of thing,” Mr. Nordine said, laughing.
This was the third levitator that Mr. Nordine’s firm built. The device, he said, cost about a million dollars and took around three years from development through completion. The technology was developed largely with grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA.
The levitators are customizable for studying whichever materials scientists might need them for. This particular model has been sold to a university in Aachen, Germany, for mineral research.
“They’re going to be able to do about 15 or 20 experiments in a day,” Mr. Nordine said, adding that the levitator could also be useful in studying nuclear materials and rocket fuel components.
PPM is the second incarnation of Mr. Nordine’s business. He formed Containerless Research, Inc., with two partners in 1993. “We started in the research park up on University Place,” he said.
His partners dropped out about six years ago and he formed PPM. Five people currently work for the firm, which also employs a number of independent contractors.
“I think we’ve brought about $15 or 16 million into Evanston since we started,” said Mr. Nordine, who lives in Deerfield but says he appreciates the City’s commitment to its technology sector enterprises. PPM is part of Evanston’s Technology Innovation Center, named by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 10 world-changing technology incubators in 2010.
“Evanston is a nice environment for this type of business, and I also find the research park to be very accommodating to companies like mine,” Mr. Nordine said. “You can mix with other people who can provide specialized knowledge.”
Once this levitator is on its way to Germany, Mr. Nordine will begin constructing and marketing the next one. He says he is confident that it will not take him long to find the next buyer.
“We’re not so much dependent on the economic climate as the technical climate,” Mr. Nordine said.