News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Akron Children's Hospital

Greater Akron Chamber

Akron General


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Science and Technology




Exploradio - The Power of Crystals
A legacy industry born in Cleveland struggles to compete in the 21st century.
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
Synthetic quartz crystals grown by Sawyer Technical Materials in Eastlake. The process was invented by Clevelander Charles Sawyer.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair, WKSU
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

Crystals have long fascinated with their geometric beauty and promise of hidden properties.   They are at the heart of early radios, electronic devices, and quartz watches, but new materials have dimmed the power of crystals. 

In this week’s edition of Exploradio we look at the art of growing synthetic quartz, an industry born in Cleveland and now struggling to survive.

Exploradio - The power of cystals

Other options:
MP3 Download (4:44)


(Click image for larger view.)

The art of quartz

Sawyer Technical Materials is the only plant in the U.S. that grows quartz crystals, a process invented by Clevelander Charles Sawyer, and the company he founded is still growing them more than 50 years later in Eastlake.

Head engineer Vladimir Klipov leads me along the catwalk snaking through a forest of metal chimneys.   We lean over the top of a massive steel pressure cooker called an autoclave,…

“This is a running autoclave with very high pressure, it’s about 13,000 psi pressure right now inside this vessel.  It’s very dangerous to stay here, let’s go…”  

There’s always the risk one of the vessels could explode.  That’s why each autoclave is nestled inside 15 feet high rows of double steel walls painted battleship gray.   

This is home for Klipov. 

“About 36 years in my life I’m working with crystals.  I am second generation of quartz crystal grower.  My father built a plant in Russia, in the Ural mountains…”

Klipov came to Cleveland after the fall of the Soviet Union.  He brought with him the art of growing crystals. 

“You need to feel.  Each production run you need to feel the crystals growing inside.”

Klipov says the slower the growth, the higher the quality of the crystal inside. 

What takes nature millions of years, takes 9 months to a year inside the vessels at Sawyer, where quartz rocks are mixed in a caustic slurry, heated under pressure and slowly cooled.  Huge crystals form like rock candy.

But even with speeding up nature, Sawyer hasn’t been able to outpace the lightning fast changes in the field of electronics.

Crystal vibrations 

A knock on this thin quartz wafer shows the pure vibrational quality of crystals, and that’s where there hidden power lies.

A crystal also vibrates when you zap it with an electric current, it’s called the piezo-electric effect, and this vibration can tune a wireless device to receive or send that specific vibrational frequency.   Early radios were called ‘crystal sets.”  Charles Sawyer invented his process for growing crystals out of the need for quartz radios during World War II and the shortage of suitable natural quartz.

But Sawyer’s marketing director Janet Radwanski says the synthetic crystal industry is a story of booms and busts. 

In the 1970’s 40 channel CB radios had 40 crystals, then 3, then no more CB’s.  In the 80’s computers and TV hardware had crystals, then that industry moved on to other materials.  The early cell phones in the 1990’s used quartz, then Radwanski says a new, cheaper material was developed and …

“You don’t need the quartz crystal to do any of the signal processing in the phone anymore, it can be done directly using silicon.  So now you go from 3-4 devices to none using quartz today in most phone today.”  

The display case in the Sawyer lobby is a curio cabinet of former products.  She holds up a set of tiny gold plated crystal tuning forks, set in clear plastic...

“That’s what used to go into a device for use for electronic stability control in cars…”  The original anti-skid control devices in high-end cars used quartz crystals, then once again, a cheaper alternative was found.

Growing, shrinking 

In the mid-90’s tech-boom Sawyer grew crystals in 400 vessels in Eastlake, plus plants in Texas, Pennsylvania, and China. 

Then came the telecom bust in 2000.  Production dropped overnight from hundreds of thousands of units to a trickle.   Slow growing quartz has been replaced by cheaper silicon chips that work nearly as well in cell phones.

Sawyer now has about 10 people in the single Eastlake plant, producing quartz crystals for only a few remaining niche markets, such as filters for high-powered lasers or high-quality crystals for the aero-space market.

Janet Radwanski says the process invented in Cleveland survives on that legacy…

“There’s a lot behind the Sawyer name, people recognize it, and that is a big part of trying to keep the thing going.”

Sawyer was the first and is now the last company in America that still grows giant crystals of pure quartz for ever shrinking devices.  


Related Links & Resources
Sawyer website


Related WKSU Stories

Exploradio - Dragons and Damsels
Monday, July 1, 2013

Exploradio - Swellable Glass
Monday, July 25, 2011

Exploradio: Inside the Cloud
Monday, July 18, 2011

Exploradio - Whale necks and noses
Monday, June 27, 2011

Listener Comments:

Can it be cut and faceted for jewelry such as GVC or HSN sells?


Posted by: Kathleen Miller (Hickory , NC) on August 17, 2011 3:08AM
Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook



Support for Exploradio
provided by:








Stories with Recent Comments

National Weather Service confirms three tornado touchdowns yesterday
I was driving back from a party and was caught in the middle of a large thunderstorm. The hail and lightning were a whole light closer than usual, is something ...

Another Indians season opens with Chief Wahoo under scrutiny
The picture you have for Robert rocha is not him. He has long hair. No idea who that guy is in that picture

Portman predicts McDonald's confirmation, but says it won't be easy
I sent the following note to Senator Blumenthal after reading commentary from yesterday's hearing: Senator, You certainly have the right to ask Mr. McDonald que...

Seven minutes changed everything, but what changed Ashford Thompson?
He shot the guy four times in the head. I have never been that drunk or mad, and I have been through it. Shoot a guy once is bad, maybe a mistake, shoot a guy f...

First cricket farm in the U.S. opens in Youngstown
I am interested in cricket flour to replace soy flour in a low carbohydrate diet. As soon as you have cricket flour available for the average person, please le...

New process starts digesting sludge in Wooster
Awesome! When do our sewage rates decrease accordingly?

Akron's Chapel Hill Mall in foreclosure
Not a surprise. Between the shoplifting, gangs and violence that goes on up there it is no wonder that no one feels safe to shop at Chapel Hill. They have sca...

Ohio launches investigation into at least one Concept charter school
I worked at Noble Academy Cleveland as admin assistant and enrolment coordinator for 6 years, I know this is so valid and true and can provide staff names and p...

Copyright © 2014 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University