2013 Issue 1, PSI Celebrates Its 40th Anniversary

Jan 02, 2013

As PSI celebrates 40 years of growth and accomplishment, three of our presidents share their thoughts and reflections. B David Green, President and CEO, provides his perspective on PSI’s present and future; Robert Weiss and George Caledonia, past presidents and founders, reflect on how PSI was formed and grew.

Group Photo 1980

D. Bloomfield, M. Finson, K. Wray, R. Weiss, A. Pirri, and G. Caledonia ~ 1980

B. David Green

I was fortunate to be given the chance to join PSI when it was three years old with a staff of 24. I am very pleased that the guiding principles that attracted me to PSI then, are still an important part of PSI today. PSI performs premier quality research across many areas of the sciences and engineering. We value careful technical review of programs to assure quality results and to train the next generation of independent researchers.

All of the hundreds of ongoing research activities happen because of the efforts of our professional staff – conceiving the technical solutions, defining and convincing a customer to support that program, and then performing the project. There is no professional marketing staff. This business model motivates and rewards our researchers for undertaking projects of great personal and national interest. Our family has grown to 180 professionals and includes three subsidiaries with employees at eight locations – all sharing the same goals and principles.

We move forward into the next ten years as a 100% employee owned company. We continue to diversify the skills of our staff. We continue to develop, demonstrate and transition our technologies through partnering and product sales. We continue to seek international recognition for our research through presentations, publications, and patents.

Importantly, we remember the lessons of the past to guide our future. The current uncertain times are no worse than the post-Apollo era when PSI was formed; no more competitive than the down-sizing at the end of the Cold War; no more irrational than the dot.com technology fantasies. PSI has grown and improved throughout and because of these challenges, today is a vibrant, well-funded and stable company. We have survived as an independent organization when many of our professional associates (and our peer companies) have not.

PSI’s researchers constantly improve, adapt, and apply their skills to solve the important problems confronting our country. The company will grow and change over the next decade, but I believe that the PSI staff at the 50th anniversary will look back at PSI in 2013 and recognize that they share many of the same attitudes, approaches, and strengths we value today.

George Caledonia and bob Weiss

George Caledonia and bob Weiss, past Presidents and founders of PSI

Robert Weiss

Have you ever asked yourself why and how pivotal changes in your life happen? I do this on occasion, and am always surprised at how major new directions often result from apparently minor decisions. In the case of the creation of Physical Sciences Inc., however, it took more than a minor decision.

The feeling had been growing subconsciously that our former employer, the Avco Everett Research Laboratory (AERL) (later part of the Textron Corporation), had grown too large and dependent on huge projects to maintain the innovation and outstanding science on which it was founded. AERL began to feel less like Bell Labs, arguably the greatest industrial research lab in its day, and more like the Lab’s parent company, the AVCO Corporation. I knew that after ten years, it was time to move on.

On April 1, 1973 (yes, appropriately April Fool’s Day), I invited most of my group’s scientists to my house to break the news that Kurt Wray and I would be starting a new company whose name would describe what we planned to do: everything in the physical sciences that was within our capability and fundable. Kurt and I agreed that we would be happy to grow our revenues to one million dollars a year, with at least a six-month backlog. While building on our existing expertise, we also hoped to broaden our technical interests beyond those getting the most attention at AERL. Most critically, PSI would maintain the standards of technical excellence and integrity that were the core values of its predecessor.

As described below by George Caledonia, one of our originals and my illustrious successor, there is no question that we have succeeded, and after four decades, have much to be proud of.

G. Caledonia, R. Krech, R. Taylor, and P. Nebolsine show customers the 6" high pressure shock tube

G. Caledonia, R. Krech, R. Taylor, and P. Nebolsine show customers the 6" high pressure shock tube

George Caledonia

Physical Sciences Inc. was formed in 1973 through the entrepreneurial leadership of Bob Weiss and Kurt Wray. The company began with seven employees, all of whom had previously been employed by the AVCO Everett Research Laboratory. Over the years a number of individuals from that now defunct Research Laboratory also joined PSI, and thus the ethos of AERL permeated PSI. This is particularly true of our rigorous technical review system for all research programs. Of course that was many years ago, and today I can identify only two full-time PSI employees who once worked at AERL.

PSI was created as an independent research laboratory performing both theoretical and experimental work largely in support of the needs of the Federal Government. Of course, given the high cost of developing experimental facilities, our early research projects largely emphasized phenomenological modeling activities in such fields as laser and re-entry physics. Today the reverse is true, with the majority of our programs having significant experimental components. One of the hallmarks of PSI’s history was the understanding from the beginning that only employees could purchase stock, and that there would be no outside investors. This policy has been maintained to the present day, with the company being completely owned by an Employee Stock Ownership Trust with employees as the participants. This did create some early hardships, however. For example, since contracts always take longer than expected to come in, we were on the verge of negative cash before we could bill and collect from our first customers.

Indeed to minimize costs, our first office was a back room in the office of our Corporate Attorney and friend Peter Gorshel. Years later, as we grew in size, the table was turned with Peter leasing office space from us.

We later moved to Lakeside Office Park in Wakefield (notorious for the tin-cans-connected –by-a-string intercom system). Our office suite overlooked a lake filled with summer sailors and winter ice skaters, always affording a pleasant view. Needing more space, we moved to an office building next to the Woburn mall. Unbeknownst to us, our office was adjacent to one of the largest hazardous waste sites in the State, with heavy metal contaminations as high as 1000 ppm. Needless to say, we brought in bottled water.

2 PSI's location at 30 Commerce Way, Woburn, MA

PSI's location at 30 Commerce Way, Woburn, MA

Although there were a few bumps in the road, we continued to grow, adding new employees and more sophisticated experimental facilities. We finally were able to move into a one-story building of our own design located in south Andover. The building was situated on a large, picturesque wooded lot with a philosopher’s walk. I recall one of our visiting Japanese customers telling me that in his nation this would be a park. Sadly, we eventually ran out of space there as well. We sold the building and moved several miles further north to a new office park as sole tenant of a three-story building laid out specifically to meet our needs, where we remain comfortably

Well, I’ve barely scratched the surface of my memories of PSI. I’ve not touched upon such items as: the development of our satellite offices and subsidiaries; the literally thousands of presentations and publications describing our research results; the commercialization and spinout of our research; and how we grew the breadth of our research interests and customer base. That would take a book, not a short article. Let me close by stating the obvious - it is the leadership of our employees that defined our company. The work ethic, intellect and integrity of those individuals is what took PSI from a startup to one of the foremost independent research laboratories in the nation.

Thorlabs Acquires Maxion Technologies Inc.

Thorlabs announced the acquisition of Maxion Techologies Inc., a world leader in the development and commercialization of mid IR turn-key semiconductor lasers, from Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI).

PSI’s commitment to and ongoing development of QCL-based systems is strengthened by this partnership with Thorlabs. According to David Green, CEO of PSI, “the acquisition of Maxion by Thorlabs provides the vertically integrated laser fabrication capabilities that are required to introduce QCL-based systems into defense and commercial markets. PSI remains at the forefront of these developments and looks forward to continued close collaboration with the Maxion team.”

Contract News

PSI recently received the following SBIR research contracts:

“Real-time, Non-contact Detection of Surface Contamination” from U.S. Army RDECOM Acquisition Center;

“Non-invasive, Portable, Real-time Sensor for Health Monitoring of Solid Rocket Motors” from the US Air Force;

“Development of a Novel Laser Illuminator for Geiger Mode LADAR” from U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

Donna Lamb

R. Weiss, G. Caledonia, and B.D. Green