CSA Remembers Peter Gifford 1947 – 2017

We regret to report that Peter Gifford, longtime leader of Cryomech, Inc., passed away in January 2017, surrounded by family and friends at his Syracuse home. He was 68.

Gifford was a leader in the cryogenic community, a dedicated member of CSA and one of the second-generation industry leaders affectionately dubbed the “Cryomafia.”

“This is a tremendous loss of a friend who for over 30 years enhanced my world of cryogenics and made me a better person,” said Vincent Grillo, co-president of Cryofab, Inc. and fellow Cryomafia member.

Gifford moved to Syracuse at age twelve, when his father, William, a cryogenic expert, accepted a teaching and research position at Syracuse University.

Gifford would later attend the university, where he studied physics and math before graduating in 1971 with a degree in Liberal Arts. In 1973, he joined Cryomech, a company founded by his father, as an apprentice in cryogenics, and by 1978 had taken over as president.

Under his leadership, Cryomech expanded from a small company with a handful of employees to a world-leading technology company known for designing and manufacturing cryorefrigerators for use in both cutting-edge research and production ranging from agriculture to aerospace.

Gifford was proud of keeping the company in Syracuse, relying on his team to nurture and grow a global business at a time when manufacturing in central New York was declining.

Gifford was known at Cryomech for being more than a boss. He was a teacher, a mentor and a friend who loved as family those with whom he worked.

In 2014, Gifford sold Cryomech to his employees as an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) so that it could continue on in Syracuse, nurturing, he hoped, the next generation of entrepreneurs and dreamers.

“I wanted to see it remain a thriving company,” Gifford said in a 2015 interview with The Post-Standard, a Syracuse newspaper. “You can sell to venture capitalists. They’re going to strip the company, and it’s gone…This company has been a very nice place for me to work and to develop and to have a worthwhile life. There are a lot of other employees who are invested like that. Why the hell take it away from them? I just couldn’t sell it. It wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”

While at Cryomech, Gifford designed the compressor packages and cold heads still incorporated in the company’s Gifford-McMahon cycle cryocoolers. He also designed many custom cryostats and cryorefrigerators for customers throughout the industry, innovative work that earned Gifford three patents and worldwide recognition.

In 2015, Gifford established and funded the William E. Gifford Award in honor of his father, which is given every two years by CSA to a recipient in academia or a government laboratory using a pulse tube or Gifford-McMahon cycle cryocooler as a key research component.

The Gifford family has established a fund in his name to support STEM education. Memorial contributions can be directed to the Central New York Community Foundation for the Peter E. Gifford Fund for Career and Technical Education. Donations can be made online at http://www.cnycf.org/givenow or by mail to CNY Community Foundation, 431 E. Fayette Street, Suite 100, Syracuse NY 13202.

Gifford is remembered for having the mind of a scientist, the sensibilities of an artist and the heart of a lion. Included here are tributes from his friends and colleagues.



Peter was a friend who inspired me and made cryogenics fun. I will miss his larger than life personality and his easy laugh. He will be remembered fondly for many years to come; I know we will be telling funny stories about Peter at many dinners and Cryomafia meetings.Ravi Bains, Advanced Research Systems

Peter was always such a gregarious and generous character throughout his life and career. We shall all miss his presence and influence throughout the cryogenic community.Peter Bradley, NIST

Peter Gifford was my dear friend. Since meeting this wonderfully unique person at CEC, Pheasant Run in 1987, he made my life better. He shared and taught me many things and continuously pointed out the irony and humor in his and my lives, in the cryogenic industry, the nation and the world. He was a seeker, whether it was yet undiscovered characteristics of his machines or answers to our complicated social issues or where to find the best ribs or the constant search for the perfect Manhattan. I remain in awe of his ability to talk with anyone, to expend that valuable human resource of time and to make that person feel that they were the most important. I had many opportunities to observe him at an exhibition or conference. A researcher would approach (sometimes hesitantly) and Peter would spy him coming and invite him in with open arms and that friendly smile (“here have a seat”), and 30 minutes later they would part as best friends, both much better for the experience.

Peter was a “child of cryogenics” influenced heavily by Father Bill in the late 1950’s, and was exposed to rockets and low temperature at a time when the vast majority of Americans had never heard the words. After a few experiences in other directions and careers he settled where he belonged, Bill’s chair at the original Cryomech. Being close to him—and having the opportunity to observe and sometimes council as he directed the development of his company—taught me many things that were (and have been) cornerstones of my own career. Peter had the ability to “know what he doesn’t know” and with that knowledge he sought out and brought in extremely talented personnel and then gave them the creative environment to perform to their utmost capabilities.

One other important observation should be made at this juncture. Peter also recognized and developed talent and expertise from within the Cryomech organization. This personnel development took foresight and patience, but he recognized talent and encouraged his employees to achieve the highest goals possible. It is one thing to express values and high ideals and it is quite another to meaningfully act on them. Peter had an opportunity to act on his values and beliefs when several years ago he implemented the ESOP at Cryomech. What more meaningful expression of the respect and gratitude he held for his employees than to relinquish his ownership in their favor. This one act speaks volumes of the thoughtfulness, the kindness and generosity of Peter Gifford.

Peter also had a slightly “silly” side. When his prolific brain was not focusing on matters of business, he knew how to relax and how to share a good joke. It was probably this ability which helped to create what we “tongue in cheek” referred to as the “Cryomafia”. Although probably not politically correct, this loose knit organization/club of primarily second generation cryogenic equipment people brought humor and camaraderie to our industry.

For over 30 years we all have grown together; we have assisted and cooperated with each other; we have shared ideas and policies that we found to work; and we have planned our gatherings and eaten well and perhaps most importantly…we have laughed (a lot). At the center of this group has been Peter. He was our natural leader. He was kind and generous and we all loved him. It is impossible to express how very much we all will miss him.
R. Michael Capers, Cryocomp

Be at peace and happy, wherever you are! The Indian Cryogenic Fraternity will always think of you because of easy access to LNP and LHeP. I know we may not be able to say hello to you in person, but you shall always be in our thoughts and minds through Cryomech.Vinod Chopra, Goodwill Cryogenics

The Cryomafia is greatly diminished.John Corey, Chart QDrive

Peter was the very first business contact that I made when Jim Maguire first hired me as a young “kid physicist” at his company back in 1992. Even at 23, I could clearly see that Peter had an abundance of personality and a passion for his business. I must say though that I had no idea then that Jim was introducing me to a person who would not only help teach me how to conduct business with unquestionable integrity and the highest moral character, but also to a person who I would later be honored to call a friend. I miss him already.Glen Driscoll, HTS-110

Cryomafia in 2002

Cryomafia in 2002

The cryogenics industry has lost a good friend and mentor to many. As a charter member of the Cryomafia, Peter was always the center of entertainment and good cheer and I am blessed to have been a friend and colleague for more than 20 years. This is a big loss for the community.Dennis Howland, ret., DLH Industries

I’ve known Peter Gifford for more than 30 years and on behalf of my husband Werner, myself, the staff of CSA and all his colleagues in the Cryogenic Society of America, I extend our sincere sorrow for his loss—to his family and to all at Cryomech. He was a stalwart supporter of CSA and we did not take that for granted. The sponsorship of the Gifford Award named for his father was the tip of the iceberg of his long-time loyalty to CSA. His loss will long be felt by the entire cryogenic community and all those who have benefited from knowing him and doing business with him and the people he brought into Cryomech. He had an admirable business ethic as well as a practical, common-sense grasp of technology. One of the proudest days of my professional life was being invited to join the Cryomafia and to experience the camaraderie of that unique group! I felt I was now truly a part of the cryo community. Here we saw the side of Peter that was warm, welcoming and so much fun. I have long since forgiven him for the time in Poland at the ICEC when he introduced his wife to me as his daughter. I decided it was more of a compliment to her than a prank on me. Loved you, Peter!Laurie Huget, CSA Executive Director

Peter Gifford and Zuyu Zhao from Janis Research Company

Peter Gifford and Zuyu Zhao from Janis Research Company

The staff of Janis Research Company was deeply saddened to hear the news of Peter Gifford’s passing and extend our sympathy to Peter’s family and to the staff of Cryomech. Peter was an integral member of our community, and the life of any gathering. His infectious sense of humor and joyful demeanor will be sorely missed. We have been partners and colleagues for many years and his passing leaves a space in our hearts that cannot easily be filled.Janis Research Company

This is a great loss for our community. We have lost a great friend and a great colleague.J. Patrick Kelley, ret., Los Alamos National Laboratory

We extend deepest condolences to his family and dear friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with all who mourn.Meyer Tool and Manufacturing, Inc.

Peter was one of the most enjoyable people with whom I have ever worked. We will all miss him very much.John Pfotenhauer, University of Wisconsin-Madison

There was only one Peter Gifford and I am grateful I got to know him. He will truly be missed.Brian Pollard, Cryomagnetics, Inc.

I was stunned to hear of the loss of my longtime friend, Peter. It turns out that we have a bit of history together. My dates are a little fuzzy, but the flow of progress hinged at all times on the GM Cryocooler.

Peter and his father Bill Gifford first visited the physics laboratory at UCSD where I was working as a student with Dr. Richard J. Warburton. We installed one of the new Cryomech 10 K machines into a 100 liter liquid helium dewar in 1973. Professor John M. Goodkind’s experiment to extend the hold time of a dewar was critical to deployment of the W. Prothero and J.M. Goodkind Superconducting Gravimeter—which requires extended measurement times of undisturbed gravity data for geophysical applications.

This first Cryomech cooled dewar attained a 50-day hold time which was a big improvement over the nine days that the same dewar held LHe un-assisted. This led to a whole new industry for long term measurements of gravity and we formed GWR Instruments in 1979 to produce and promote the unique Superconducting Gravimeter.

The GM cooled dewar concept was subsequently improved and re-designed by Dr. Ray Sarwinski at SHE Corp. in 1980. This advanced version was built by Rex Leonard and Donna Jung at International Cryogenics, Inc. I believe this was the first ever very-long-hold time helium dewar, which could maintain one transfer of 100 liters of LHe far in excess of one year. The Giffords were always extremely helpful and it was a successful interaction.

Gifford-Kayak-Oct2001_WEBI have had this photo on my wall since October 2001. Peter and I and his associate had just returned from an afternoon surf session near my home in La Jolla CA. Peter was my crew in a double surf Kayak, catching and riding many decent sized waves. It was a real thrill for him and we really had a ball!.

A few years later, and after decades of incremental improvements in hold time for GM assisted liquid helium filled dewars (100 liters approaching 1000 day hold times), the basic design—from Eric Brinton, R.J Warburton and myself at GWR Instruments—was overturned by the invention of the 1/10th watt GM 4K Cryocooler in 1996. This allowed GWR to introduce the iGrav refrigeration system, which turned out to be an extremely efficient method for utilizing the GM principle to liquefy Helium. We learned how to first attain zero loss dewars in 1998, and then we introduced our self-cooling and self-filling LHe iGrav dewars in 2006. It was realized that besides being a boone to the iGrav market, this should be a stand-alone product for other researchers who could take advantage of “point-of-use liquefier” and a whole new method of helium recovery, purification and reuse.

This came at a fortuitous time when helium supplies were uncertain, but has come to be “normal operating procedure” for any cost conscious LHe user. This new system was refined as a cooperative venture starting in 2007 with Professor Conrado Rillo at ICMA and CSIC labs of the University of Zaragoza, Spain. The method proved to be so efficient that in 2010 we joined forces with Ron Sager, Mike Simmonds and Dave Cox and GWR licensed Quantum Design USA to take over the production and marketing from GWR to meet the demand for the small liquefaction and helium recovery systems that was created by this success.

QD and Cryomech dominate the world market in 2017 for point of use liquefiers, with QD utilizing the more efficient GM machines, and Cryomech using the quieter Pulse Tube machines (also pioneered by Dr. C. Wang and P. Gifford!). GWR Instruments, Inc., continues to employ GM coolers in all of its iGrav superconducting Gravimeters.

We now have these systems running in every conceivable place in the world, for a wide variety of uses: earthquake research, volcanic eruption studies, ice movement, plate tectonics, hydrology, evapotranspiration, crustal motion, geothermal field observations, National Standards Laboratories, basic physics experiments and anything that involves measuring changes in mass or changes in altitude. The incredibly reliable GM systems operate un-attended for years at a time in extremely hostile environments on every continent—mountains, jungles, arctics North and South, volcanos, deserts, tunnels, boreholes- all a strong testimony to the simple design and inherent reliability of the GM principle.

Needless to say, the world of Liquid Helium and cryogenics in general will sorely miss Peter. I know I will.Richard Reineman, GWR Instruments Inc.

Peter was a good friend with a unique personality. I met him about 30 years ago and it has always been a great pleasure to share time and discuss with him. He kindly introduced me in the Cryomafia world! He will be strongly missing for me.Alain Ravex, Absolut System

There’s only one Peter Gifford and no one will replace him, especially at the Cryomafia meetings. Rest in peace, Peter.Bill Shields, ret., Janis Research Company

Peter has always been both liked and respected by all. On behalf of all of the team here at Sumitomo, we pass along our deepest condolences for friends, family and colleagues of Peter. Sumitomo (SHI) Cryogenics of America, Inc.

Peter was one of the giants of the field as well as a very good person. It was a privilege to know him.John G. Weisend II, ESSS, CSA Board Chairman

Tributes From Gifford’s Cryomech Colleagues

While some people get coffee and some read the daily news, my mornings at the office would start with an exuberant “Get in here Ketcham!” from down the hall. That was my invitation to join Peter in his office for some early morning chats. Looking back, I still cannot believe that I was fortunate enough to sit with the owner of Cryomech almost every morning for the past four years, discussing cryogenics, learning about his enthusiasm for travel and his love of life, and conversing deeply on what I would regard as one of his favorite topics, human dynamics. I heard inspiring stories, priceless life advice, and I was even lucky enough to share some tears and endless laughter with him. Peter was an inspiration to all that worked with him. He was passionate about his work, his company, and he was most passionate about his people. Peter always wanted to create an atmosphere of sharing, learning, and enjoyment for his beloved employees, and what a successful endeavor it was. Peter created a culture here at Cryomech where I feel like I became a part of the family, not working for his company, but working WITH him. I am forever grateful to have known and worked with such an incredible man who cared so much. His legacy will continue to live on through all of us here at Cryomech.John Ketcham, Cryomech, Inc.

I’ve worked at Cryomech for nearly 15 years, and moved to Syracuse to do so. Less than a year on the job we had a few service issues to deal with in South America. Peter and Rich (Dausman, COO) decided that I should perform the work. Peter gave me just a few tips: be friendly, work hard and don’t worry about anything. Those early years at Cryomech taught me a lot about Cryomech, international business and culture and the importance of strong customer relationships. I will never forget those trips or many of the other times and stories that I’ve shared with Peter. I am so very fortunate to have known and worked with Peter for many years.Nigel L. Ottman, Cryomech, Inc.

Chao Wang and Peter Gifford

Chao Wang and Peter Gifford

The first time I met Peter was at a cryocooler seminar in Germany in 1997. At the time, I had developed the world’s first two-stage pulse tube cryocooler that reached a temperature below 4 K at Giessen University. Peter and I had a very good discussion on this new technology and the potential for business opportunities. Inspired by Peter’s business vision, I chose to join Cryomech, Inc. and changed my career path from academia to industry. Professor C. Heiden at Giessen University also encouraged my decision and ensured me with words: “He is the right man to work with.”

Peter had a genuine curiosity and good sense of science and technology. As a scientist, I had a lot of enjoyable discussions with him on new technology and science for new business. He built a creative environment for innovation and new product development at Cryomech. In this environment, Cryomech could launch a few new products every year, most of them firsts in the world.

He always said he was a good salesman. Under his leadership, we were not just selling products, we are providing solutions to our end users and becoming friends with them. Like Michael Westphal from Bruker Biospin said: “Even though our relationship primarily was based on business, we always regarded him as a friend”.

He was also a fast mover. He took action right away once he saw and heard issues. He hated to see unsolved issues sitting around. He would handle the issues sometimes with emotional reactions, and even yelling, but most of time he fixed the issues.

Peter loved Cryomech and took care of it as if it was his baby. During my early years working at Cryomech, I used to come to work on Saturday mornings. At that time, Peter also came in most Saturday mornings. He told me he liked to be at Cryomech on Saturday morning since nobody bothered him and he could sit down to read and think. During his battle with cancer, he still worked half-time to full-time, and he said work let him forget his cancer and that work would be a good treatment. But on the another end, he did not mention, that work could be very stressful, which is not good for cancer treatment.

Peter was a friend to many people in the Cryogenic community. I have received condolences from China, Japan, Germany, Finland, France and many from the US. He will be sorely missed by many of us.
Chao Wang, Cryomech, Inc.