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Husband-wife team run state-of-the-art Struthers lab



Published: Fri, March 7, 2014 @ 12:01 a.m.

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Carol and Andrew Hirt examine results at Materials Research Laboratories Inc., a state-of-the-art facility in Struthers that provides materials-analysis services to industries both domestic and abroad. The two own MRL, which has been located in the former Holy Trinity School since 1993.

By EMMALEE C. TORISK

etorisk@vindy.com

STRUTHERS

Andrew M. Hirt’s playground is an atypical one, filled with toys that go by names such as “infrared spectrometer” and “microhardness tester” and “electron microscope.”

“It’s stuff to play with,” he said, nonchalantly.

As president and senior scientist of Materials Research Laboratories Inc., Hirt is head of a state-of-the-art facility that provides and has provided a staggering range of materials-analysis services to industries both domestic and abroad — or “pretty much any company you can think of” — for more than 20 years.

In plainer terms, MRL is often the place to go for companies that want help developing new products or attempting to improve upon existing projects, then also in figuring out what exactly went wrong. Even more specifically, past work at MRL has ranged from determining how many layers in a given paint chip contain lead-based paint, to finding out whether something is made of diamond or of cubic zirconia, to studying the ways in which pharmaceutical drugs deliver their contents throughout the body.

“On any given day, I have no idea what I’ll be doing,” Hirt said.

He added that he prefers it that way, noting that he decided to become a scientist at age 5 after watching an old Bela Lugosi movie. His “industrial” childhood might’ve influenced him, too; at age 8, his father taught him how to weld and preached “that if you want something, go build it.”

So, he did.

After attending local parochial schools, the Boardman native graduated from Case Western Reserve University in 1977 with a degree in physics.

Hirt, however, is far from the stereotypical scientist in a stereotypical laboratory, pointed out his wife, Carol Jean Hirt, who is MRL’s vice president and its head of microscopy services. The two met while working in a New Jersey laboratory and got married in 1983, eventually starting MRL — thanks in part to a $2.5 million loan — in 1988. They now live in Campbell.

Carol said the building that houses MRL doesn’t feel cold or clinical, and that it isn’t devoid of color. Instead, the facility is in the former Holy Trinity School on North Bridge Street, which closed at the end of the 1991 academic year.

The Hirts purchased the circa-1962 building just two years later, for what they’d been paying each year to rent space in New Jersey. Their renovations include the halving of the building’s eight original classrooms to create 16 rooms for research — and other purposes.

The building has a “diner” complete with retro-looking booths, for example, along with a wood-paneled game room stocked with a pool table and pinball machine, and a conference room-cum-library where about 8,000 books of all kinds fill the shelves.

In addition, dozens of letters and cards are affixed to the building’s walls, many of them from area schoolchildren who’ve toured the facility over the years, while objects representing the couple’s many varied interests — such as guitars and winemaking — are scattered about. Carol also has a baby grand piano in her office, and when seasonably appropriate, a “complete garden, with tomatoes, peppers and zucchini” occupies a portion of MRL’s 4 acres.

They do it because they can, Carol said, adding that she feels fortunate to share the work she does with others, such as the college interns MRL frequently brings on board.

One of those interns, Rachel L. Kusnic of Boardman, now works for MRL as a research associate, and was hired in 2007 after interning there for a year. Kusnic noted that even big companies rely on MRL when problems arise, as it might have just one or two pieces of testing equipment unique to their industry on site.

“They can’t believe all of the equipment we have here,” she said.

And to Carol, what goes on at MRL is “detective work,” with the abundance of equipment available providing a significant advantage. She added that this type of work has “everything to do with timing,” meaning, if a client has a problem now, he needs a response now as well.

This philosophy has long guided MRL, Carol said, and has produced a solid client base. Even customers from 20-some years ago still flock to the laboratory for its appealing “bedside manner” — something that likely stems from the enthusiasm both Hirts have for their work.

“You have to pay your bills, but if you don’t love what you’re doing, get out of it,” Carol said. “If you love it, your product will be so great.”


Comments

1rickking123(312 comments)posted 8 months, 3 weeks ago

It's sad when people go off point to attack others. The comments should be about the great job that the Hirts are doing, not Boardman Jeff espousing his hatred and showing his own ignorance.

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2ytownsteelman(631 comments)posted 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Does EVERYTHING have to be a political attack? Boardman Jeff's comments are so disgusting because it is completely uncalled for. I am shocked how uninformed he is. This is the Mahoning Valley, where democrats rule everything from dogcatcher to congressman. The few conservatives that are in this valley are the ones running the small businesses, and every day people like Boardman Jeff come by looking for jobs but never get hired because they live their lives full of the hate and self loathing that filters through to internet comment boards.

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3Aware(221 comments)posted 8 months, 3 weeks ago

People who actually know the owners of that company know well their political leanings. They are active in their community and try to inspire others. They are against hatred and far-right views. Boardman Jeff, ER and Rick have it right. The article portrays what they represent. Positive news is what we need in the Valley.

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4rickking123(312 comments)posted 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Pretty sad that Boardman Jeff was the first person to comment on this article and yet he says that he had to attack the Tea Party idiots in response to their comments. Maybe he doesn't realize that this is a nonpolitical article.

Perhaps the fine people at MRL could use their electron microscope to help Jeff find his brain. I realize it might be a difficult task but when they do perhaps Jeff's vitriol will stop.

Since when do you get to decide that only moderate republicans are acceptable in this country?

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