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Disaster sparks Stolar innovation

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Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 8:00 pm

From a serendipitous discovery in a coal mine, with hard work and in spite of tragedy, have come a series of products that increase safety for not only domestic coal miners but also American soldiers as far away as the Middle East.

The 30-year-old Stolar Research Corp. focuses on product development and services for the military and homeland security. The business moved to Rio Rancho last year, but its new daughter company, Stolar Global Mining LLC, remains close to the roots of them both, doing work with mining technology in Raton.

Stolar owns about 100 patents. While developing new technologies, the company contributes to educational, children’s and veterans’ causes, and hosts interns.

“I think we have always been very mindful of where we came from and never thought we deserved any of it,” said Stolar President Gerald Stolarczyk, son of the corporation’s founder.

Stolarczyk and his employees work in radiogeophysics, which, he explains, involves using radiomagnetic energy waves in the surface of the earth to detect things.

“Everything below your feet: That’s our domain,” he said.

Stolar’s technologies are like SONAR, except they use energy, not sound waves.

As for the precise products Stolar has developed for the U.S. government, — Stolarczyk can’t say.

A disaster was indirectly a catalyst for Stolar’s genesis.

In 1972, an explosion in a hard-rock mine burned up telephone lines used for communication, and dozens of miners died because no one could alert them to get out, Stolarczyk said. The government began developing wireless underground communication systems.

“Life is vastly different underground than it is here on the surface,” Stolarczyk said.

Cell phones and CB radios don’t work in mines.

Stolarczyk’s father, Larry, was working with a government contract company in Raton, using a local coal mine to test ideas for wireless underground communication. It was thought that a wire or other conductor was needed to carry energy underground because the signal wouldn’t jump through the air as it would above ground, Stolarczyk said.

However, one day, Larry Stolarczyk was testing equipment by talking to a man walking away from him next to a communication wire. When the man turned and moved away from the wire, Larry Stolarczyk realized he could still hear the man’s voice.

It turns out the rock above and below coal seams holds energy in the seams, allowing for wireless communication, Gerald Stolarczyk said.

The contractor went bankrupt, but Stolarczyk’s father exited with his discovery.

The elder Stolarczyk started working out of the family garage, with his children as laborers. After about two years, Stolar incorporated and moved out of the garage in 1983.

Larry Stolarczyk’s discovery spawned not only a communication system, but also technology to image coal mines and look at tunnels running between North and South Korea.

Plus, Larry Stolarczyk invented something relevant to many people: the garage door opener, his son said.

When the business operated out of the garage, “there wasn’t prime rib on the table,” Stolarczyk said, and he and his father persevered through tragedies.

A year before Stolar incorporated, Stolarczyk’s 21-year-old sister died in a car wreck.

“I can’t describe to you the devastation the family went through at that time,” he said.

Four years ago, Gerald Stolarczyk lost his own 8-year-old son.

Stolarczyk kept working after the loss, as his father had done.

“Instead of tearing us apart, we try to build something good on that legacy,” he said.

Stolarczyk has worked for his father’s corporation since finishing his bachelor’s degree in 1988.

As a teenager, he intended to go to acting school, become a lawyer and go into politics. His father didn’t agree.

“He slapped that table and said, ‘Over my dead body,’” Stolarczyk recalls.

The younger Stolarczyk replied that he’d do what he wanted, and started running. Then he remembered his father was an All-American in track.

Larry Stolarczyk caught the teenager after one step, and Gerald Stolarczyk decided he’d try engineering.

“And I’m glad I did,” he said.

Looking into the future, Stolarczyk said he plans to expand, hire more people, acquire a couple more businesses and diversify. Given current events, it’s scary when 90 percent of one’s business relies on federal money, he said.

Stolarczyk said the company’s radiogeophysics could have commercial applications.

One of 21 local employees, program manager John Howard, called Stolar the “best place I’ve ever worked in my life.” The business has a people-oriented pace, and employees do fantastic things every day, he said.

CEO Jerry Jones said the corporation is invested in Rio Rancho, and Stolarczyk said he wants to be a community partner and give back.

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