Steve Graber

Alcor Member Profile
From Cryonics March-April 2017

By Nicole Weinstock

More Alcor Member Profiles

Steve Graber

Not all paths to cryonics are straight lines, and Steve Graber’s is no exception. But unlike the curved lines of other cryonicists, his moved at 155 miles per hour.

Steve found out about cryonics through contract work between Alcor and his company, Graber Cars. It specialized in the design and production of lightweight, efficient, and economical sports cars. Steve built everything about them from the ground up, apart from the engines, steering racks, and brakes. Evidently, these components are so heavily tested before going to market that it’s safer and more cost-effective to use existing ones rather than develop your own.

Why cars from scratch? Because when you stand at six feet, three inches tall, you quickly realize that most sports car drivers are not.

“I love small cars,” confesses Steve, a conviction that was only confirmed when he discovered Elise. Manufactured by the UK-based company, Lotus, the Lotus Elise is a range of extremely lightweight sports cars known for their agility and exceptionally low CO2 emissions. “That’s the ideal car for me,” continues Steve. “But these British people.... Their maximum height is five foot eight or something. I couldn’t fit into the car—I literally couldn’t get into the driver’s seat. And I thought ‘this is ridiculous, I’m just gonna build my own damn car.’”

And build it he did.

Steve’s first car design-build attempt made the cover of Kitcar Magazine in 1998. It was a replica of a 1962 Ferrari. Unsurprisingly, Graber Cars quickly made a name for itself in the niche sports car community. The company is well-known for the design and build of a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder sports car called La Bala, or “the bullet.”

Steve takes La Bala out for a whirl.

This 1,500 pound speed demon tops out at 155 miles per hour while still averaging about 60 miles to the gallon. It’s so efficient, economical and gorgeous that you might start to wonder why you bought that Toyota Prius in the first place. And for the sake of comparison: the Prius, a common commuter car much lauded for its eco-efficiency, makes around 53 miles per gallon on the highway—a few miles shy of La Bala. As far as its looks and speed are concerned...well, suffice it to say that a Prius just ain’t no sports car.

The Graber garage was home to Steve’s sports car design-build business. Here he works on La Bala, “the bullet,” in 2004.

So what’s a from-scratch sports car guru got that a leader in cryonics might need?

As many of you already know, a key element of Alcor member benefits is its emergency response service, which relies on a well-functioning, customized vehicle that can house specialized equipment for patients in transport. Alcor needed an astute car professional to support those aims. The then Technical & Readiness Coordinator, Regina Pancake, reached out to a friend in the Hollywood special FX industry for vendor suggestions. That friend just so happened to be one of Graber Cars’ very satisfied customers from earlier in the year. He recommended Steve for the job, and the rest is history.

Interestingly, Steve was entirely unfamiliar with cryonics when he first headed to Alcor’s headquarters to talk business with his new client. Steve admits, “I hadn’t even looked up what Alcor did...but Regina gave me a tour, and I’m like, “[Cryonics] is so incredibly awesome. I couldn’t believe that someone had come up with this concept.” For Steve, it was an instant source of fascination and ideological camaraderie. After all, his passion for cars was also seeded in the realization of something that existed only in his mind, despite the skepticism of others.

A small Puerto Rican mountain town was home for Steve and his five sisters featured above. Growing up, they had one TV station and a sizable library.

A resilient imagination was key to Steve’s upbringing. The youngest of six kids, and the only boy to boot, he grew up in a small Puerto Rican mountain town during the ’70s. His family had a television with one station (in black and white), for which his parents limited the screen time. On the flip side, they had a library full of books at their disposal, a resource that fueled Steve’s curiosity and zeal for ideas and concepts. At one point, the Encyclopedia Britannica was the only text available for him to read, so he read it straight through, from A to Z.

Steve managed to turn lemons into lemonade when it came to cars back then too. His first car was a Ford Pinto station wagon, complete with faux wood paneling. It was a veritable eyesore for a growing aesthete. His dad bought it for him shortly after pooh-poohing his efforts to buy a Fiat Spider convertible. He warned Steve, “You’ll have to do maintenance on it all the time.”

Nevertheless, Steve eventually bought that car during his junior year of college—the 1982 Fiat Spider 2000 convertible with the Legend turbo engine, to be exact. Then a friend driving it on loan jumped the railroad tracks at high speed, causing considerable damage. No sooner had the “I told you so” issued forth from his father’s mouth, than Steve took the car apart to fix it himself. What transpired was an eye opening moment. He quickly realized the interrelationships of the various car systems, and how adjustments to one could influence the whole. In the best culinary simile of this magazine to date, he says between laughs, “Building a car is like peeling away the layers of an onion. It stinks at first, and then it just gets worse.”

In the end, Steve was able to survive the stink. With no mechanical experience to speak of, he not only fixed the Fiat Spider, but improved the engine as well. “After that point, I was hooked on designing and building things,” says Steve.

It was precisely this hook that made him a great fit for Alcor years later. Following his initial work on the emergency response vehicle in 2009, Steve continued to support the organization through contract gigs and volunteerism. In July of 2010, his track record of success, innovation and dedication was rewarded: he was hired as Alcor’s full-time Technical & Readiness Coordinator.

Over the years, Steve helped with the standby and cryopreservation of several cryonicists, the most memorable of which was that of Alcor co-founder, Fred Chamberlain, in March of 2012. Steve describes this privileged experience:

“It was just such an amazing thing to think, ‘Here I am, however many years later, and we’re getting ready to do a cryopreservation on the guy that had the foresight to start such a thing and act on it.’ Linda and Fred were people who took huge leaps of faith. They knew that the future would hold great promise of technology.... They didn’t take the naysayers [at their word].... These are strong people, and I like that kind of strength, and I wish that I had more of it [myself ].... I got strength from thinking about what [Fred] had been through to get to that point.”

With Yoda-level humility, Steve claims to only recently have been making his mark at Alcor. But it’s obvious from a single conversation that he has made significant contributions to its mission. As the Technical & Readiness Coordinator, Steve is responsible for ensuring that they are ready to receive patients in the operating room (O.R.). He keeps vigilant tabs on their stock of supplies and makes certain that any and all equipment is performing optimally. For international cases, Steve makes sure that the Alcor team is ready to travel with the appropriate response kit.

Given his considerable talent in design and building, Steve is also called upon to create new and improved equipment for the cryopreservation process. His design of the SuperDewar—lovingly coined the “SuperD”—is one such innovation. It is an advanced iteration of the Bigfoot Dewars, the cylindrical double-walled metal vacuum flasks that currently hold cryopreserved patients.

The SuperDewar, or “SuperD” that Steve designed makes its grand arrival at Alcor in the fall of 2016. None other than Steve’s son, Jacob, helped to unpack it.

Whereas the Bigfoot Dewar holds four whole body patients or up to 45 neuro patients, the SuperDewar promises to house up to nine whole body patients—possibly more, depending on their size and the combined use of his newly proposed patient storage backboard design—or 90 neuro patients, with potentially half of the liquid nitrogen boil-off. Ever the design buff, Steve also reduced the overall footprint of the SuperDewar, by situating the wheels of the capsule directly underneath the cylinder as opposed to protruding from the perimeter of the base. According to Steve, this newest dewar should “dramatically lower long-term storage costs in the patient care bay.”

If you’re reading this magazine from outside the US, you’ll be delighted to hear about Steve’s work creating a mobile operating room (O.R.) with the Field Neuro Kit. Based on the step ramp work of Hugh Hixon, these kits are “a complete O.R. in pelican cases.” Once assembled, they can easily be prepositioned in foreign countries for patients in need, so they can benefit from the best cryopreservation possible. Alcor needs to fly personnel to each location, or train people on-site on the kits’ use. “Better services for our members is what it’s all about,” says Steve.

He has also contributed to fine-tuning Alcor’s own O.R. In addition to designing and building an updated whole body surgical table, Steve also masterminded a way to integrate the Alcor PPC perfusion process control system (for whole body) into the neuroperfusion process. In layman’s terms, that means that he found a way to computerize the system that measures all of the factors—temperature, refractive index, etc.—that are vital to successfully cryopreserving a patient’s brain. Before the new control system, someone had to sit in front of a dial for several hours monitoring a gauge. Ultimately, this new system integration and its requisite backup—“there’s always a backup system in place,” reassures Steve—free up staff to attend to other pressing patient needs without sacrificing the quality of patient care.

With the SuperDewar, the Field Neuro Kit and the neuroperfusion process control system under his veritable Batman belt of gadgets, what more can one man do? If you’re Steve Graber, you start designing and building 3D printers.

You see, after his many years of a very active lifestyle, Steve’s back started to protest. Several surgeries and one titanium plate later, he decided to stop working on cars. But, he says, “I had to find something new to satisfy my craving to build things.... I can’t just go home and watch TV. I have to do stuff.” Steve dove into all things 3D printing. He made small printers that sit on a desk on up to huge printers that you can stand in. It wasn’t long before he designed and built one for Alcor. “We do some pretty unique things here at Alcor and you can’t just order some parts out of a catalog.” No, you certainly can’t. That’s why now, you just call Steve and he’ll make them for you on-site.

The ability to design, build and operate 3D printers is one of the many assets that Steve brings to Alcor. Here he poses with a sizable piece from his 3D printer portfolio.

One of his greatest print accomplishments to date is the sampling head of the refractometers used to measure the refractive index. The original heads were the wrong size and didn’t allow Alcor staff to sample at their specific requirements. These pieces may be small, but their impact is huge: “If I had designed them and sent them out to be machine produced it would’ve cost more to have that part machined than the cost of the whole 3D printer.” He might not be building cars right now, but Steve continues to innovate with efficiency, cost, and aesthetics in mind.

Like many introverts, Steve is a quiet personality who may not wear his heart on his sleeve. But it’s easy to see that this threefold approach to his work is born from a deep commitment to the human side of cryonics. “We are a technology and forward looking company. But in reality we’re about humans. Cryonics is actually a very personal thing and I think that we don’t really get to show a lot of that and how much we actually think about that.” Appealing to this side of the movement may very well be the most influential way of driving membership and expanding the cryonics community, something Steve calls out as a priority.

To that end, he dreams of transforming Alcor’s headquarters to make a simple visit more of a sensory experience. He envisions a light, airy space that draws inspiration from museums in its use of helpful placards, infographics, and interactive devices. Together, they will guide visitors through the various technologies, patients, and researchers of the movement, highlighting their individual stories and contributions.

This may seem far-fetched, but these are the ideas that feed the lifeforce of Steve Graber. “You can’t be a dreamer if you dream about things that already exist.... That’s the sort of stuff that I love doing. So this is sort of my dream job.”

Steve isn’t the only person who thinks so. Alcor’s President and CEO, Max More, known for once sending a memo to staff and officials with a brief but bold call to “question everything,” admits that Steve, more than anyone else, has acted on and exemplified that directive.

As much as he is committed to his work, Steve is a devoted family man. He and his wife and their two kids save up their pennies to go on a family trip every year. “Normally, we’ll be watching some travel channel show, and then ‘Oh man, look at that place, we gotta go there.’ And then, you know, we go and make it happen.” The Grabers have made it happen in Canada, Germany, France, England, Spain and New Zealand, in addition to domestic destinations, like Moab, Utah.

“Every place I can stop and look at my family is memorable. Every trip that we take is not just a chance for me, but a chance for me to open up my kids’ eyes to what’s in the world.”

A quiet man with a big heart, Steve poses with his beloved dog on a 2007 camping trip in Flagstaff. An Anatolian Shepherd/Bernese Mountain Dog mix, Suki was her name.

And that attitude doesn’t just apply to family vacations. It’s as much a truth in Utah or Spain as it is on the trails near the Graber home, where Steve and his family often mountain bike together. “I really enjoy the feeling of working my lungs and legs until they are ready to burst and fall off, then flying down the trail at the limit of my capabilities.” It’s Arizona, so I should mention that the trails are also lined with cactus. But to Steve, “The cactus makes it interesting. It gives you that feeling of euphoria. ‘I made it.’” Of course, that assumes that you don’t accidentally hit one. (But if you do, don’t worry. Steve tells me that duct tape usually does the trick to remove any errant needles.)

From cars to cacti, Steve brings a near palpable sense of wonder and dedication to all his pursuits. And yet when asked, he describes his life as “pretty boring.” If that is so, then may we all lead equally “boring” lives so that we can muster any fraction of his infinite creativity, winsome humility and valuable contributions to the people and technologies of cryonics.


More Alcor Member Profiles