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Thermal noise in the mirror substrates sets a most severe limit to the low-frequency sensitivity of the interferometric gravitational wave detectors presently under construction. The mechanical quality of the mirror substrates and the geometry of their suspension are shown to affect markedly the noise level of the detector output. High mechanical Q have been obtained for different large fused silica substrates under Virgo suspension conditions. Moreover, calcium fluoride substrates are shown to provide a more promising option for the design of future cryogenic, low thermal noise interferometers. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.