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Tech Beat - September 9, 2014

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: June 23, 2010
Date Modified: September 9, 2014 

New Forensic Subcommittee on Digital Evidence Added to Organization of Scientific Area Committees

Digital evidence, one of the fastest growing areas of forensic science, will now have its own subcommittee in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)-administered Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC). NIST is establishing the OSAC to identify and develop national standards and guidelines for forensic science practitioners to strengthen forensic science in the United States.

Cell phone forensics
Engineer Rick Ayers makes sure commercial forensics tools for cell phones conform to required specifications by testing them on a number of phone models. These tests provide a measure of assurance that the tools used in digital forensic investigations give accurate results.
Credit: ©Nicholas McIntosh Photography
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Forensic science practitioners, academic researchers and others with expertise in digital evidence are encouraged to apply for one of up to 20 voting positions on the new Digital Evidence Subcommittee by Sept. 30, 2014. Those who previously applied for membership on other subcommittees should reapply if they wish to be considered for the Digital Evidence Subcommittee.

digital evidenceThe OSAC’s Forensic Science Standards Board agreed to add digital evidence as a subcommittee under the IT/Multimedia Scientific Area Committee in a teleconference with NIST staff on Sept. 3. NIST recently finalized membership of all five scientific area committees—IT/Multimedia, Biology/DNA, Chemistry/Instrumental Analysis, Crime Scene/Death Investigation and Physics/Pattern.

National Commission on Forensic Science co-chairs James Cole, U.S. deputy attorney general, and Willie May, acting director of NIST, announced their support for the proposed new subcommittee at the commission’s Aug. 26 and 27 meeting in Washington, D.C. The commission was established in 2013 to provide recommendations and advice to the Department of Justice, and it will take into consideration the work of the OSAC.

Digital evidence also will be a priority for the NIST-sponsored Forensic Science Center of Excellence, which will be dedicated to collaborative, interdisciplinary research. NIST is accepting applications from accredited institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations through Dec. 11. 2014.

To learn more about OSAC and NIST forensic science research and to sign up to receive NIST forensic science news updates, visit The OSCA application form for serving on subcommittees is available at

Media Contact: Jennifer Huergo,, 301-975-6343

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Polonium's Most Stable Isotope Gets Revised Half-Life Measurement

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have determined* that polonium-209, the longest-lived isotope of this radioactive heavy element, has a half-life about 25 percent longer than the previously determined value, which had been in use for decades.

polonium chart
Credit: Irvine/NIST
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The new NIST measurements could affect geophysical studies such as the dating of sediment samples from ocean and lake floors. They often employ Po-209 as a tracer. Because sediment cores are used for determining human impact on the environment over the past century, the new measurement could impact these studies as well as other environmental measurements and biological assays.

Polonium has more than 30 isotopes, all of them radioactive and highly poisonous. The difficulty in measuring the particular Po-209 half-life arises from its scarcity in pure form, the long length of its half-life, and the specific types of radiation involved in its decay. The widely used value for Po-209 dates from 1956. Decades later, NIST scientists began to find evidence that this half-life value was incorrect.

NIST maintains a stock of Po-209 as one of its many Standard Reference Materials (SRMs), which it sells to laboratories worldwide. Two measurements of the radioactive decay of the Po-209 SRM performed about 12 years apart suggested the 1956 value was in error. After another eight years, further standardization measurements in 2013 confirmed the finding, and the team determined the half-life as 125.3 +/- 3.2 years.

The new value is roughly 25 percent different than the previously accepted measurement of 102 +/- 5 years. According to research chemist Ron Collé, the half-life determination was possible because of NIST’s ability to perform decay measurements over a period of 20 years.

“This finding results from decades of continuity in preserving precious radioactive materials, in having and maintaining well-documented records, and in keeping an institutional memory,” he says.

*R. Collé, R.P. Fitzgerald and L. Laureano-Perez. The half-life of 209Po: revisited. Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics 41 (2014) 105103, doi:10.1088/0954-3899/41/10/105103

Media Contact: Chad Boutin,, 301-975-4261

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NIST Helps Develop New Standard for Microsensor Technology

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has contributed to the development of a new standard for defining the performance of micromechanical sensors—a field that is expected to expand rapidly in coming decades as these versatile sensors increasingly become part of electronic networks.

The IEEE 2700-2014 Standard for Sensor Performance Parameter Definitions, now available from the IEEE Standards Association, provides a common methodology for specifying the performance of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) in the consumer electronics industry. The standard includes specifications for a wide range of devices, including accelerometers, gyroscopes, barometers and proximity sensors.

NIST’s Herbert Bennett and Michael Gaitan worked on the standard’s development committee to coordinate the group effort between NIST, the MEMS Industry Group, the IEEE Electron Devices Society and the IEEE Standards Association to collaborate on MEMS commercialization standards.

MEMS are a class of tiny machines, typically far less than a millimeter in size, that combine moving parts or sensors with electronic components. MEMS already are used widely, for example, as motion detectors in tablet computers or as triggers for automobile collision airbags. Their use is expected to grow as sensing devices on buildings, vehicles and elsewhere are linked to computer networks to create the “Internet of Things.” The diversity of these sensing devices demands new industry standards to ensure their compatibility.

For more information on the standard, see IEEE’s announcement, “IEEE 2700™-2014 Specifies Sensor Performance In Consumer Electronics Technologies To Stimulate Innovation For Enabling The Connected Person,” at

Media Contact: Chad Boutin,, 301-975-4261

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NIST Team Honored for Work on Military Smartphone Apps, Security

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers have earned a 2014 GCN Award for Information Technology Excellence* for speeding development and delivery of secure, battlefield-handy—and sometimes lifesaving—smartphone apps to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

transapps heatmap screen
Screen capture demonstrates the TransApps HeatMap smartphone application during testing prior to deployment in Afghanistan. Colors indicate the frequency with which a particular route is traveled, with red representing heaviest use.
Credit: NIST

The four-year NIST effort included distilling soldiers’ needs into app requirements, evaluating app performance, and designing a unique smartphone security architecture. It is among 10 GCN-recognized public-sector projects “showing the power of mobile technology to transform the government IT enterprise.”

The NIST team of engineers and computer scientists was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), under its Transformative Apps (TransApps) program. Working with soldiers, contract app developers and others, NIST contributed two brands of expertise—cybersecurity and software performance evaluation. And it organized the collaboration to accomplish DARPA’s objective, "Develop a diverse array of militarily relevant software applications using an innovative new development and acquisition process."

Within about a year after its 2010 start, DARPA-funded collaborators delivered a batch of commercially available smartphones and an initial set of secure, soldier-defined apps to an Army brigade in Afghanistan. By 2013, about 4,000 mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) were deployed in Afghanistan, and an online apps store was up and running for soldiers. The site now features about 60 apps—from map displays to a calculator for estimating blast distances to language games—and it offers regular upgrades.

One of the most popular apps is HeatMap, which color codes routes to indicate frequency of troop use, helping soldiers to vary their travel patterns.

Now that the systemized process for developing and vetting apps is in place, the time to go from troop requirements to prototype app may take a week, sometimes days. In addition to integration testing, all deployed apps undergo periodic user-centered testing with a NIST-developed “App Spot Checklist” that yields data for thorough statistical analysis. Camera usability, GPS accuracy, timing metrics, compass accuracy, and display usability are among the app and device features tested with NIST methods

DARPA’s TransApps program has earned high marks from its customers and prompted testimonials from the battlefield. Here’s an example:

“The Taliban had nearly surrounded us. We used the handheld (TransApps device) to identify the enemy’s position and fired directly at them. If we would not have had the device to pinpoint the enemy, lives could have been lost.”

Besides Afghanistan, TransApp devices were used by police and others at the 2013 presidential inauguration and at the 2014 Boston Marathon.

In an April 2014 article in ITEA Journal, several members of the NIST team described testing and evaluation of TransApps devices. It is available at

Other collaborators included George Mason University, Invincea, Kryptowire, viaForensics and Galois.

*The GCN 2014 Awards are described at

Edited on Sept. 4, 2014, to correct error in reference to Boston Marathon.

Media Contact: Mark Bello,, 301-975-3776

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Nine Organizations Selected for Site Visits for 2014 Baldrige Award

Nine U.S. organizations have been selected by the Baldrige Panel of Judges to receive site visits for the 2014 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation's highest recognition for organizational performance excellence. A site visit is an essential step towards winning a Baldrige award.

The judges selected six organizations in the health care category, two nonprofits and one service business to receive site visits by teams of experts starting next month. The teams will clarify questions and verify information submitted in award applications.

The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP) received 22 applications in 2014: 12 health care organizations, six nonprofits, two educational organizations and two service businesses. All of the applicants were evaluated rigorously by an independent board of examiners in seven areas defined by the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence: leadership; strategic planning; customer focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; operations focus; and results. Examiners will provide about 1,000 hours of review for each applicant receiving a site visit, and all applicants will receive a detailed report on the organization's strengths and opportunities for improvement.

The 2014 Baldrige Award recipients are expected to be named in late November 2014. The awardees will be honored at a ceremony during the Quest for Excellence conference, April 13-15, 2015, in Baltimore, Md.

The Baldrige Award was established by Congress in 1987. The BPEP is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in cooperation with the private sector. It also is a partner in the Baldrige Enterprise, which includes the private-sector Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the Alliance for Performance Excellence—a body made up of the 30-plus state, local, regional and sector-specific Baldrige-based programs serving nearly all 50 states; and ASQ, an international organization promoting quality.

The program helps U.S. organizations succeed in today's competitive marketplace by providing organizational assessment tools and criteria; educating leaders in businesses, schools, health care organizations, and government and nonprofit organizations about the practices of national role models; and recognizing them with the Baldrige Award in six categories: manufacturing, service, small business, health care, education and nonprofit.

The Baldrige Award is not given for specific products or services. Since the first group was recognized in 1988, 101 awards have been presented to 95 organizations (including six repeat winners).

For more information on the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and the Baldrige Award, see

Media Contact: Michael E. Newman,, 301-975-3025

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