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Tech Beat - March 17, 2015

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: June 23, 2010
Date Modified: March 17, 2015 

NIST’s MRI Measurement Tools to Help Diagnose Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injuries

More than 300,000 U.S. veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) in recent years, a legacy of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. While severe TBI can be obvious, milder cases involving symptoms such as memory loss or inability to concentrate are difficult to confirm and treat.

Brain wiring diagram made by high-definition fiber tracking magnetic resonance imaging (HDFT MRI) of water diffusion. The technique is useful for studies of traumatic brain injury.
Credit: Sudhir Pathak & Walter Schneider/University of Pittsburgh
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TBI Incidence by severity
Department of Defense data show that mild cases of traumatic brain injury have soared since 2005.
Credit: DoD Web Site: Traumatic Brain Injury at

Advanced imaging of the microscopic motion of water molecules in the brain shows promise for detecting these subtle injuries. A new study of TBI using this diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique will get a quality control boost from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which has been working in collaboration with other organizations for nearly a decade to improve quantitative measures for MRI.*

NIST has developed a series of MRI “phantoms” to enable measurements that can be traced to international standards.** Phantoms are stable reference objects designed to mimic human tissue responses to MRI, but in a predictable, repeatable way. They are used to calibrate MRI scanners.

As interest in quantitative MRI measurements grows, NIST phantoms are being tested around the world, used in U.S. clinical trials, and transferred to industry. The goal is to improve image comparisons across scanners, test sites and time, thereby enhancing quality of care and reducing medical costs. NIST has applied for a patent on its basic phantom design and use to help promote commercialization.***

NIST and collaborators have already developed a phantom for diffusion MRI, which is now being tested in Europe and the United States. “It has shown very good reproducibility so far,” NIST’s Michael Boss says. “Diffusion MRI can reveal differences between tumors and normal tissue. But until now, there has been no widely accepted phantom or traceability to standards. NIST’s expertise lies in phantom development and what characteristics they should have in order to determine sources of error and inform protocols to be used with MRI patients.”

A new quantitative MRI study, co-led by researchers from NIST and three other institutions, will look for evidence of brain injury in patients with suspected TBI. The two-year study is part of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) effort to reliably diagnose TBI and predict outcomes and care needs. The study requires the creation of a new, head-sized MRI phantom to measure anisotropic diffusion, which tracks water molecules as they move in specific directions through the brain. Their motions can reveal structural information such as abnormalities in neural pathways. Nerve cell damage is believed to be a driving factor in TBI. Diffusion imaging has revealed changes in brain structure in some people with mild TBI; researchers say it has great potential to characterize and quantify the integrity of brain tissue.

The TBI phantom will be more complex than previous NIST phantoms. It will combine aspects of NIST’s existing diffusion phantom with those of a University of Pittsburgh model made of textile fibers that measures both restricted microscopic water diffusion within nerve cells and unrestricted water motion between cells. When nerve cells are injured, the water motion that is usually restricted by cells is then able to move in an unrestricted manner. The MRI imaging technique used in the new study can detect this change. The new phantom might also be used to provide confidence in MRI diffusion measurements in other patients such athletes with possible head injuries.

Once developed, the TBI phantom will be tested initially on MRI scanners made by different manufacturers. Plans call for eventual recruitment of veterans for a clinical study at four VA hospitals.

“The study is highly relevant to the VA Hospital System commitment to provide a high level of care for veterans with suspected TBI,” the research plan states. “It will allow a means to optimize scanner performance across the VA system and provide more uniform data from various scanners. Meeting this goal will, for the first time, allow large collections of TBI data to be combined into a single pool. Analysis of the resultant large pool of data is expected to yield important results in terms of early diagnosis of TBI, stratification of patients into treatment categories, assessment of therapeutic results, and data for long-term outcomes trials.”

The project leaders are researchers from NIST’s campus in Boulder, Colorado; Baylor College of Medicine in Texas; Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina; and the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

*Collaborators include the National Cancer Institute, the Radiological Society of North America’s Quantitative Imaging Biomarker Alliance, and the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.
**For example, see the 2010 NIST Tech Beat article, "Meet Phannie, NIST's Standard 'Phantom' for Calibrating MRI Machines," at; and the 2013 Tech Beat article, “NIST Calibration Tools to Encourage Use of Novel Medical Imaging Technique,” at
***US Provisional Patent Application serial number 62/064494, MRI Phantom, Method for Making and Use of Same. Assignee: National Institute of Standards and Technology. Inventor: Michael Boss.

Media Contact: Laura Ost,, 303-497-4880

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NIST Gets New Angle on X-Ray Measurements

Criminal justice, cosmology and computer manufacturing may not look to have much in common, but these and many other disparate fields all depend on sensitive measurements of X-rays. Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new method* to reduce uncertainty in X-ray wavelength measurement that could provide improvements awaited for decades.

A laser from the NIST-designed autocollimator (square device at top) is beamed at the mirrored polygon in the gray circle at left, and its reflection allows the angle of the polygon’s faces to be precisely determined while the polygon rotates. The black device at bottom takes measurements that minimizes the wobbling the polygon experiences while spinning.
Credit: Hudson/NIST
View hi-resolution image

Accurate measurement of X-ray wavelengths depends critically on the ability to measure angles very precisely and with very little margin for error. NIST’s new approach is the first major advance since the 1970s in reducing certain sources of error common in X-ray angle measurement.

Many of us associate X-rays with a doctor’s office, but the uses for these energetic beams go far beyond revealing our skeletons. The ability to sense X-rays at precise wavelengths allows law enforcement to detect and identify trace explosives, or astrophysicists to better understand cosmic phenomena. It all comes down to looking very closely at the X-ray spectrum and measuring the precise position of lines within it. Those lines represent specific wavelengths—which are associated with specific energies—of X-rays that are emitted by the subject being studied. Each material has its own, unique X-ray “fingerprint.”

But a slight error in angle measurement can skew the results, with consequences for quantum theories, research and manufacturing. “While many fields need good X-ray reference data, many of the measurements that presently fill standard reference databases are not great—most data were taken in the 1970s and are often imprecise,” says NIST’s Larry Hudson.

X-ray wavelengths are measured by passing the beam through special crystals and very carefully measuring the angle that exiting rays make with the original beam. While the physics is different, the technique is analogous to the way a prism will split white light into different colors coming out at different angles.

The crystal is typically mounted on a rotating device that spins the crystal to two different positions where a spectral line is observed. The angle between the two is measured—this is a neat geometry trick that determines the line’s position more precisely than a single measurement would, while also cancelling out some potential errors. One inevitable limit is the accuracy of the digital encoder, the device that translates the rotation of the crystal to an angle measurement.

Hudson and his co-authors have found a way to dramatically reduce the error in that measurement. Their new approach uses laser beams bouncing off a mirrored polygon that is rotated on the same shaft that would carry the crystal. The approach allows the team to use additional mathematical shortcuts to their advantage. With new NIST sensing instrumentation and analysis, X-ray angles can now be measured routinely with an uncertainty of 0.06 arcseconds—an accuracy more than three times better than the uncalibrated encoder.

Hudson describes this reduction as significant enough to set world records in X-ray wavelength measurement. “If a giant windshield wiper stretched from Washington D.C. to New York City (364 kilometers) and were to sweep out the angle of one of these errors, its tip would move less than the width of a DVD,” he says.

What do these improvements mean for the fields that depend on X-ray sensing? For one thing, calibrating measurement devices to greater precision will provide better understanding of a host of newly designed materials, which often have complicated crystal structures that give rise to unusual effects such as high-temperature superconductivity. The team’s efforts will permit better understanding of the relationship between the structures and properties of novel materials.

*M.N. Kinnane, L.T. Hudson, A. Henins and M.H. Mendenhall. A simple method for high-precision calibration of long-range errors in an angle encoder using an electronic nulling autocollimator. Metrologia, 52 238. Posted online March 9, 2015. doi:10.1088/0026-1394/52/2/244

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

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NIST 2015 SBIR Grants to Fund Research in Manufacturing, Clean Energy, Cybersecurity and Bioscience

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is offering to fund research projects that address specific challenges in the fields of advanced manufacturing, climate change and clean energy, cybersecurity, health care and bioscience.

The NIST SBIR program seeks to fuel technological innovation in the private sector by strengthening the role small business plays in meeting federal R&D needs and bringing to market innovations derived from federal research and development. The program also works to increase participation by socially and economically disadvantaged persons and women-owned small business concerns.

These SBIR “Phase I” awards are intended to determine if the proposed research is feasible, and to gauge how well the awardee performs that research. The awards can provide up to $100,000 over a performance period of seven months. Awardees that successfully complete their Phase I research projects will be eligible to apply for Phase II funding to develop the technology further.

The NIST 2015 SBIR solicitation names 15 specific technologies for development and an opportunity for technology development of commercially promising NIST-developed technologies.

In the category of Advanced Manufacturing, they include:

  • Category-Theoretic Tools to Support Manufacturing Information Integration
  • Computer Aided Standards Development (CASD) – A Software Tool to Automate Standards Development Process
  • High-Throughput Manufacturing Methods for Engineered MRI Contrast Agents
  • Laser Power Meter for Manufacturing Applications
  • Optical Microscopy as Applied to Fabrication of Atomic-Scale Devices
  • Predictive Modeling Tools for Metal-Based Additive Manufacturing
  • Stroboscopic Method for Dynamic Imaging in a Transmission Electron Microscope at GHz Frequencies
  • Tuning Germanium Crystal Reflectivity and Mosaic

In the category of Climate Change and Clean Energy, they include:

  • Large-Area, Uniform Infrared Detector Development for 1 μm to 4.5 μm

In the category of Cybersecurity, they include:

  • A Verifier for Multicore C11 or C++11 Code
  • Access Control Policy Tool
  • Analysis and Visualization Tools for Automated Email Abuse Reports
  • Improving Robustness and Security in Home Routers

In the category of Health Care and Bioscience, they include:

  • Dual Pulse Continuum Laser Source for Time-Domain Coherent Raman Imaging

In addition to the research areas above, NIST also is accepting proposals for further development of commercially promising technologies that have been developed at NIST. The Technology Partnerships Office at NIST will provide the awardee with a no-cost research license for the duration of the SBIR award. When the technology is ready for commercialization, a commercialization license will be negotiated with the awardee.

Applications may be submitted for the development of any NIST-owned technology that is covered by a pending U.S. non-provisional patent application or by an issued U.S. patent. Available technologies can be found on the NISTTech website.

In the interest of fair competition, communication with NIST concerning a specific technical topic or subtopic during the open solicitation period is not allowed, with the exception of the public discussion group on the SBIR website. All questions and responses will be publicly, though anonymously, posted on the discussion group website.

Read the 2015 SBIR proposal solicitation for a full explanation of the SBIR process, rules and the specific challenges the proposals should address. The solicitation is available at Unsolicited proposals, i.e. proposals that do not address the challenges outlined in the SBIR proposal solicitation, will not be accepted. The solicitation closes May 15, 2015.

For general information about the NIST SBIR program, call (301) 975-4188 or send an email to

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

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NIST Names Two to Earthquake Advisory Board

A public health expert and a sociologist have been appointed by Willie May, acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and acting director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to serve on the Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction (ACEHR) of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP).

Established by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, NEHRP is the federal government’s program to reduce the risks to life and property from earthquakes. NEHRP consists of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, and NIST, which serves as the lead agency.

In response to the 2004 NEHRP reauthorization legislation, NIST established ACEHR to function solely as an advisory body, in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

The two new ACEHR members are Lisa Ludwig, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine, and Lori Peek, a sociology associate professor at Colorado State University. Ludwig’s term ends on December 3, 2017, and Peek’s ends on January 31, 2018. They join a group of 13 continuing ACEHR members, including experts from academia, industry and state and local governments.

ACEHR acts in the public interest to assess:

  • trends and developments in the science and engineering of earthquake hazards reduction;
  • the effectiveness of NEHRP in performing its statutory activities (fostering improved design and construction methods and practices; land use controls and redevelopment; prediction techniques and early-warning systems; coordinated emergency preparedness plans; and public education and involvement programs);
  • any need to revise NEHRP; and,
  • program management, coordination, implementation and activities.

More information on NEHRP and the ACEHR can be found at

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

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NIST Releases Federal Laboratory Technology Transfer Report for Fiscal Year 2012

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released the Federal Laboratory Technology Transfer, Fiscal Year 2012, Summary Report to the President and Congress. The report provides government-wide results of federal technology transfer activities in 2012. It includes both quantitative (e.g., number of licenses, earned royalty income, etc.) and qualitative (e.g., anecdotal evidence of downstream outcomes and benefits) measures of effectiveness, organized by agency and summarized at the national level.

According to the report, federal laboratories reported more than 8,812 research agreements and 21,677 other collaborative research and development-related relationships in FY 2012. There were 5,149 new invention disclosures, 2,346 patent applications filed, 1,808 patents issued, and more than $166.8 million in income generated from 5,451 active income bearing licenses.

Examples of federal technologies that were developed and successfully transferred in FY 2012 include:

  • a platinum-chromium alloy for improved coronary stents developed by scientists at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which is part of the Department of Energy’s national laboratory system;
  • high-performance instruments for the detection of infectious bacterial developed by scientists at the Food and Drug Administration, the National Center for Toxicological Research, and the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research;
  • diagnostic technologies for the treatment of cervical cancer, developed by scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute which provide a new test that improves the ability to identify women at increased risk of developing cancer after receiving unclear results for cervical cancer risk from other standard tests;
  • a post-event gamma radiation sensor network, Radiological Emergency Management System, designed by scientists at the Department of Homeland Security for response and recovery after release of radiation in an urban area; and
  • nanoparticle-based methods for remediating and destroying organic and inorganic environmental contaminants in the subsurface and in water, developed by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory and VeruTEK Technologies.

“Technology transfer” is a legal mechanism by which results of federally funded research are transferred to the private sector where they may be further developed into consumer products and services. Technology transfer statutes also allow the use of federal laboratory facilities by academic and industry researchers and enable the establishment of research partnerships between federal laboratories and nonfederal institutions and businesses.

On Oct. 28, 2011, President Obama in a memorandum cited the importance of invention and technological innovation as drivers of economic growth and challenged federal laboratories to accelerate technology transfer operations over the next five years.

In addition to directing agencies to accelerate technology transfer activities, the memorandum directed the Secretary of Commerce to improve and expand, where appropriate, the collection of metrics regarding the effectiveness of federal technology transfer activities.

This effort continues to be a major priority across agencies, as described in the Lab-to-Market Cross-Agency Priority Goal in support of the President’s Management Agenda issued in 2014. The present report will help serve as a baseline to measure progress toward meeting this ambitious challenge while maintaining excellence in performing mission-focused research.

In the report’s foreword, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Willie May notes, “We will use future editions of this report to continue to keep the President and the Congress informed of the ongoing efforts of federal laboratories to expand our technology transfer efforts in partnership with U.S. industry; academic institutions; nonprofit foundations; and state, local and tribal governments. These efforts will continue to play a vital role in building the nation’s economic strength.”

This and reports from past years are available on the NIST Technology Partnership Office website.

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

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