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Tech Beat - March 10, 2009

Tech Beat Archives

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: April 7, 2011
Date Modified: April 7, 2011 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

NIST to Receive $610 Million Through Recovery Act

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will receive $610 million in funds as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The agency will use the funds for programs that support U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness, key factors in spurring economic growth.

The act provides $220 million in direct appropriations for NIST laboratory research, competitive grants, research fellowships, and advanced research and measurement equipment and supplies. An additional $360 million in direct appropriations is provided for construction of research facilities, half for NIST projects and half for a competitive grant program for science research facilities outside of NIST. Additional funding transferred to NIST from other federal agencies includes $20 million for standards-related work on electronic medical records to assist in modernizing the health care system and $10 million for collaborative efforts to develop a comprehensive framework for a nationwide, fully interoperable smart grid for the U.S. electric power system.

“With this funding, we expect to create jobs and advance the U.S. science and technological infrastructure by building critically needed research facilities, expanding fellowships and research grants, and addressing important national priorities critical to our nation’s future,” said NIST Deputy Director Patrick D. Gallagher.

Department of Commerce agencies receiving one-time funds through the act are required to submit a plan to Congress with specifics on how allocations will be spent within 60 days of the legislation being enacted. Once completed, NIST’s plan will be available to the public, along with directions for applying for research fellowships, grants or construction funding at the Department of Commerce’s and NIST Web sites.

“We take very seriously the requirements to ensure that the Recovery Act funding is used as effectively as possible for near-term economic benefits and longer-term economic growth,” said Gallagher. “We will use these funds wisely and in a manner that ensures transparency and accountability.”

Requests and applications for funding will be accepted when instructions and rules are posted for specific competitions.

Once completed, NIST’s plan will be available to the public, along with directions for applying for research fellowships, grants or construction funding at:

Media Contact: Ben Stein, ben.stein@nist.gov, 301-975-3097

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New Reference Material Supports Improved Quality Control for Polymers Industry

polyethelene materials

NIST polymer reference materials (a variety of polyethelene materials are shown) are used in the calibration and performance evaluation of instruments used in polymer research and manufacturing.

Credit: NIST
View higher-resolution image

In a tour de force of measurement science, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed and issued for sale a new test material for calibrating quality control equipment used extensively by the polymer industry. The product of a 5-year effort that also produced significant improvements in mass spectrometry techniques for analyzing polymers, the new NIST reference material is the first to offer manufacturers a test sample with a known—and verified—distribution of molecular masses.

Almost all industrial polymers—"plastics" in common parlance—are manufactured in continuous processes. Raw ingredients are fed into chemical reactors that cause the individual base units—called monomers—to link together into the long repeating chains that make them polymers. By its nature, the process produces polymer molecules having a variety of lengths (and therefore molecular weights), varying from a few tens of monomers long to hundreds or thousands, depending on a variety of process variables. This molecular mass distribution is tricky to control, but the product’s physical properties depend heavily on getting the correct distribution, so manufacturers are intensely interested in ways to monitor it accurately.

Typically this is done by periodically sampling the product using chromatography, a measurement technique that separates molecules out by length. For years NIST has provided polymer mass reference materials for use in calibrating these instruments, but the earlier reference materials were certified by the laboratory only for an average distribution—essentially, they would pin down only a couple of values across the total mass distribution.

The new material, NIST Standard Reference Material (SRM) 2881, "Polystyrene Absolute Molecular Mass Distribution Standard," provides the absolute molecular masses of 43 different lengths of polystyrene molecules, and their cumulative contribution to the total mass of the sample from 1 to 99 percent. Developing the new SRM, according to project leader William Wallace, involved a long process of analyzing and optimizing all aspects of the sample preparation, an international comparison of results from different laboratories, and developing improved tools for measuring individual molecular masses using a technique called Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (MALDI TOF). (For related information on using MALDI for polymer measurements, see "Mass Spectrometry Methods Database Gets Major Update," NIST Tech Beat, May 25, 2006.)

The NIST reference material is polystyrene, and it can be used to calibrate mass distribution measurements for a broad range of polymers. Technical details and ordering information for SRM 2881 can be found at https://www-s.nist.gov/srmors/view_detail.cfm?srm=2881. Standard Reference Materials are among the most widely distributed and used products from NIST. The agency prepares, analyzes and distributes more than a thousand different materials that are used throughout the world to check the accuracy of instruments and test procedures used in manufacturing, clinical chemistry, environmental monitoring, electronics, criminal forensics and dozens of other fields. For more information, see NIST’s SRM Web page at http://ts.nist.gov/measurementservices/referencematerials.

Media Contact: Michael Baum, michael.baum@nist.gov, 301-975-2763

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Safer Net Surfing Is Goal of NIST Domain Name Security Experts

login screenWhen you type www.irs.gov—or the Web address of your bank or an e-commerce site—into your web browser, you want to be sure that no one is hijacking your request and sending you to a bogus look-alike page. You’re relying on the integrity of the Internet’s “phone book,” the Domain Name System (DNS). Computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are playing a major role in making sure that what you type is what you get by providing standards, guidance and testing necessary to bolster the trustworthiness of the global DNS. A draft update of NIST’s guidelines for DNS security is now available for public comment.

Most recently, NIST computer scientists provided technical assistance to the General Services Administration to meet the end-of-February deadline to secure the top-level .gov (“dot-gov”) domain, the first major step of a new government-wide DNS security upgrade. NIST researchers develop the standards, specifications and operational procedures used by federal civilian agencies to safeguard their information systems. The Internet relies on the DNS system that converts the user-friendly names (www.nist.gov) into a unique Internet Protocol address ( necessary to route data to its destination.

The DNS as currently deployed lacks the ability to authenticate the source or integrity of responses returned from the system, and as a result it is easy to spoof responses and redirect users to fake or look-alike destinations. NIST and others are working to add “steel doors and locks” to enhance DNS security. NIST computer scientists led the development of new Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards to add digital signatures and associated key management procedures to DNS protocols. These additions, called DNSSEC, allow users to validate the authenticity and integrity of the data and will provide the basis for a new trust infrastructure for the DNS and protocols and systems that rely on it.

“We hope that the dot-gov deployment of DNSSEC will encourage rapid deployment in other sectors, including government contractors, trading partners and general e-commerce sites,” said Scott Rose, one of the NIST computer researchers.

In addition to developing the standards and deployment protocol guidance for DNSSEC, NIST researchers have developed the Secure Naming Infrastructure Pilot (SNIP) distributed testbed (www.dnsops.gov) to assist agencies and vendors in experimenting with and evaluating specific DNSSEC solutions. NIST is a member of an industry-government DNSSEC-Deployment Initiative, coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, to foster adoption and implementation of DNSSEC specifications across Internet domains.

The NIST team also has drafted updated recommendations for the “Secure Domain Name System (DNS) Deployment Guide” (NIST Special Publication 800-81 Rev 1), the key DNS security guidance document for civilian agencies, (Available on the Web at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/800-81-rev1/NIST_SP-800-81-Rev1_draft.pdf.)

This first revision of the guidance proposes stronger cryptographic algorithms and keys to provide more resilience against attack. The revised publication incorporates comments from the Internet Engineering Task Force that are to update best practices and checklists in the document. The latest version of the deployment guide includes cookbook configuration instructions for two commonly deployed DNS server implementations.

The public is invited to review the draft NIST SP-800-81 revision 1 guidelines and submit comments to SecureDNS@nist.gov before March 31, 2009.

Media Contact: Evelyn Brown, evelyn.brown@nist.gov, 301-975-5661

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Comments Sought on NIST Guidelines for Structural Fire Resistance

A new draft report released for public comment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a comprehensive set of "best practice" guidelines for designing building structures to resist major fires. The document, NISTIR 7563, Best Practice Guidelines for Structural Fire Resistance of Concrete and Steel Buildings, is part of the NIST response to the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster of Sept. 11, 2001, and was developed in conjunction with the agency’s technical building and fire safety investigations of WTC buildings 1 and 2 (the WTC towers) and 7.

scientific data graph

Computer simulation based on a NIST fire test conducted during the investigation of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Image shows flames impacting a model of a WTC steel floor truss without any fire-resistant insulation. Colors in the simulation show the variation in gas temperatures.

Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

This draft guidelines report is the result of a collaborative effort initiated by NIST that involved experts in the design and construction industry and academia. It features information on current best practices in structural fire resistance engineering in the United States and overseas, and current best knowledge in fire risk assessment, and characterization of the design fire, material properties at high temperatures, and thermal and structural response calculation methods. The document integrates state-of-the-art information in one source, enabling users to apply a performance-based approach to fire resistance design as well as the evaluation of concrete and steel structures.

NIST welcomes public comments on the draft report, downloadable at http://wtc.nist.gov, received by noon Eastern Daylight Time on April 15, 2009. Comments may be submitted by one of the following three methods:

  • electronic mail to cauffman@nist.gov,
  • fax to (301) 869-6275 or
  • regular mail to NISTIR 7563 Comments, Attn: Stephen Cauffman, NIST, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 8611, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-8611.

For more information, contact wtc@nist.gov.

Media Contact: Michael E. Newman, michael.newman@nist.gov, 301-975-3025

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NIST Time and Frequency Metrology Seminar to be held June 2-5

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will host the 34th annual Time and Frequency Metrology Seminar on June 2-5, 2009, in Boulder, Colo.

The four-day seminar provides the most comprehensive course in understanding the characteristics of clocks and oscillators, making precise time and frequency measurements and synchronizing and applying precision time in an array of systems. The seminar is designed for all who are responsible for measurements, analysis, documentation, publications, proposals, calibrations and/or certifications of timing systems. Registrants of all levels of experience are welcome, including scientists, engineers, laboratory technicians, educators, managers, mathematicians and computer programmers.

Notable speakers will include: John (Jan) Hall, who shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics for “contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique”; David Allan, who has authored more than 100 papers in the field of precise time and frequency, and who led development of the Allan Variance, the recommended statistic for comparing and evaluating clocks and oscillators; and John Vig, current president of IEEE, who holds 55 patents related to quartz crystal resonators and oscillators for high-stability frequency sources, clocks and sensors.

The seminar includes laboratory demonstrations at NIST. For registration information and the full agenda, visit http://tf.nist.gov/timefreq/seminars/T&Foverview.html.

Media Contact: Laura Ost, laura.ost@nist.gov, 303-497-4880

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April Workshop Takes Aim at Obstacles to Nanotech Energy Technologies

Most processes governing the generation, conversion, and transport of energy occur at the nanoscale. Exploring the new measurement and materials’ characterization techniques needed to apply nanotechnology effectively to global energy challenges is the aim of an international workshop on April 26-28, 2009, at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at the University of Albany in New York.

Sponsors and organizers of the Nanoscale Measurement Challenges for Energy Applications Global Workshop include the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and CNSE.

Progress in nanotechnology is considered essential to significantly improving energy efficiency, increasing reliance on renewable energy sources, and reducing climate and environmental impacts. However, accelerating the development of anticipated nanotechnology-enabled solutions to these and other energy needs requires improved or entirely new tools for measuring structure and properties at the nanoscale.

Sessions will scope out and prioritize measurement challenges in solar photovoltaics, energy generation and storage, solid-state lighting, and other areas. Speakers will be nanotechnology and energy experts from government, academia, and industry, including FEI, First Solar, General Electric, and General Motors. Abstract submissions for poster presentations will be accepted until March 20.

For the preliminary program and other information on the workshop go to: www.asmeconferences.org/NanoMeasurement09/index.cfm

Media Contact: Mark Bello, mark.bello@nist.gov, 301-975-3776

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