NIST logo

Tech Beat - October 20, 2009

Tech Beat Archives

Submit an email address to receive news from NIST:

Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: December 28, 2010
Date Modified: December 28, 2010 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

Scientists Create NICE Solution to Pneumonia Vaccine Testing Problems

NICE window
Pneumococcus colonies

Pneumococcus colonies (bottom) ordinarily must be counted manually to determine whether pneumonia vaccine is effective on a patient, but freely available NICE software (top) developed at NIST will help automate the process, potentially saving many lives in the world’s developing regions.

Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image for top image and bottom image

Medical clinics the world over could benefit from new software* created at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where a team of scientists has found a way to improve the efficiency of a pneumonia vaccine testing method developed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Pneumonia is the world's leading cause of death in children under five years of age and poses a serious risk to elderly adults. The leading cause of pneumonia worldwide is the pneumococcus bacterium, which also causes meningitis, sepsis and other complications. Pneumococcus has more than 90 strains that vary by geographic region and change over time. Consequently, ongoing testing is necessary to monitor existing vaccines and advance new ones.

One novel, high-throughput testing method involves culturing the bacteria along with a vaccinated person's blood serum and human white blood cells. If the vaccine is effective, the white cells kill the pneumococci and very few of the bacteria survive. Scientists can determine the vaccine's effectiveness by counting the number of surviving pneumococcus colonies, so rapid, accurate and standardized counting of these colonies is critical to this testing method.

At present, the most commonly used counting process is manual counting, which is both time-consuming and exhausting. "Automated counting devices do exist, but they require customized image acquisition methods, are very expensive and are not accessible in impoverished or developing regions of the world. These limiting factors can mean the difference between life and death," says NIST biophysicist Jeeseong Hwang. "So we created software that can be tweaked to work on any common imaging device."

The open-source software, called NIST's Integrated Colony Enumerator (NICE), takes a digital image that has been loaded into a computer and counts colonies grown from single pneumococcal cells. The Microsoft Windows-based software works on images from both digital cameras and flatbed scanners, which are widely available and inexpensive, costing less than $1,000 each. "NICE obtains results that agree well with manual counting, the current gold standard," says Matthew Clarke, who developed the program algorithm and code in Hwang's group. "There's a mean difference of only 3 percent between the two methods."

The project grew from informal talks between NIST and UAB, where researcher Moon H. Nahm developed the testing method. Nahm has been working with vaccine testing methods to support projects by the National Institutes of Health and PATH, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving health in poor communities around the world. As NIST scientists have been developing ways to standardize counting particles, PATH provided funding and worked with NIST. After 18 months of effort, NICE is now ready.

"We have already identified several clinics in Asia, where we feel many of the potential users are," Hwang says. "We're hoping to get feedback from them so we can improve the software in the future."

* The two software files required to run NICE, along with additional images demonstrating their use, can be downloaded at ftp://ftp.nist.gov/pub/physics/mlclarke/NICE. The files, written in the language MATLAB R2008B, are MCRInstaller.exe (MATLAB compiler engine 7.9) and NICE_B1r.exe (launches NICE). Further information is available from the programmer at nice@nist.gov.

Media Contact: Chad Boutin, boutin@nist.gov, 301-975-4261

back to top

Synthetic Cells Shed Biological Insights While Delivering Battery Power

Trying to understand the complex workings of a biological cell by teasing out the function of every molecule within it is a daunting task. But by making synthetic cells that include just a few chemical processes, researchers can study cellular machinery one manageable piece at a time. A new paper* from researchers at Yale University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) describes a highly simplified model cell that not only sheds light on the way certain real cells generate electric voltages, but also acts as a tiny battery that could offer a practical alternative to conventional solid-state energy-generating devices.

artificial cells

Image of two artificial cells that can act as a tiny battery. Each cell has a droplet of a water-based solution containing a salt—potassium and chloride ions—enclosed within a lipid wall. If the solutions in the two cells start with different salt concentrations, then poking thin metal electrodes into the droplets creates a small electric battery.

Credit: NIST

Each synthetic cell built by NIST engineer David LaVan and his colleagues has a droplet of a water-based solution containing a salt—potassium and chloride ions—enclosed within a wall made of a lipid, a molecule with one end that is attracted to water molecules while the other end repels them. When two of these "cells" come into contact, the water-repelling lipid ends that form their outsides touch, creating a stable double bilayer that separates the two cells' interiors, just as actual cell membranes do.

If the researchers only did that much, nothing interesting would happen, but they also inserted into the bilayer a modified form of a protein, alpha-hemolysin, made by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. These embedded proteins create pores that act as channels for ions, mimicking the pores in a biological cell. "This preferentially allows either positive or negative ions to pass through the bilayer and creates a voltage across it," LaVan says. "We can harness this voltage to generate electric current."

If the solutions in the two cells start with different salt concentrations, then poking thin metal electrodes into the droplets creates a small battery: electrons will flow through a circuit connected to the electrodes, counterbalancing the ion flow through the channels. As this happens, the ion concentrations in the droplets eventually equalize as the system discharges its electric potential.

Building synthetic versions of complex real cells—such as those that enable an electric eel to zap its prey [see Tech Beat Oct 1, 2008]—is far too difficult a task for now, says LaVan. So the researchers instead created this far simpler system whose performance they could understand in terms a handful of basic properties, including the size of the droplets, the concentration of the aqueous solutions, and the number of ion channels in the barrier between the two cells.

A tiny battery with two droplets, each containing just 200 nanoliters of solution, could deliver electricity for almost 10 minutes. A bigger system, with a total volume of almost 11 microliters, lasted more than four hours. In terms of the energy it can deliver for a given volume, the biological battery is only about one-twentieth as effective as a conventional lead-acid battery. But in its ability to convert chemical into electrical energy, the synthetic cell has an efficiency of about 10 per cent, which compares well with solid-state devices that generate electricity from heat, light, or mechanical stress—so that synthetic cells may one day take their place in the nanotechnology toolbox.

*J. Xu, F.J. Sigworth, and D.A. LaVan. Synthetic Protocells to Mimic and Test Cell Function. Advanced Materials, published online Oct. 1, 2009 (DOI: 10.1002/adma.200901945).

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

back to top

The White Stuff: Marine Lab Team Seeks to Understand Coral Bleaching

With technology similar to that used by physicians to perform magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, researchers from six institutions--including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)--working at the Hollings Marine Laboratory (HML) in Charleston, S.C., are studying the metabolic activity of a pathogen shown to cause coral bleaching, a serious threat to undersea reef ecosystems worldwide.

bleached coral

Coral in the genus Pocillopore showing bleached and normal pigmented sections.

Credit: NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service
View hi-resolution image

Coral bleaching is the whitening of living coral due to a disruption of the symbiosis (two organisms whose living together benefits both) with its zooxanthellae, tiny photosynthesizing algae. These unicellular creatures reside within the coral's tissues and provide the host organism with up to 90 percent of its energy. It's the solar-derived chemical products of these algae that give the world's coral species a rainbow of vivid colors. Unfortunately, ecologically valuable coral colonies around the globe are being threatened by an ocean-dwelling bacterium known as Vibrio coralliilyticus. When the microbe becomes virulent, it can infiltrate coral and dislodge the zooxanthellae, causing the coral to lose its pigmentation. If symbiosis is disrupted long enough, the coral dies from starvation.

Environmental scientists have shown in laboratory experiments that the virulence of V. coralliilyticus is temperature dependent, causing bleaching at temperatures above 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit). These findings have raised concerns that increasing ocean temperatures—either through natural seasonal changes or climate change trends—may lead to increased risk of widespread coral bleaching. During the past two decades, it has been reported that nearly 30 percent of the world's coral reefs—and the ecosystems they support—have been severely degraded by bleaching.

In a recent paper in Environmental Science and Technology,* the HML research team described how it used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to study metabolic changes in V. coralliilyticus resulting from temperature effects. The technique allows discovery of small-molecule metabolism-related compounds that correlate with different biological conditions. In this study, the levels of three compounds—betaine, glutamate and succinate—that help regulate energy production and osmotic pressure (a mechanism for maintaining cellular integrity) in V. coralliilyticus were determined to vary significantly between 24 degrees Celsius when the bacterium is not virulent and 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) when it is. These metabolic changes, the HML team believes, are clues to learning why the small temperature change can turn non-virulent V. coralliilyticus into a coral bleaching menace.

Future metabolomic studies of V. coralliilyticus are planned to better understand the complete temperature-dependent mechanism involved in its pathogenicity. The researchers hope that these findings will lead to a better understanding of the symbiotic relationships that exist in healthy coral and the potential impacts on those relationships under changing ecological conditions.

Teaming on this study with three NIST researchers were scientists from the Medical University of South Carolina, Tennessee Technological University, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Mt. Holyoke College and the College of Charleston. The team included self-funded visiting scientists, graduate students from HML partner agencies and visiting undergraduate students funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Science Foundation programs.

The HML is a unique partnership of governmental and academic agencies including NIST, NOAA's National Ocean Service, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.

* A.F.B. Boroujerdi, M.I. Vizcaino, A. Meyers, E.C. Pollock, S.L. Huynh, T.B. Schock, P.J. Morris and D.W. Bearden. NMR-based microbial metabolomics and the temperature-dependent coral pathogen Vibrio coralliilyticus. Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 43, No. 20 (Oct. 15, 2009).

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

back to top

Biochemical ‘On-Switch' Could Solve Protein Purification Challenge

Drugs based on engineered proteins represent a new frontier for pharmaceutical makers. Even after they discover a protein that may form the basis of the next wonder drug, however, they have to confront a long-standing problem: how to produce large quantities of the protein in a highly pure state. Now, a multi-institutional research team including a biochemist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) may have found* a new solution in an enzymatic "food processor" they can activate at will.

sheath with protein linked to it

The sheath (in green at top), with the desired protein linked to it (in yellow at right), first sticks to the engineered enzyme (in blue atbottom left) – allowing impurities and other proteins to be washed away. Then an infusion of triggering molecules (red dots) causes the enzyme to cut away the desired protein (at the point where the sheath and protein connect), which can be collected in a pure state. The sheath can then be washed away and the process repeated.

Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

The team has found an efficient method of harvesting purified protein molecules by altering an enzyme that soil bacteria use to break down their food. In its natural form, this enzyme would be of little use to drug developers, but the team has modified it so that it can be activated at the desired moment. By creating essentially an "on-switch" for the enzyme's activity, the team has found a way to separate a single, desired protein from the mixture of thousands generated by a living cell, which remains biotechnology's natural protein factory of choice.

Bacteria use the enzyme, called subtilisin, as a sort of food processor: After producing it internally, they release the enzyme into the soil, where it uses a minuscule "blade" to chop up proteins into digestible pieces. Because it could damage the bacterium's interior, the blade has a protective sheath that only comes off once the enzyme has exited the cell.

"The enzyme and sheath are strongly attracted to each other. The enzyme's first act is to cut the sheath away," says NIST's Travis Gallagher. "The method takes advantage of their attraction in order to isolate the protein we want."

The team first creates many "sheathless" copies of the enzyme, which are modified to function only in the presence of a triggering molecule such as fluoride. The modified enzymes are bound to the surface of a strainer. Then the team uses engineered cells to generate mass quantities of a potentially therapeutic protein, each copy of which has a subtilisin sheath attached to it. After harvesting these proteins along with the thousands of others that grow in the cellular interior, they filter the mixture through the strainer, where the protein-sheath pairs are caught and stuck fast to the subtilisin while the rest of the mixture drains away.

At this point, the team flicks their switch. They add a bit of fluoride and the enzyme snips the bond between sheath and protein, releasing the desired protein free of almost all impurities. "The technique can conceivably be used to obtain any protein you like, and the process is repeatable, as the sheaths can be removed for another round of purification," Gallagher says. "For most proteins, the method can achieve greater than 95 percent purity at a single step."

The research team also includes members from Potomac Affinity Proteins, LLC (PAP) and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI). UMBI holds the patent, which has been licensed to PAP. The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

* T. Gallagher, B. Ruan, M. London, M. Bryan and P.N. Bryan. Structure of a switchable subtilisin complexed with substrate and with the activator azide. Biochemistry, DATE, pages, DOI.

Media Contact: Chad Boutin, boutin@nist.gov, 301-975-4261

back to top

NIST Physicists Turn to Radio Dial for Finer Atomic Matchmaking

Investigating mysterious data in ultracold gases of rubidium atoms, scientists at the Joint Quantum Institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland and their collaborators have found that properly tuned radio-frequency waves can influence how much the atoms attract or repel one another, opening up new ways to control their interactions.

RF radiation illustration

In the sequence of green arrows, a pair of ultracold gas atoms collides, briefly forms a molecule, and flies apart, in the presence of an external magnetic field (not shown) that influences this process. By adding RF radiation (lightning bolts) of the right frequency, the atoms can experience being in many different molecular states (red arrows), providing even more extensive and detailed control of the collision. The size of the yellow bursts indicate the amount of absorption/emission of RF radiation.

Credit: Eite Tiesinga, NIST/JQI
View hi-resolution image

As the authors report* in an upcoming issue of Physical Review A, the radio-frequency (RF) radiation could serve as a second "knob," in addition to the more traditionally used magnetic fields, for controlling how atoms in an ultracold gas interact. Just as it is easier to improve reception on a home radio by both electronically tuning the frequency on the receiver and mechanically moving the antenna, having two independent knobs for influencing the interactions in atomic gases could produce richer and more exotic arrangements of ultracold atoms than ever before.

Previous experiments with ultracold gases, including the creation of Bose-Einstein condensates, have controlled atoms by using a single knob—traditionally, magnetic fields. These fields can tune atoms to interact strongly or weakly with their neighbors, pair up into molecules, or even switch the interactions from attractive to repulsive. Adding a second control makes it possible to independently tune the interactions between atoms in different states or even between different types of atoms. Such greater control could lead to even more exotic states of matter. A second knob, for example, may make it easier to create a weird three-atom arrangement known as an Efimov state, whereby two neutral atoms that ordinarily do not interact strongly with one another join together with a third atom under the right conditions.

For many years, researchers had hoped to use RF radiation as a second knob for atoms, but were limited by the high power required. The new work shows that, near magnetic field values that have a big effect on the interactions, significantly less RF power is required, and useful control is possible.

In the new work, the JQI/NIST team examined intriguing experimental data of trapped rubidium atoms taken by the group of David Hall at Amherst College in Massachusetts. This data showed that the RF radiation was an important factor in tuning the atomic collisions. To explain the complicated way in which the collisions varied with RF frequency and magnetic field, NIST theorist Thomas Hanna developed a simple model of the experimental arrangement. The model reconstructed the energy landscape of the rubidium atoms and explained how RF radiation was changing the atoms' interactions with one another. In addition to providing a roadmap for rubidium, this simplified theoretical approach could reveal how to use RF to control ultracold gases consisting of other atomic elements, Hanna says.

* A.M. Kaufman, R.P. Anderson, T.M. Hanna, E. Tiesinga, P.S. Julienne, and D.S. Hall, Radiofrequency dressing of multiple Feshbach resonances, to appear in Physical Review A.

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

back to top

Blueprint for Industry Change Aims to Improve Construction Productivity

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a new publication aimed at strengthening the U.S. construction industry's efficiency and productivity in the next two to 10 years.

silhouette of men working

©Sculpies/Shutterstock

The construction industry encompasses buildings and infrastructure that supply shelter, water and power. More than 11 million people, or about 8 percent of the total U.S. workforce, were employed in construction in 2007 and the buildings they constructed were worth $1.16 trillion, according to a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report.

Experts measure construction productivity by how quickly and at what cost buildings and infrastructure can be constructed. It directly affects prices for homes, consumer goods and the national economy's robustness.

Construction leaders and researchers have observed that this sector is experiencing a decline in productivity at the industry level, which led NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory to study construction productivity challenges and potential solutions, according to NIST economist and report co-author Robert E. Chapman.

The NIST blueprint for industry change is called Metrics and Tools for Measuring Construction Productivity: Technical and Empirical Considerations (Special Publication 1101). The report identifies the metrics, tools and data that can help construction-industry stakeholders make more cost-effective investments in productivity-enhancing technologies. A sample metric is the volume of concrete put in place per crew per day. Tools include Web-accessible databases containing task-level and project-level metrics based on actual construction projects.

The report also identifies the knowledge gaps that are seen as the biggest barriers to the measurement of construction productivity, for example, there are currently no industry level productivity metrics for the construction industry. The gaps, the co-authors say, suggest opportunities for innovations in measurement science to create new metrics and tools. "If we can measure construction productivity as we have done with safety, we can use productivity measures to drive competitiveness," Chapman explains.

The report lays the foundation for future research and for establishing key industry collaborations that will enable more meaningful measures of construction productivity. It is designed to assist construction researchers and professional societies, government statisticians and managers in the construction industry.

Metrics and Tools for Measuring Construction Productivity: Technical and Empirical Considerations, Special Publication 1101, can be found at http://www.bfrl.nist.gov/oae/publications/nistsp/NISTSP1101.pdf.

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

back to top

Is Your Microrobot Up for the (NIST) Challenge?

The scientists and engineers who introduced the world to tiny robots demonstrating soccer skills are creating the next level of friendly competition designed to advance microrobotics--the field devoted to the construction and operations of useful robots whose dimensions are measured in micrometers (millionths of a meter).

microrobot and the head of a fruit fly

A microrobot used at the RoboCup 2009 nanosoccer competition by the team from Switzerland's ETH Zurich is compared in size to the head of a fruit fly. The robot, which is operated under a microscope, is 300 micrometers in length or slightly larger than a dust mite.

Credit: ETH Zurich
View hi-resolution image

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in collaboration with IEEE, is inviting university and collegiate student teams currently engaged in microrobotic, microelectronic or MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) research to participate in the 2010 NIST Mobile Microrobotics Challenge. The competition will be held as part of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May 2010 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Viewed under a microscope, the microbots are operated by remote control and move in response to changing magnetic fields or electrical signals transmitted across a microchip playing field. The bots are a few tens of micrometers to a few hundred micrometers long, but their masses can be just a few nanograms (billionths of a gram). They are manufactured from materials such as aluminum, nickel, gold, silicon and chromium.

Like the NIST-coordinated "nanosoccer" events at the 2007 and 2009 RoboCup competitions (see www.nist.gov/public_affairs/calmed/nanosoccer.html), the Mobile Microrobotics Challenge will pit tiny robotic contestants against each other in three tests: (1) a two-millimeter dash in which microrobots sprint across a distance equal to the diameter of a pin head; (2) a microassembly task where the competitors must insert pegs into designated holes; and (3) a freestyle competition where each team chooses a task for its robot that emphasizes one or more abilities from among system reliability, level of autonomy, power management and task complexity.

These events are designed to "road test" agility, maneuverability, response to computer control and the ability to move objects—all skills that future industrial microbots will need for tasks such as microsurgery within the human body or the manufacture of tiny components for microscopic electronic devices.

NIST is organizing the 2010 Mobile Microrobotics Challenge with the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. NIST's goal in coordinating competitions between the world's smallest robots is to show the feasibility and accessibility of technologies for fabricating MEMS, which are tiny mechanical devices built onto semiconductor chips. The contests also drive innovation in this new field of robotics by inspiring young scientists and engineers to become involved.

To apply for the NIST Mobile Microrobotics Challenge, teams must submit a proposal by Dec. 31, 2009, by electronic mail to microrobotics2010@nist.gov, or by standard mail to: NIST Microrobotics Challenge 2010, c/o Craig McGray, NIST, 100 Bureau Dr., MS 8120, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8120. Proposals must include: a roster of individuals contributing to the team; contact information for the team leader; a list of the facilities available for fabrication, operation and characterization of microrobots; an overview of the microrobot design; an overview of the intended capabilities of the microrobot; and an overview of the fabrication process to be used.

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

back to top

Quicklinks

NIST Receives Highest Honor from Automotive Industry Action Group

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been awarded the 2009 Automotive Industry Action Group's (AIAG) Chairman's Award, the organization's highest honor. NIST was honored for its more than 14 years of work with AIAG. AIAG credited the collaborations with delivering tens of millions of dollars in cost savings to the automotive industry.

photo of Howard Harary and Brian Vautaw

Howard Harary (right), acting director of NIST’s Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory, accepts the Automotive Industry Action Group’s Chairman’s Award from AIAG Chair Brian Vautaw.
Credit: AIAG
View hi-resolution image

NIST's contributions to AIAG have been in engineering and product development, electronic commerce and supply chain management. NIST's Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory contributed to several standards efforts, including the ISO's standard for the exchange of product model data, product data management interoperability, dimensional mark-up language standardization, quality measurement data specification development, inventory visibility and interoperability guidelines and intercontinental supply chain management.

Researcher Peter Denno of NIST's Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory also was recognized at the Oct. 8 ceremony for his contribution to AIAG with a 2009 Outstanding Achievement Award for his leadership and contributions on the Materials Off-Shore Sourcing (MOSS) data standardization and process management supply chain management project. Denno led the development of information exchange standards for the MOSS project to improve the efficiency of operating long-distance supply chains of ocean-going automotive parts into U.S. assembly plants. Supply chain logistics account for about 10 percent of the cost of the average car—the same amount as labor. Denno also received the Outstanding Achievement Award in 2008.

AIAG is a not-for-profit organization of automotive sector original equipment manufacturers, suppliers, service providers, and government and academia representatives. These groups have worked collaboratively to drive cost and complexity from the supply chain via global standards development and harmonized business practices.

For more information, see http://www.aiag.org/staticcontent/press/releases/GENERAL/PR_ChairmansAward_Final.pdf.

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

back to top

NIST Signs U.S.-China Cooperative Agreement on Earthquake and Volcano Sciences

In the aftermath of the Sichuan Earthquake that occurred in China this past year and its high number of casualties, which included many children, the United States and China have signed a protocol for cooperation on earthquake and volcano sciences. This protocol was signed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the U.S., and the Chinese Earthquake Administration (CEA) and the National Natural Science Foundation (NSFC) of the Peoples' Republic of China. USGS, NSF, CEA and NSFC have a long history of working together, and this new protocol expanded the cooperation to include NIST. Patrick Gallagher, NIST Deputy Director, signed the agreement for NIST on Oct. 16 in front of the vice-administrator of CEA, Yin Chaomin and the rest of the CEA delegation. The delegation toured NIST laboratories that day.

Activities and programs under the protocol will be jointly coordinated by USGS, the Engineering and Geosciences Directorates of NSF, and the Building and Fire Research Laboratory at NIST, which is the lead U.S. government agency for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), and for the Chinese Party by the Department of International Cooperation of the CEA, and the Department of Engineering and Material Science of NSFC.

The signing took place during the week of the U.S.-China Science & Technology (S&T) Joint Commission Meeting led by John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-China S&T Agreement on cooperation in science and technology.

The Protocol text is available at http://www.nist.gov/oiaa/CEAprotocol.pdf. For a list of international agreements involving NIST, please visit http://www.nist.gov/oiaa/intragre.htm.

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

back to top

New Smart Grid Documents Include Call for Governing Board Nominations

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has posted three documents related to the Smart Grid, the next-generation electricity network for U.S. power distribution. The draft documents, which include a proposed charter for the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, a call for candidates to serve on the panel's initial governing board and the panel's membership agreement, are now available atop the Developments toward Smart Grid Interoperability box at http://www.nist.gov/smartgrid/.  

The planned Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) will support NIST in fulfilling its responsibilities under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. The SGIP will identify, prioritize and address new and emerging requirements for Smart Grid standards. It will further develop the initial NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0, which was released for public review on Sept. 24.

Nominations for candidates for the initial governing board of the SGIP must be received on or before Nov. 4, 2009. Submissions may be sent by email, fax, or by mail to the coordinators: e-mail, sgipgb.coordinator@enernex.com; fax, (865) 218- 8999; or mail, SGIPGB Coordinator, EnerNex Corporation, 620 Mabry Hood Road, Suite 300, Knoxville, TN 37932.

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

back to top

NIST Physicist David Wineland to Share 2010 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics

David J. Wineland, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), will share the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics for "experimental realization of the first device that performs elementary computer-logic operations using the quantum properties of individual atoms."

The Franklin medals, among the most prestigious awards for achievements in science and technology, were announced by The Franklin Institute this week. Wineland will share the physics medal with two theorists who are also pioneers of quantum computing: J. Ignacio Cirac of the Max-Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Germany and Peter Zoller of the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

Quantum computers are a potentially powerful future technology that would harness the unusual rules of the submicroscopic quantum world to solve certain problems, such as breaking today’s most widely used data encryption codes, that are intractable using today’s computers. In 1995, Wineland’s research group demonstrated the first "universal quantum logic gate” using a single trapped ion (charged atom), an experiment proposed earlier that year by Cirac and Zoller. A logic gate is the equivalent of a switch in a conventional computer; a universal gate can be programmed to perform any operation on quantum bits of information. The experiment demonstrated the feasibility of processing information using quantum properties of ions and is regarded as the key step toward the development of a future quantum computer.

Since that seminal 1995 experiment, Wineland’s group has demonstrated a number of other "firsts” in experimental quantum computing, including the first basic building blocks for a quantum computer based on trapped ions, the first "entanglement” of ions (a prerequisite for quantum computing), the first quantum teleportation of information in matter (concurrently with an experimental group in Innsbruck), and the first robust error-correction scheme. This year Wineland’s group demonstrated sustained quantum information processing.

Dating back to 1824, The Franklin Institute Awards identify "individuals whose great innovation has benefited humanity, advanced science, launched new fields of inquiry, and deepened our understanding of the universe.” The 2010 medals will be formally presented in a ceremony in Philadelphia, Pa., April 2010. For more, see http://www.fi.edu/franklinawards/.

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

back to top