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Tech Beat - March 16, 2010

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: August 5, 2010
Date Modified: September 8, 2010 
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Record-breaking Detector May Aid Nuclear Inspections

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have designed and demonstrated the world’s most accurate gamma ray detector, which eventually is expected to be useful in verifying inventories of nuclear materials and detecting radioactive contamination in the environment.

silicon chip

Silicon chip built by NIST researchers with 16 tiny gamma ray detectors that may help nuclear inspectors improve analysis of plutonium and other radioactive materials. Each detector is one millimeter square.

View a high resolution version of this image.

Image credit: NIST

The tiny prototype detector, described March 14 at the American Physical Society national meeting in Baltimore, can pinpoint gamma ray emission signatures of specific atoms with 10 times the precision of the best conventional sensors used to examine stockpiles of nuclear materials. The NIST tests, performed with different forms of plutonium at Los Alamos National Laboratory,* also show the prototype greatly clarifies the complex X-ray and gamma-ray emissions profile of plutonium.

Emissions from radioactive materials such as uranium or plutonium provide unique signatures that, if accurately measured, can indicate the age and enrichment of the material and sometimes its intended purpose or origin.

Gamma Ray Peaks

The data plots above show detection of gamma rays with specific energies. Arrows point to energies identified with the new detector that are difficult to detect in the red plot made with a conventional detector.

View a high resolution version of this image.

Image credit: NIST, National Nuclear Security Agency, Los Alamos National Laboratory

The 1-square-millimeter (mm) prototype collects only a small amount of radiation, but NIST and Los Alamos researchers are collaborating to make a 100-sensor array that could be deployed in the field, perhaps mounted on a cart or in a vehicle.

“The system isn't planned as a primary detection tool,” says NIST physicist Joel Ullom. “Rather, it is intended for detailed analysis of material flagged by other detectors that have larger collection areas but less measurement accuracy.” An array could be used by inspectors to determine, for example, whether plutonium is of a dangerous variety, whether nuclear fuel was made for energy reactors or weapons, or whether what appears to be radium found naturally in the environment is actually explosive uranium.

For further information, see www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/gammaraydetector.htm.

* J.N. Ullom, B.L. Zink, J.A. Beall, W.B. Doriese, W.D. Duncan, L. Ferreira, G.C. Hilton, K.D. Irwin, C.D. Reintsema, L.R. Vale, M.W. Rabin, A. Hoover, C.R. Rudy, M.K. Smith, D.M. Tournear, and D.T. Vo. 2005. Development of large arrays of microcalorimeters for precision gamma-ray spectroscopy. Published in The Conference Record of the IEEE Nuclear Science Symposium, Puerto Rico, Oct. 23-29, 2005.

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

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Layered Graphene Sheets Could Solve Hydrogen Storage Issues

Graphene--carbon formed into sheets a single atom thick--now appears to be a promising base material for capturing hydrogen, according to recent research* at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Pennsylvania. The findings suggest stacks of graphene layers could potentially store hydrogen safely for use in fuel cells and other applications.

graphene-oxide framework

A graphene-oxide framework (GOF), formed of layers of graphene connected by boron-carboxylic “pillars.” GOFs such as this one are just beginning to be explored as a potential storage medium for hydrogen and other gases.

Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

Graphene has become something of a celebrity material in recent years due to its conductive, thermal and optical properties, which could make it useful in a range of sensors and semiconductor devices. The material does not store hydrogen well in its original form, according to a team of scientists studying it at the NIST Center for Neutron Research. But if oxidized graphene sheets are stacked atop one another like the decks of a multilevel parking lot, connected by molecules that both link the layers to one another and maintain space between them, the resulting graphene-oxide framework (GOF) can accumulate hydrogen in greater quantities.

Inspired to create GOFs by the metal-organic frameworks that are also under scrutiny for hydrogen storage, the team is just beginning to uncover the new structures’ properties. “No one else has ever made GOFs, to the best of our knowledge,” says NIST theorist Taner Yildirim. “What we have found so far, though, indicates GOFs can hold at least a hundred times more hydrogen molecules than ordinary graphene oxide does. The easy synthesis, low cost and non-toxicity of graphene make this material a promising candidate for gas storage applications.”

The GOFs can retain 1 percent of their weight in hydrogen at a temperature of 77 degrees Kelvin and ordinary atmospheric pressure—roughly comparable to the 1.2 percent that some well-studied metal-organic frameworks can hold, Yildirim says.

Another of the team’s potentially useful discoveries is the unusual relationship that GOFs exhibit between temperature and hydrogen absorption. In most storage materials, the lower the temperature, the more hydrogen uptake normally occurs. However, the team discovered that GOFs behave quite differently. Although a GOF can absorb hydrogen, it does not take in significant amounts at below 50 Kelvin (-223 degrees Celsius). Moreover, it does not release any hydrogen below this “blocking temperature”—suggesting that, with further research, GOFs might be used both to store hydrogen and to release it when it is needed, a fundamental requirement in fuel cell applications.

Some of the GOFs’ capabilities are due to the linking molecules themselves. The molecules the team used are all benzene-boronic acids that interact strongly with hydrogen in their own right. But by keeping several angstroms of space between the graphene layers—akin to the way pillars hold up a ceiling—they also increase the available surface area of each layer, giving it more spots for the hydrogen to latch on.

According to the team, GOFs will likely perform even better once the team explores their parameters in more detail. “We are going to try to optimize the performance of the GOFs and explore other linking molecules as well,” says Jacob Burress, also of NIST. “We want to explore the unusual temperature dependence of absorption kinetics, as well as whether they might be useful for capturing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and toxins like ammonia.”

The research is funded in part by the Department of Energy.

* J. Burress, J. Simmons, J. Ford and T.Yildirim. "Gas adsorption properties of graphene-oxide-frameworks and nanoporous benzene-boronic acid polymers." To be presented at the March meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) in Portland, Ore., March 18, 2010. An abstract is available at http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/MAR10/Event/122133

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

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NIST, Partners Develop Testing Infrastructure for Health IT Systems

Fully incorporating modern information technology into the healthcare system promises many benefits, including better quality care, less paperwork and fewer medical errors while reducing unnecessary costs. In any such critical application, however, it’s important to ensure that the new technology behaves as expected. To meet this need in health information technology, a broad array of public and private stakeholders have been working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST has released the first of four installments of a new health IT test method and related software.

Starting in 2011, the federal government will provide extra Medicare and Medicaid payments to physicians’ offices that implement health IT systems conforming to specific technical standards and put to “meaningful use”, performing specifically defined functions. Late last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) identified the required standards and provided a concrete definition of “meaningful use.” To help physicians’ offices evaluate possible health IT systems against these requirements, the HHS’s Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) has established a national health IT certification program.

As mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), NIST and HHS/ONC are working to develop a suite of software tools to support the health IT testing infrastructure. Input (by email to hit-tst-fdbk@nist.gov) on these tools is welcomed from all stakeholders, including the general public, health IT system vendors, standards organizations, certification bodies and system implementers. The tools are intended to help vendors test their health IT products and ensure basic functionality, such as the calculation of body mass index or proper formatting of common electronic health records in XML (eXtensible Markup Language).

The health IT testing infrastructure does not create any new standards, only the tools necessary to test for compliance with existing standards that HHS announced late last year. Testing laboratories will use these tools in the testing component of the certification programs established by ONC. ONC has stated its intention to use NIST’s National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) to perform the accreditation of testing laboratories.

A new Health IT Standards and Testing Web site has been established (http://healthcare.nist.gov/) to provide more information on the program and the testing infrastructure suite.

Edited on Mar. 31, 2010, to clarify that the software suite is being developed by NIST and HHS/ONC.

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

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March Workshop at NIST to Focus on Preserving Our Digital Data

Experts on digital preservation are gathering at a workshop at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md., from March 29 to 31 to develop a standards roadmap on preserving the vast and growing amount of digital data over the long term.

graphic represenatation of digital data - zeros and ones

© ilker canikligil / courtesy Shutterstock

“A digital preservation interoperability framework,” explained NIST computer scientist and workshop program chair Wo Chang, “is essential for effective and reliable access to preserved digital content between preservation repositories.

The amount of digital data and content is huge and expanding rapidly. The data range from digitized historical maps, medical images, scientific modeling and simulations, national records, financial transactions, health records, personal photos and videos to blogs and email. A recent study by the International Data Corp. estimates that by 2011 there will be 1,610 exabytes (an exabyte is 1018 bytes) of digital information. (For scale, Michael Lesk of the Rutgers University Department of Library and Information Science has estimated that the holdings of the entire Library of Congress, if digitized, would amount to about three petabytes (1015)*.)

Observing that “science in the 21st century will be conducted in a fully digital world,” the National Science and Technology Council’s Interagency Working Group on Digital Data identified digital data preservation and access as a key strategic issue in its recent report, “Harnessing the Power of Digital Data for Science and Society.”**

Attendees at the “U.S. Workshop on Roadmap for Digital Preservation Interoperability Framework” will identify requirements, technologies and best practices for digital preservation standardization to establish a national roadmap. The roadmap will be used to develop a digital preservation standard so that users and systems can access digital content even when preserved on varied equipment by different digital preservation repositories.

Workshop attendees are expected to come from organizations handling preservation operations, strategies and requirements; technology developers that provide preservation approaches and solutions; and standards bodies establishing preservation best practices in metadata, file format, packaging, management and protection.

NIST is co-sponsoring the workshop with the U.S. InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) Ad Hoc Committee on Digital Content Management and Protection (DCMP) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Study Group on DCMP.

After the U.S. workshop in March, the “First International Digital Preservation Interoperability Framework Symposium” will be held on April 21-23, 2010, in Dresden, Germany, to gather requirements, technology and best practices on an international level. “Both roadmaps will be combined and provided to the ISO/IEC study group to standardize a digital preservation interoperability framework,” said Chang.

To register for the March workshop or find more information on the project, see http://ddp.nist.gov. Reporters interested in covering the workshop may contact Evelyn Brown, evelyn.brown@nist.gov, (301) 975-5661.

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

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Baldrige Program Funds Four State Efforts to Teach Performance Excellence

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Baldrige National Quality Program (BNQP) has announced that four state quality programs will receive funding for the development of Baldrige-based and performance excellence curricula targeted at education or manufacturing organizations. The awards, totaling $160,000, advance one of the BNQP’s strategic priorities—supporting the Baldrige-based state and local quality programs.

MassExcellence (Massachusetts), the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence, the Vermont Council for Quality and the Washington State Quality Award will develop the new curricula. The Massachusetts and Tennessee recipients will focus their performance excellence outreach on manufacturing firms while the ones in Vermont and Washington will direct their efforts toward educational institutions. Eight proposals for curriculum development were submitted in a competition for the funds; the four organizations receiving awards were selected based on evaluations done by the Alliance for Performance Excellence, a nonprofit network of state and local Baldrige-based award programs.

Among the plans for the four curricula are: course modules on leadership, communication and strategic planning; Web-based video lessons with self-paced learning; protocols for implementing the Baldrige Criteria; “train the trainer” programs; and descriptions of real-life case studies and best practices. The new curricula are expected to be in place by Dec. 31, 2010. Although they are being created primarily for the 40 state and local quality programs now in existence, the curricula will be made available by the BNQP to any group wishing to make use of them.

The one-time awards will be managed by a contractor, Key Teknowledgy Corp.

For more information, contact Bob Fangmeyer, robert.fangmeyer@nist.gov, (301) 975-4781.

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

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Quicklinks

Quality Is Virtual! Baldrige Program Offers Quest for Excellence Online

Don't worry if you can't make it to Washington, D.C., for the Quest for Excellence XXII conference on April 12-14, 2010. You can participate from your home or office, learning all about the exceptional performance management practices and results of the 2009 recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Registration is now open for “Virtual Quest,” an on-demand service providing access to video recordings and slides from all presentations during the QE XXII conference, video recordings and slides from the plenary sessions alone, or audio recordings and slides from the concurrent sessions alone. The 2009 Baldrige Award recipients are: Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies, Kansas City, Mo. (manufacturing); MidwayUSA, Columbia, Mo. (small business); AtlantiCare, Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (health care); Heartland Health, St. Joseph, Mo. (health care); and VA Cooperative Studies Program Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center, Albuquerque, N.M. (nonprofit).

For more information on the Quest for Excellence Conference go to www.nist.gov/baldrige/qe/index.cfm.

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

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NIST Engineer Serving on Chilean Quake Research Team

Jeffrey Dragovich, a research structural engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has been deployed to Chile as a member of a large multidisciplinary team of experts documenting the effects of the Feb. 27, 2010, earthquake in that country. The Chilean quake measured 8.8 on the Richter scale, equivalent to a force of 16 million kilotons of TNT, making it one of the most powerful earthquakes of the last 100 years.

The team on which Dragovich is deployed comes under the auspices of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) Learning from Earthquakes (LFE) program. LFE is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of its contribution to the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), the federal government’s coordinated long-term nationwide program to reduce risks to life and property that result from earthquakes in the United States. NIST is the lead NEHRP agency, partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), NSF and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Engineers and scientists from FEMA and USGS are deployed with Dragovich. The NEHRP agency personnel join approximately 30 other earthquake professionals on the EERI team examining and evaluating the seismic performance of engineered structures in the earthquake region, as well as the impact of the quake-induced tsunami on structures. The team will return from Chile on March 21, 2010.

For more information, go to www.eeri.org/site/news/latest-news/860-learning-from-earthquakes-program-sending-team-to-chile.

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

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NCNR Researchers Win Prizes in Neutron Scattering

The Neutron Scattering Society of America (NSSA) has honored scientists working at NIST with two of its three major annual prizes for 2010, and named another a society fellow.

Collin Broholm of the Johns Hopkins University has won the society’s Sustained Research Prize, and Craig Brown of the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) has won its Science Prize. The scientists, who both conduct research at the NCNR, will each receive a $2,500 honorarium in a ceremony at the American Conference on Neutron Scattering in Ottawa, Canada, in late June, 2010.

Broholm was cited “for outstanding neutron scattering studies of correlated electron physics in magnets, metals and superconductors, and for science-driven development of neutron scattering techniques.” His award, which recognizes an enduring contribution to science over an extended time period, also cites his work with quantum magnetic systems.

Brown was cited “for outstanding neutron scattering studies of hydrogen-framework interactions in metal-organic frameworks,” which could be important for storing hydrogen for use in fuel cells. His award, which recognizes a major scientific accomplishment in the past five years, cites discoveries that have established Brown as a leading expert in the field of hydrogen storage.

Additionally, Wen-Li Wu of NIST’s Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory has been named an NSSA fellow in recognition of his “important contributions to a broad range of problems in polymer science and in its industrial application using neutron scattering.” Wu, a NIST fellow since 2004, is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society and 1992 recipient of the Department of Commerce Gold Medal.

The NSSA was formed in 1992 for individuals in academia, industry and government who have an interest in neutron scattering research. The non-profit society has more than 1,000 members from 26 countries. For more information, visit www.neutronscattering.org/NSSAPrizes/NSSAPrizes.htm.

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

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New Chair, Vice Chair Elected to NIST Policy Advisory Group

A new chair and vice chair have been elected to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT), the agency's primary private-sector policy advisory group.

The new chair is Vinton Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, where he identifies new enabling technologies and applications on the Internet and other platforms. The new vice chair is Alan Taub, vice president for global research and development at General Motors (GM), where he oversees the company’s seven science laboratories around the world and has responsibility for GM’s advanced technical work activity and its global technology collaboration network. Their terms will end on March 31, 2012. The two were elected by the members of VCAT. The VCAT was established by Congress in 1988 to review and make recommendations on NIST’s policies, organization, budget and programs.

The next NIST VCAT meeting will be held on June 8-9, 2010, in Gaithersburg, Md, VCAT meetings are open to the public. For more information, see www.nist.gov/director/vcat/.

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

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