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Tech Beat - January 5, 2011

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: January 5, 2011
Date Modified: January 5, 2011 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

Reauthorization of COMPETES Act Brings Changes to NIST

On Jan. 4, President Obama signed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which provides several important updates to the funding, programs and leadership of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The signing of COMPETES “means more research and expanded programs to advance science and technology in the United States,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “These innovative programs and initiatives will help create jobs here at home, make our businesses more competitive abroad and strengthen the foundation of our economy.”

An update to the landmark 2007 law that strengthened the federal government’s commitment to science, technology and education funding, the new law would continue NIST on a 10-year path of doubling its budget for core S&T programs. It authorizes funding NIST for the next three years at $918.9 million (FY11), $970.8 million (FY12) and $1.04 billion (FY13), though the actual funding levels will be specified by future Congressional appropriations bills. The act also creates a new position for the NIST director, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology.

The new law authorizes multiple changes to the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program, such as enabling MEP centers to work with local community colleges to provide information on job skills needed by local small and medium-sized manufacturers. The law creates an innovation services program to help manufacturers minimize their energy usage while improving profitability; and calls upon the comptroller general to study the cost-sharing structure between the NIST MEP program and state and local entities in the funding of regional MEP centers.

The Act also:

  • authorizes a research initiative for emergency communications and tracking technologies for trapped individuals in confined spaces, such as mines, high-rise buildings, and collapsed structures;
  • broadens opportunities at NIST for underrepresented minorities in fellowship and teacher programs;
  • directs NIST to collaborate with industry on cloud computing standards, formalizing NIST’s cloud computing activities begun in the past two years;
  • removes a cap on NIST’s financial support of fellowships, previously limited to 1.5 percent of its laboratory budget;
  • eliminates the NIST Commerce Science and Technology Program (COMSCI)
  • authorizes a green manufacturing and construction initiative for high-performance building standards; and
  • authorizes a competitive grant program at the National Science Foundation for internships in the manufacturing sector, with priority given to applicants who coordinate with MEP centers.

The full text of the law can be found at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111hr5116enr/pdf/BILLS-111hr5116enr.pdf.

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

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NIST Appoints Associate Director for Innovation and Industry Services

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced today that Phillip Singerman has been appointed to the newly created position of Associate Director (AD) for Innovation and Industry Services. Beginning on Jan. 31, Singerman will lead NIST’s suite of external partnership programs, including the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Technology Innovation Program and the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.

Phillip Singerman portrait
Phillip Singerman

The new AD position for Innovation and Industry was created as part of the first major realignment of NIST programs in 20 years. The change was designed to improve the agency’s efficiency in delivering both forefront research results and the measurement, standards and technology-related services needed by manufacturers and other customers, providing critical support to U.S. economic growth.

“We’re delighted to have Dr. Singerman join NIST,” said NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. “He brings an unusual breadth of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors and at the national, state and local levels that will be invaluable as we continue to strengthen our partnerships with industry and other stakeholders.”

Singerman currently serves as a Senior Vice President at B&D Consulting, a Washington, D.C.-based firm, where he provides strategic advice and technical assistance on economic development programs to nonprofit and public organizations.

During the Clinton Administration, he served as Assistant Secretary for Economic Development at the U.S. Commerce Department, and he has 30 years of experience leading nationally recognized, regional technology development and transfer organizations, including the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) and Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP).

“I am honored to join Pat Gallagher and the dedicated professionals at NIST,” Singerman said. “NIST is one of the federal government’s most important technological assets and is critical to maintaining the nation’s international leadership in measurement, standards and support of our manufacturing sector. Nothing can be more important during this period of intense global competition.”

Singerman received his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and has a doctorate from Yale University. He has taught at Yale College, Barnard College and the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from college, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia.

Media Contact: Jennifer Huergo, jennifer.huergo@nist.gov, 301-975-6343

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Extracting Cellular 'Engines' May Aid in Understanding Mitochondrial Diseases

Medical researchers who crave a means of exploring the genetic culprits behind a host of neuromuscular disorders may have just had their wish granted by a team working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where scientists have performed surgery on single cells to extract and examine their mitochondria.

still image from video

Extracting mitochondria from a human cell (larger object on bottom right) is a tricky process. NIST researchers recently developed techniques that can surgically remove these tiny cellular engines, potentially enabling new ways to explore the link between mitochondrial DNA and a host of diseases. Click here to retrieve a short video clip (.mov format) of the process.

The scientists reached into these cells and extracted their "engines"—the mitochondria that are in large part responsible for our metabolism. Many human cells contain hundreds of mitochondria, which were thought to be free-swimming organisms millions of years ago and which still possess their own DNA. Mutations in this mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are directly related to a large class of mitochondrial-based diseases, which have a range of symptoms that include early onset blindness, seizures, hearing loss, dementia, etc. In the general population, one out of every 200 people possesses a mtDNA mutation that may develop into a mitochondrial disease.

Investigating more deeply has been problematic, though, because the way mitochondria mix and spread their DNA within and among cells is poorly understood. "The trouble is that it's very difficult to extract single mitochondria from an individual cell," says NIST physicist Joseph Reiner. "For years, the best technique has been to break open a group of cells and collect the mitochondria from all of them in a kind of soup. As you might guess, it's hard to determine which mitochondria came from what cells—yet that's what we need to know."

The research team, which also includes scientists from Gettysburg College, has potentially solved this problem by realizing that several devices and techniques can be used together to extract a single mitochondrion from a cell that possesses a genetic mutation. They employed a method** previously used to extract single chromosomes from isolated rice cells where a laser pulse makes an incision in a cell's outer membrane. Another laser is used as a "tweezer" to isolate a mitochondrion, which then can be extracted by a tiny pipette whose tip is less than a micrometer wide.

This approach allowed the team to place a single mitochondrion into a small test tube, where they could explore the mitochondrion's genetic makeup by conventional means. The team found the mutation present throughout the entire cell was also found within individual mitochondria, a find suggesting that broad genetic research on mitochondrial disease may be possible at last.

"Getting an object as tiny as this from tweezer to test tube is not easy," says Koren Deckman, a biochemist from Gettysburg College. "But by building on more than a decade of work that has gone on at NIST and elsewhere, we now have a way to see the mitochondria we extract all the way through the transfer process, meaning we can be sure the sample came from a very specific cell. This could give medical scientists the inroad they need for understanding these diseases."

* J.E. Reiner, R.B. Kishore, B.C. Levin, T. Albanetti, N. Boire, A. Knipe, K. Helmerson and K.H. Deckman. Detection of heteroplasmic mitochondrial DNA in single mitochondria. PLoS ONE 5(12): e14359. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014359.

**H. Wang, X. Liu, Y. Li, B. Han, L. Lou, K. Wang. Isolation of a single rice chromosome by optical micromanipulation. Journal of Optics A.: Pure and Applied Optics, 6, 89-93, (2004).

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

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And Then There Were Five: Finalists Advance in NIST's SHA-3 Cryptography Competition

On Dec. 9, 2010, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced the selection of five finalists in its ongoing competition to select a new cryptographic hash algorithm standard, one of the fundamental security tools of modern information technology.

Hash algorithms take a message or file of any reasonable length, and produce a short "message digest," a sort of digital fingerprint of the content. A good hash algorithm has two essential characteristics: any change in the original message, however small, must cause a change in the digest, and for any given message and message digest, it must be unfeasible for a forger to create a different message with the same digest.

Hash algorithms are used extensively for cryptographic applications that ensure the authenticity of digital documents, such as digital signatures and message authentication codes, as well as random number generation. Without a good hash algorithm, the standard digital signature algorithms would be much less efficient and practical.

The competition is NIST's response to advances in the cryptanalysis of hash algorithms in recent years. The winning algorithm, to be called SHA-3, will augment the hash algorithms currently specified in Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 180-3, Secure Hash Standard.

Fifty-one algorithms from the initial 64 entries were accepted for the first round of the competition, and 14 of these were selected to advance to the second round. NIST hosted a SHA-3 Candidate Conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara in August 2010, where security and performance analyses of the second-round candidates were presented. Based on public feedback and internal review of these candidates, NIST selected these five finalists in December for advancement to the third and final round of the competition:

  • BLAKE, submitted by Jean-Philippe Aumasson (Nagravision SA, Cheseaux, Switzerland), Luca Henzen (ETHZ, Zürich, Switzerland), Willi Meier (FHNW, Windisch, Switzerland) and Raphael C.-W. Phan (Loughborough University, UK);
  • Grøstl, submitted by Søren Steffen Thomsen, Martin Schläffer, Christian Rechberger, Florian Mendel, Krystian Matusiewicz, Lars R. Knudsen and Praveen Gauravaram from Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and TU Graz;
  • JH, submitted by Hongjun Wu;
  • Keccak, submitted by Guido Bertoni, Joan Daemen and Gilles Van Assche (STMicroelectronics) and Michaël Peeters (NXP Semiconductors); and
  • Skein, submitted by Niels Ferguson, Stefan Lucks, Bruce Schneier, Doug Whiting, Mihir Bellare, Tadayoshi Kohno, Jon Callas and Jesse Walker.

The competition's rules allow the five finalists to make minor modifications to their algorithms before undergoing another full year of public review. During this time, cryptographers around the world will do their best to find weaknesses in these algorithms.

The deadline for modifications to the five finalist algorithms is Jan. 16, 2011. NIST plans to host the final SHA-3 Candidate Conference in the spring of 2012 to discuss public feedback on these candidates and select the SHA-3 winner later in 2012.

More information about NIST's cryptographic hash project and the SHA-3 competition is available at http://www.nist.gov/hash-competition.

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

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NIST Telescope Calibration May Help Explain Mystery of Universe's Expansion

Is the expansion of the universe accelerating for some unknown reason? This is one of the mysteries plaguing astrophysics, and somewhere in distant galaxies are yet-unseen supernovae that may hold the key. Now, thanks to a telescope calibrated by scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Harvard University and the University of Hawaii, astrophysicists can be more certain of one day obtaining an accurate answer.


NIST expertise helped calibrate the 1.4 billion pixels in the camera of the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, whose observations may reveal details about the expansion of the universe. For more images of the Pan-STARRS telescope, visit http://ps1sc.org/Photo_Gallery.shtml.

Credit: Rob Ratkowski, Copyright PS1SC.

The NIST scientists traveled to the summit of Haleakala volcano in Hawaii to fine-tune the operation of billions of light-collecting pixels in the Pan-STARRS telescope, which scans the heavens for Type IA supernovae. These dying stars always shine with the same luminosity as other Type IA supernovae, making them useful to observers as “standard candles” for judging distance in the universe. Any apparent shift in the supernova’s spectrum gives a measure of how the universe has expanded (or contracted) as the light traveled from the supernova to Earth.

Because Type IA’s are valuable as signposts, astrophysicists want to be sure that when they observe one of these faraway stellar cataclysms, they are getting a clear and accurate picture—particularly important given the current mystery over why the rate of expansion of the universe appears to be increasing. For that, they need a telescope that will return consistent information about supernovae regardless of which of the roughly 1,400,000,000 pixels of its collector spots it.

“That’s where we came in,” says NIST's John Woodward. “We specialize in measurement, and they needed to calibrate the telescope in a way that has never been done before.”  

Ordinary calibrations involve a telescope’s performance at many light wavelengths simultaneously, but Pan-STARRS needed to be calibrated at many individual wavelengths between 400 and 1,000 nanometers. For the job, Woodward and his colleagues used a special laser whose wavelength can be tuned to any value in that range, and spent three days testing the telescope’s huge 1.4 gigapixel camera–the largest in the world, Woodward says.

“Pan-STARRS will scan the same areas of the sky repeatedly over many months,” Woodward says. “It was designed to look for near-Earth objects like asteroids, and it also pulls double duty as a supernova hunter. But for both jobs, observers need to be sure they can usefully compare what they see from one image to the next.”

Woodward says that because this is one of the first-ever such calibrations of a telescope, it is unclear just how much effect the team’s work will have, and part of their future work will be determining how much they have reduced the uncertainties in Pan-STARRS’s performance. They will use this information to calibrate a much larger telescope–the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, planned for construction in Chile.

* C.W. Stubbs, P. Doherty, C. Cramer, G. Narayan, Y.J. Brown, K.R. Lykke, J.T. Woodward and J.L. Tonry. Precise throughput determination of the Pan-STARRS telescope and the gigapixel imager using a calibrated silicon photodiode and a tunable laser: Initial results. Astrophysical Journal Supplement, Dec. 2010, Pages 376-388.

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

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IPv6 Guide Provides Path to Secure Deployment of Next-Generation Internet Protocol

As the day draws nearer for the world to run out of the unique addresses that allow us to use the Internet—now predicted to happen by the end of 2012—researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have issued a guide for managers, network engineers, transition teams and others to help them deploy the next generation Internet Protocol (IPv6) securely.

Guidelines for the Secure Deployment of IPv6 (NIST Special Publication 800-119), describes the features of IPv6 and the possible related security impacts, provides a comprehensive survey of mechanisms to deploy IPv6 and suggests a deployment strategy for a secure IPv6 environment.

The ballooning popularity of devices, such as smart phones and netbooks, tied to the Internet is rapidly depleting the number of so-called IP addresses available under the current Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), so the networkers of the world are preparing to move to the next generation, IPv6. Among other improvements, IPv6 has a vastly greater number of potential addresses—several billion per each of the world’s current population of about 6.9 billion people.

To ensure that the federal government is prepared for IPv6, the Office of Management and Budget has mandated federal agencies to begin deploying the new protocol. NIST developed the IPv6 security guidelines in support of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). The publication is designed to help federal agencies avoid possible security risks that could occur during IPv6 deployment. It  also could be useful for the private sector and other organizations.

“The Internet protocol pervades every aspect of computer communications,” explains lead author Sheila Frankel, “so deploying IPv6 is a major task.” With detailed planning, she says, organizations can navigate the process smoothly and securely. Most organizations will be operating IPv6 and IPv4 concurrently.

“Security will be a challenge, however, because organizations will be running two protocols and that increases complexity, which in turn increases security challenges,” Frankel says. SP 800-119 describes the security challenges organizations may face as they deploy IPv6. Those challenges include fending off attackers that have more experience than an organization in the early stages of IPv6 deployment and the difficulty of detecting unknown or unauthorized IPv6 assets on existing IPv4 production networks. The publication provides information to be considered during the deployment planning process and makes recommendations to mitigate IPv6 threats.

SP 800-119, Guidelines for the Secure Deployment of IPv6, may be downloaded in pdf format from http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-119/sp800-119.pdf. An index to the NIST 800-series special publications on computer security is available at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsSPs.html.

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

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Two Publications Recommend Organization-Wide IT Security Risk Management

Two new draft publications from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provide the groundwork for a three-tiered risk-management approach that encompasses computer security risk planning from the highest levels of management to the level of individual systems. The draft documents have been released for public comment.

Both publications are a part of NIST’s risk management guidelines, which have been developed in support of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), and adopted government wide to improve the security of government systems and information. Both call for upper-level management to understand that information security is a key component to mission-critical functions and that top managers need to manage information security risk in coordination with chief information officers, chief information security officers and system owners to meet the organization’s goals.

Integrated Enterprise-Wide Risk Management: Organization, Mission, and Information System View (Special Publication 800-39, available in pdf format at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsDrafts.html#SP-800-39), is the capstone document that applies this new perspective on how federal agencies and their contractors should manage information security risk.

“Most organizations currently manage risk using a tactical, system-by-system approach,” said Ron Ross, NIST Fellow and FISMA Implementation Project Leader. “This new framework suggests a three-tiered risk management approach that moves from organization to missions to information systems. The goal is for senior leaders and executives to manage risks strategically and drive investment and operational decisions based on the organization’s core missions and business functions.”

The new approach is particularly important as organizations address advanced persistent threats, which have the potential to degrade or debilitate federal information systems that support critical applications and operations of the federal government.

This publication is the fourth in the series developed by the Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative, a joint partnership among the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, NIST, and the Committee on National Security Systems. This draft provides significant changes from earlier versions of the publication and includes input from all partners in the Joint Task Force.

SP 800-39, once finalized, will supersede Risk Management Guide for Information Technology Systems (SP 800-30) as the source for guidance on risk management. A revised version of SP 800-30 will provide guidance on risk assessment consistent with SP 800-39 and is expected to be published in 2011.

Comments are requested on the draft of SP800-39. Please send them to sec-cert@nist.gov by Jan. 25, 2011.

The initial public draft of a second new NIST publication, Information Security Continuous Monitoring for Federal Information Systems and Organizations (Special Publication 800-137, available in pdf format at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsDrafts.html#SP-800-137), is a guide to developing and implementing a comprehensive continuous monitoring strategy for computer security risk management using a three-tiered approach, organization level, mission/business level and system level. A robust strategy for continuous monitoring of information security helps maintain ongoing awareness of information security and ensures that organizational security practice reflects the organization’s risk tolerance. It helps ensure that accurate, up-to-date information is available to enable timely risk management decisions.

“SP 800-137 encourages a holistic approach to managing risk through information security continuous monitoring.” explains IT Specialist Kelley Dempsey. The publication describes how to develop a comprehensive continuous monitoring strategy. It provides methods to implement a continuous monitoring program including determination of measures and metrics, determination of monitoring frequencies, review and analysis of security-related information, response to information security risk, and revision of the strategy.

Comments are requested on the draft of SP 800-137. Please send them to 800-137comments@nist.gov by March 15, 2011.

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

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New Time Widget Puts Accurate Clocks on Web Pages

For Web site owners and bloggers, there is a new widget from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that will keep your Web pages right on time.

Web “widgets” are small application programs designed to be run inside Web pages. The NIST time widget, created by engineer Andrew Novick, can be used on any Web page. “The widget code tells your browser to go out and grab NIST time content and post it to your page,” Novick explains, “It synchronizes with NIST’s atomic clock in Boulder, Colo., every 10 minutes, thereby guaranteeing its accuracy.”

Post the NIST Time Widget to your site

NIST is the nation’s official civilian timekeeper (its military counterpart is the U.S. Naval Observatory), and its clocks contribute to the international time system, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

The widget checks the viewer’s computer to determine which time zone it should display as the default. To add the NIST time widget to your Web page or blog go to www.time.gov/widget/ and copy the code. The code requires Adobe Flash Player to run. A non-Flash version (using HTML5) is under development that will enable the widget to be viewed on additional mobile devices. Also, smaller configurations in multiple shapes, sizes and formats will be available in the months ahead.

NIST’s Boulder Laboratories is the home of the most accurate clock in the world, the NIST F-1 Cesium Fountain clock. It uses transitions in Cesium 133 atoms to measure time to an accuracy of about 1 second in 100 million years.

Media Contact: James Burrus, james.burrus@nist.gov, 303-497-4789

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NIST Work Highlighted as Top Science News of 2010

The top science news of 2010, as compiled by several science magazines, includes several stories from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Physics World selected NIST demonstrations of Einstein’s theories of relativity at the scale of everyday life as number seven of the top 10 breakthroughs of 2010. The magazine said NIST physicists “have shown us the human face of relativity” (see http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/44618). The experiments, reported in the journal Science, compared two of the world’s best experimental atomic clocks to show that time passes faster about 1 foot higher and slows down at speeds comparable to about 20 miles per hour (see NIST press release at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/aluminum-atomic-clock_092310.cfm).

The NIST relativity measurements were also cited as number 9 of the Top 10 favorite and most popular stories of 2010 by ScienceNOW, the news feature site of Science magazine. “Researchers have used ultraprecise clocks to show that time flies faster for your nose than for your navel,” the citation notes (see http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/12/top-10-sciencenows-from-2010.html#panel-3).

Science News also cited the NIST relativity demonstrations in a compilation of the top news of 2010 in the matter and energy category. The magazine said NIST’s “tabletop experiments demonstrate the time-warping effects of relativity at the human scale” (see http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/67687/title/2010_Science_News_of_the_Year_Matter_%2B_Energy).

In addition, a NIST computer pioneer made the Science News list of top news in the technology category. The now-retired researcher, who created the first digital image while working at NIST (then called the National Bureau of Standards) in 1957, recently wrote a program that reshapes the grains of these images. The magazine said the work will “take the edge off square pixels” (see http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/67696/title/2010_Science_News_of_the_Year_Technology and the magazine’s original story at http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/60576/title/Circling_the_square). The creation of the first digital image is described in a NIST news article at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/image_052407.cfm.

Popular Science selected NIST’s “racetrack” ion trap as one of the most amazing science images of 2010, stating that the “maze of electrodes … brings us closer to building quantum computers” (see http://www.popsci.com/science/gallery/2010-12/gallery-most-amazing-science-images-2010?image=22). The device is described in a NIST news article at http://www.nist.gov/pml/div688/trap_033010.cfm.

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

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Three From NIST Elected Fellows of American Physical Society

Three scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were recently elected as 2010 fellows of the American Physical Society (APS), an honor bestowed upon association members by their peers.

Muhammad Arif, John Kasianowicz and Thomas Silva were among more than 200 APS members recognized for their advances in physics through original research and publication, or for significant innovative contributions in the application of physics to science and technology. Each year, no more than one half of one percent of Society membership is elected a Fellow.

Arif, of NIST’s Ionizing Radiation Division, was cited for “pioneering contributions in neutron interferometry, imaging and detection, with applications ranging from precise measurements of neutron scattering lengths to the imaging of flows in hydrogen fuel cells.”

Kasianowicz, of the Semiconductor Electronics Division, was cited for “his pioneering contributions to the field of biophysics including the detection, identification, characterization and quantification of biological and chemical polymers, and for the development of a new method for protein structure determination.”

Silva, of the Electromagnetics Division, was cited for “his fundamental contributions to the experimental studies of the spin-torque oscillators, their interactions, and collective states, and for the development of new quantitative experimental methods for the investigation of magnetization dynamics in thin films and nanostructures.”

Fellows will be honored at ceremonies held at meetings of their particular APS divisions, which gather at different times during the year. For more information on the APS fellowship program, visit http://aps.org/programs/honors/.

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

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