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Tech Beat - June 7, 2011

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

NIST Tunes 'Metasurface' with Fluid in New Concept for Sensing and Chemistry

Like an opera singer hitting a note that shatters a glass, a signal at a particular resonant frequency can concentrate energy in a material and change its properties. And as with 18th century "musical glasses," adding a little water can change the critical pitch. Echoing both phenomena, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated a unique fluid-tuned "metasurface," a concept that may be useful in biomedical sensors and microwave-assisted chemistry.

NIST's fluid-tunable "metasurface" consists of copper structures and plastic tubing mounted on composite board. The presence of water in the tubing changes the resonant frequency at which the metasurface absorbs and stores energy.
Credit: NIST
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A metasurface or metafilm is a two-dimensional version of a metamaterial, popularized recently in technologies with seemingly unnatural properties, such as the illusion of invisibility. Metamaterials have special properties not found in nature, often because of a novel structure. NIST's metasurface is a small piece of composite circuit board studded with metal patches in specific geometries and arrangements to create a structure that can reflect, store, or transmit energy (that is, allow it to pass right through).

As described in a new paper,* NIST researchers used purified water to tune the metasurface's resonant frequency—the specific microwave frequency at which the surface can accumulate or store energy. They also calculated that the metasurface could concentrate electric field strength in localized areas, and thus might be used to heat fluids and promote microwave-assisted chemical or biochemical reactions.

The metasurface's behavior is due to interactions of 18 square copper frame structures, each 10 millimeters on a side (see photo). Computer simulations help design the copper squares to respond to a specific frequency. They are easily excited by microwaves, and each one can store energy in a T-shaped gap in its midsection when the metasurface is in a resonant condition. Fluid channels made of plastic tubing are bonded across the gaps. The sample is placed in a waveguide, which directs the microwaves and acts like a kaleidoscope, with walls that serve as mirrors and create the electrical illusion that the metasurface extends to infinity.

Researchers tested the metasurface properties with and without purified water in the fluid channels. The presence of water shifted the resonant frequency from 3.75 to 3.60 gigahertz. At other frequencies, the metasurface reflects or transmits energy. Researchers also calculated that the metasurface, when in the resonant condition, could concentrate energy in the gaps at least 100 times more than the waveguide alone.

Metasurface/fluid interactions might be useful in tunable surfaces, sensing and process monitoring linked to changes in fluid flow, and catalysis of chemical or biochemical reactions in fluid channels controlled by changes in microwave frequency and power as well as fluid flow rates. NIST researchers are also looking into the possibility of making metamaterial chips or circuits to use for biomedical applications such as counting cells.

*J. Gordon, C. Holloway, J.C. Booth, J.R. Baker-Jarvis, D. Novotny, S. Kim and Y. Wang. Fluid interactions with metafilm/metasurfaces for tuning, sensing, and microwave assisted chemical processes. Physical Review B 83, 205130 (2011). Posted online May 25, 2011.

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

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NIST 'Catch and Release' Program Could Improve Nanoparticle Safety Assessment

Depending on whom you ask, nanoparticles are, potentially, either one of the most promising or the most perilous creations of science. These tiny objects can deliver drugs efficiently and enhance the properties of many materials, but what if they also are hazardous to your health in some way? Now, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have found* a way to manipulate nanoparticles so that questions like this can be answered.

gold nanoparticles
After gold nanoparticles are trapped on the brown collection surface (left), the NIST team can apply a mild electric field and release most of them (right). The ability to trap and release particles in this fashion could aid in studying their properties, particularly with respect to their effects on human health.
Credit: NIST
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The team has developed a method of attracting and capturing metal-based nanoparticles on a surface and releasing them at the desired moment. The method, which uses a mild electric current to influence the particles' behavior, could allow scientists to expose cell cultures to nanoparticles so that any lurking hazards they might cause to living cells can be assessed effectively.

The method also has the advantage of collecting the particles in a layer only one particle thick, which allows them to be evenly dispersed into a fluid sample, thereby reducing clumping—a common problem that can mask the properties they exhibit when they encounter living tissue. According to NIST physicist Darwin Reyes, these combined advantages should make the new method especially useful in toxicology studies.

"Many other methods of trapping require that you modify the surface of the nanoparticles in some way so that you can control them more easily," Reyes says. "We take nanoparticles as they are, so that you can explore what you've actually got. Using this method, you can release them into a cell culture and watch how the cells react, which can give you a better idea of how cells in the body will respond."

Other means of studying nanoparticle toxicity do not enable such precise delivery of the particles to the cells. In the NIST method, the particles can be released in a controlled fashion into a fluid stream that flows over a colony of cells, mimicking the way the particles would encounter cells inside the body—allowing scientists to monitor how cells react over time, for example, or whether responses vary with changes in particle concentration.

For this particular study, the team used a gold surface covered by long, positively charged molecules, which stretch up from the gold like wheat in a field. The nanoparticles, which are also made of gold, are coated with citrate molecules that have a slight negative charge, which draws them to the surface covering, an attraction that can be broken with a slight electric current. Reyes says that because the surface covering can be designed to attract different materials, a variety of nanoparticles could be captured and released with the technique.

* D.R. Reyes, G.I. Mijares, B. Nablo, K.A. Briggman and M. Gaitan. Trapping and release of citrate-capped gold nanoparticles. Applied Surface Science. May 27, 2011, doi:10.1016/j.apsusc.2011.04.030.

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

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NIST Contests in China Put Next-Gen Robot Technologies to the Test

Robotic automation, microrobotics and robotic perception and recognition all advanced a few steps closer to their future applications in manufacturing, health care and other areas during the week of May 9-13, 2011.

A photomicrograph showing the microrobot built by the University of Hawaii (circular object in top center) along with a series of glass beads that it assembled into a mini "U H". The 200 micrometer scale bar in the upper right corner is about the length of a paramecium.
Credit: Ohta/University of Hawaii at Manoa
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That’s when the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) hosted three of the four robotics competitions at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Shanghai, China. The trio of contests are designed to prove the viability of advanced robotics and microrobotics technologies.

In the first of two Virtual Manufacturing Automation Competition (VMAC) matches, contestants used open-source evaluation tools to judge a computer plan of a robot picking up boxes of various sizes and weights from a conveyor belt and arranging them on a pallet for shipping. The second half of the VMAC used off-the-shelf computer gaming engines to create simulations that “virtually road tested” a robot team’s ability to load trucks with pallets delivered from a warehouse.

Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pa.) won the mixed palletizing contest and Hood College (Frederick, Md.) won the truck loading contest. Other teams competing in the VMAC were from Georgia Tech (Atlanta, Ga.) and the University of Zagreb (Zagreb, Croatia). Georgia Tech was the co-organizer of the VMAC.

In the Mobile Microrobotics Challenge (MMC), seven teams from Canada, Europe and the United States pitted their miniature athletes—whose dimensions are measured in micrometers (millionths of a meter)—against each other in two events. The mobility challenge required the microbots to navigate a two-dimensional maze about the size of a sesame seed. In the microassembly challenge, the competitors had to put together multiple microscale components in a narrow channel to simulate two applications: operation within a blood vessel by future medical microbots and assembly-based micromanufacturing.

The French Team—a group consisting of researchers from the FEMTO-ST Institute (Bensaçon, France); the Institut des Systèmes Intelligents et de Robotique, or ISIR (Paris, France); and the Laboratoire de Photonique et Nanostructures, or LPN (Marcoussis, France)—sped through the maze in a scorching 2.23 seconds, more than a half-a-minute faster than runner-up University of Hawaii’s “bubble microrobot” (so named because the robot is actually a gas bubble in solution).

The University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) was the winner in the microassembly event, densely packing together a formation of triangular-shaped lattice components that was 45 micrometers in length. The Waterloo robot was the only one able to complete the task.

Other teams competing in the MMC were the University of Maryland-College Park; the Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, N.J.); the University of Texas at Arlington; and the Italian Team, composed of members from the Italian Institute of Technology (Pontedera, Italy) and the CRIM Lab of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Pisa, Italy).

The third competition, the first-ever Solutions in Perception Challenge (SPC), was co-hosted by Willow Garage, a developer of hardware and open-source software for personal robotics applications. Teams in this contest were evaluated on how well their sensing software identified and determined the positions of 35 common household items and 15 manufacturing components. Robust perception is a core skill for next-generation robots to operate successfully in both cluttered and uncluttered environments, such as factory floors, nursing homes and even disaster sites.

First place with a score of 68.78 percent went to the team from the University of California, Berkeley, with second and third taken by Jacob University (Bremen, Germany) at 66.41 percent and Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif.) at 53.61 percent, respectively.

Four other teams made up the contestant pool for the SPC: University of Freiburg (Freiburg, Germany); Rekno Robotics (La Spezia, Italy); the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; and the State University of New York at Buffalo.

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

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NIST/Industry Developed Temperature Tracking Device for Packages May Have Climate Metrology Applications

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers are working to reduce the uncertainty associated with climate-change measurements using a mobile temperature-sensing technology made for tracking delicate or perishable, high-value packages in transit. Developed by international shipper FedEx and tested with help from NIST, the device connects to cell phone networks to provide users with near real-time information on the package’s precise location, temperature, humidity, pressure, acceleration, elevation and exposure to light.

Senseaware tag
Developed by international shipper FedEx and tested with help from NIST, the Senseaware device connects to cell phone networks to provide users with near real-time information on a package’s precise location, temperature, humidity, pressure, acceleration, elevation and exposure to light. NIST researchers plan to deploy the technology as part of a pilot project to monitor and improve climate measurements.
Credit: Strouse/NIST
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Historically, package tracking has provided information to customers about a package’s route and anticipated delivery date and time. Seeking to provide customers with more information on the “vital signs” of their shipments, the company approached NIST about the feasibility of achieving accurate temperature measurements in a mobile device.

“The primary function of the device is to monitor temperature-sensitive materials such as medicines and vaccines, tissues, organs, blood, etc.,” says Greg Strouse, leader of NIST’s Temperature and Humidity Group. “We tested the beta units when they were transmitting information and when they were simply recording it, and we found that the devices create heat when transmitting, which throws off the measurement. To fix that, we developed performance data and an algorithm that kicks in to correct the temperature measurement when the device is actively communicating.”

Once all the kinks were ironed out, Strouse and his group worked with the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP), a NIST service that tests and accredits independent testing laboratories, to help the company find a capable, independent lab to test the devices en masse.

The result was a palm-sized device that a customer can place inside a package. The customer can monitor the transit of their package in real time through a Web-based interface. A GPS receiver in the device provides location information, and the device sends updates on its status wherever it can get a cell phone signal. It even monitors the shipments while aboard airplanes and transmits the data upon landing.

Accurate to within 0.02 degrees Celsius and able to send and store data for up to 30 days, the technology lent itself quite easily to another NIST project focused on measurements for climate change. The device’s connectivity and accuracy make it ideal for monitoring surface air temperature, which climate scientists often use to evaluate the performance of their models.

“Because continuous measurement can be more informative than daily minimum and maximum temperature observations, we’re looking into the potential for using these devices as prototype weather stations and comparing their results with the analog and digital style instruments used for weather observations,” says Strouse. “Our goals are to better understand and quantify the measurement uncertainty of both the historical analog and current digital measurement systems as well as improving the science base for metrology used in surface air temperature measurements.”

NIST is planning to station three of the devices at locations around the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Md. The group intends to also erect a tower to mount one of the devices to better understand 3-D temperature gradient mapping strategies near the surface.

For more information on the new technology, see www.senseaware.com. For more information on NIST’s climate measuring activities, see www.nist.gov/climate-science-portal.cfm.

Media Contact: Mark Esser, mark.esser@nist.gov, 301-975-8735

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National Conference on Weights and Measures Annual Meeting Set for July 17-21, 2011

Preventing fraud at oil-change services and enabling consumers to make value comparisons when shopping for printer ink will be among the many issues discussed at this year's annual meeting of the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM), to be held July 17-21 in Missoula, Mont. The meeting's theme, "Educating Today for Tomorrow," highlights the new certification program offered by the NCWM and promotes training to help weights and measures professionals keep pace with innovations in technology and marketing practices.

First convened by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 1905, this annual meeting was among the earliest efforts to promote national uniformity in laws, regulations, methods and testing equipment for commercial weighing and measuring devices and other issues related to commerce and trade. Now in its 106th year, the conference has since matured into an independent, nonprofit entity, and membership has grown from 11 to more than 2,000. Conference goers typically include representatives from federal agencies, state and local weights and measures enforcement agencies as well as industry and trade associations.

NIST scientists sit on and provide technical guidance to a number of NCWM working groups. NIST also codifies resolutions passed by NCWM committees in regularly updated handbooks that contain procedural guidelines and model laws and regulations that state legislatures and regulatory agencies may consider for adoption, in whole or in part. Current editions of these NIST handbooks (44, 130 and 133) can be accessed at: www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/pubs/handbooks.cfm).

Attendees will discuss issues pertaining to labeling for printer ink and toner cartridges, price posting and computing capabilities at retail fuel pumps, regulation of engine oil sales at oil change services, and regulation of hydrogen fuel dispensers, as well as other matters.

With regard to printer ink and toner cartridges, the current industry practice is to estimate how many printed pages a cartridge will produce. However, this estimate pertains to printed text only. It does not factor in graphics or pictures. To help consumers make better value comparisons and to provide officials with a method for verifying net content, the NCWM will evaluate proposals to require labeling of printer inks in terms of volume or weight (ounces or grams).

Also with the aim of helping consumers, the NCWM will consider proposed model regulations that would require oil-change services to print the brand and type of oil dispensed on receipts as well as provide state regulators a means for verifying compliance. Investigations into consumer complaints resulted in the finding that these services sometimes commit fraud by charging customers for higher-priced grades or brands of oil after actually dispensing recycled oil, a lower-cost grade or generic brand.

Media Contact: Mark Esser, mark.esser@nist.gov, 301-975-8735

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Sixty-Nine Organizations Vie for the 2011 Baldrige Award

Sixty-nine organizations have tossed their hats—and their strategies for success—into the ring for the 2011 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation's highest recognition for organizational performance excellence through innovation and improvement. Applicants include two manufacturers, three service companies, two small businesses, eight educational organizations, 40 health care organizations and 14 nonprofits/governmental organizations. This marks the sixth consecutive year that there have been 40 or more organizations applying in the health care category.

The 2011 applicants will be evaluated rigorously by an independent board of 553 examiners in seven areas: leadership; strategic planning; operations focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; process management; and results. Examiners provide each applicant with 300 to 1,000 hours of review and a detailed report on the organization's strengths and opportunities for improvement.

This year's Baldrige Award recipients are expected to be announced in late November 2011.

"If you want sustainability in an organization, and you want to go from 'great' to 'really, really great,' you've got to have some kind of a model ... and Baldrige is that model," says Larry Potterfield, CEO of 2009 Baldrige Award recipient MidwayUSA.

Named after Malcolm Baldrige, the 26th Secretary of Commerce, the Baldrige Award was established by Congress in 1987. The award—managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in collaboration with the private sector—promotes excellence in organizational performance, recognizes the achievements and results of U.S. organizations, and publicizes successful performance strategies. The award is not given for specific products or services. Since 1988, 86 organizations have received Baldrige Awards.

Thousands of organizations use the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence to guide their operations, improve performance and get sustainable results. This proven improvement and innovation framework offers organizations an integrated approach to key management areas.

To learn more about starting or advancing your organization's performance excellence journey, go to www.nist.gov/baldrige/publications/criteria.cfm and www.nist.gov/baldrige/enter/self.cfm.

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

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New Baldrige DVD Gives You Performance Excellence on the Go!

If you missed the 23rd Annual Quest for Excellence conference in April, 2011, or just want to continue learning about the best practices, proven strategies and real-world insights presented there, the “Quest on the Go!” DVD is for you.

Now available from the American Society for Quality (ASQ), the DVD features a video of the in-depth plenary with the senior executives of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipients. It also includes audio recordings and slides from 60 concurrent sessions with key members from the 2010 recipients and 25 former recipients on topics such as enhancing leadership effectiveness, building customer and employee engagement, and increasing organizational sustainability. Additionally, the DVD contains special sessions on sector-specific issues such as electronic medical records, providing value to taxpayers, and rethinking teaching and learning for student success.

Purchase “Quest on the Go!” from ASQ by phone at (800) 248-1946 or online at www.nist.gov/baldrige/qe/virtual_quest.cfm. Ask for item no. TA1134.

The 2010 Baldrige Award recipients—listed with their category—are:

  • MEDRAD, Warrendale, Pa. (manufacturing)
  • Nestlé Purina PetCare Co., St. Louis, Mo. (manufacturing)
  • Freese and Nichols Inc., Fort Worth, Texas (small business)
  • K&N Management, Austin, Texas (small business)
  • Studer Group, Gulf Breeze, Fla. (small business)
  • Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, Md. (education)
  • Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, Downers Grove, Ill. (health care)

For more information about the Quest for Excellence Conference, contact the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at (301) 975-2036 or baldrige@nist.gov.

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

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Intellectual-Property Investor Joins NIST Advisory Group

Patrick Gallagher, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has named Karen Kerr of Intellectual Ventures to serve on the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT), the agency’s primary private-sector policy advisory group. Kerr—who will serve a three-year term starting on June 1, 2011—brings the body’s number to 15.

Kerr is the Director of Business Development at Intellectual Ventures (IV), an intellectual-property investment company based in Bellevue, Wash. She has over 15 years of experience as a venture investor in early-stage technology companies, working with a broad array of companies in life science, information technology, communications and semiconductors. She has served as an active director or board observer in numerous early-stage companies.

Kerr is a director of the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds and a member of both the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Advisory Committee and the Florida Technological Research and Development Authority Advisory Board. She is a trustee of Bryn Mawr College and serves on the Physical Sciences Division Visiting Committee at the University of Chicago. Kerr previously served as director of the Chicago Public Education Fund and as a senior advisor to Akoya Capital in Chicago. She is a member of the C200 (Committee of 200) leading business women and in 2000 was selected by Crain’s Chicago business as one of the “40 Under 40” leading business professionals in Chicago.

She earned a PhD. in Physical Chemistry from The University of Chicago and an A.B. in Chemistry from Bryn Mawr College.

The VCAT was established by Congress in 1988 to review and make recommendations on NIST’s policies, organization, budget and programs. The next VCAT meeting will be June 7-8, 2011 in Gaithersburg, Md. For more information, please see the NIST VCAT website (www.nist.gov/director/vcat/).

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

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