Take a sneak peek at the new NIST.gov and let us know what you think!
(Please note: some content may not be complete on the beta site.).

View the beta site
NIST logo

Tech Beat - September 5, 2012

Tech Beat Archives

Submit an email address to receive news from NIST:

Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: September 5, 2012
Date Modified: September 5, 2012 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

New NIST Strategic Roadmap Aims to Reduce the Nation's Preventable Fire Burden by a Third

The United States already has one of the highest direct fire loss rates among developed nations, and progress in reducing this tremendous burden is slowing.

wildland fire test
Controlled experiment at NIST’s National Fire Research Laboratory yields data that inform approaches to preventing and fighting fires at the wildland-urban interface.
Credit: Copyright Robert Rathe
View hi-resolution image

Fires claim more than 3,000 lives a year, injure more than 90,000 firefighters and civilians, and impose costs and losses totaling more than $300 billion—equivalent to about 2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product.

Fire researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) believe that the devastating annual toll can be significantly reduced over the next two decades. Even better, they have a plan that prioritizes and details the research and other work needed to enable that goal.

Crafted with input from fire service organizations, standards and building-code developers, equipment manufacturers, insurers and others, NIST's newly issued "strategic roadmap"* lays out a clear technological course for reducing the risk of fire in buildings and communities. It calls for tackling the nation's fire problem on three fronts:

  • Reducing fire hazards in buildings,
  • Advancing firefighter technologies, and
  • Reducing the risk of fire in communities bordering forests and "wildlands."

The new roadmap is NIST's most comprehensive effort to establish fire-risk reduction goals for its programs since the influential America Burning report was published in the mid-1970s.

In response to that report, Congress established a center for fire research at NIST. The report's recommendations served as goals for attacking the nation's fire problem. Over the last several decades, research-enabled advances have paid off with improvements in fire safety and related benefits.

For example, results of fire research have led to standards for children's sleepwear, automatic sprinklers, reduced-ignition-propensity cigarettes, modernized building codes, and computer models that can predict the behavior of fire, smoke and toxic products.

Since the early 1980s, the number of fires has been cut by more than half and the fire-caused civilian deaths and injuries have been reduced by nearly half.

"The nation has made major progress in improving fire safety over the last few decades due to the combined and concerted efforts of many organizations," says Shyam Sunder, director of NIST's Engineering Laboratory. "But fire losses are still too high, and there are new and potentially costly threats to fire safety that are emerging in communities across the country. At the same time, advances in materials, computing and other technologies present opportunities to launch a new wave of improvements in fire protection and safety."

Reflecting NIST's unique technical support role, the new roadmap sets targets for new measurement capabilities that underpin innovation in fire-risk-reducing technologies and best practices. These advanced capabilities are required to overcome technical hurdles that stand in the way of nascent or current technologies with the potential to deliver a wide range of fire safety benefits. These range from earlier fire detection and fire-safety improvements in the design and construction of buildings and communities, to better firefighting equipment and tactics, to more effective approaches to preventing and responding to "wildland-urban interface" fires, a rapidly growing national fire problem.

The new NIST roadmap sets short, medium and long-term goals—from fewer than three years to more than eight—for eliminating these gaps and accomplishing the overall objective of reducing the nation's fire burden by a third. The publication is available at www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=909653.

*Fire Research Division, Engineering Laboratory, Reducing the Risk of Fire in Buildings and Communities: A Strategic Roadmap to Guide and Prioritize Research, NIST Special Publication 1130, April 2012.

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

back to top

NIST ‘Hybrid Metrology’ Method Could Improve Computer Chips

A refined method developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for measuring nanometer-sized objects may help computer manufacturers more effectively size up the myriad tiny switches packed onto chips' surfaces. The method*, which makes use of multiple measuring instruments and statistical techniques, is already drawing attention from industry.

nanoscale chip
This tiny silicon pillar, measuring less than 100 nanometers along any of its sides, is the sort of computer chip feature that manufacturers now can measure more precisely with NIST’s hybrid metrology method, which can reduce the nagging uncertainties that have long plagued industry’s measurement efforts.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

Nothing in life may be certain except death and taxes, but in the world of computer chip manufacturing, uncertainty is a particularly nagging issue, especially when measuring features smaller than a few dozen nanometers. Precision and accuracy areessential to controlling a complex and expensive manufacturing process to ensure the final chips actually work. But features on modern chips are so tiny that optical microscopes cannot make them out directly. Metrologists have to use indirect methods, like "scatterometry"—deducing their shape from sampling the pattern light creates as it scatters off the features' edges. When this isn't enough, there's atomic force microscopy (AFM). It's expensive and slow, but it can give distinct measurements of the height and width of a nanoscale object while light scattering occasionally has trouble distinguishing between them.

Even with these measurement techniques, however, there's always a nagging margin of error. "Maybe scatterometry tells you the width of an object is 40 nanometers, but it's plus or minus three nanometers, a relatively large variance," says NIST scientist Richard Silver. "Making things worse, the total uncertainty usually increases when measurement techniques are combined, making our vision even hazier."

What the NIST team needed was a more precise yet less expensive method of measuring what sits on a chip, and their answer has turned out to be a combination of scanning techniques and statistical analysis. They first created a library of simulated data based on typical chip feature dimensions to which they can compare their actual measurements, made with AFM, scatterometry and other means. A complex statistical analysis of library values is then compared with actual measurements to extract valid measurement values—but this is often at a cost of high uncertainty.

But NIST statistician Nien Fan Zhang found an elegant way to use a statistical method called Bayesian analysis to incorporate a few key additional measured values from other tools into the library model before performing the comparison. In doing so, the team was able to reduce the uncertainty in some of the measurements, lowering them by more than a factor of three in some cases. This approach is expected to be essential when measuring complex three-dimensional transistors 16 nanometers in size or smaller in the near future.

The math wizardry is a little counter-intuitive. "In essence, if you've got a really small uncertainty in your AFM measurement but a big one in your optical measurements, the final uncertainty will end up even smaller than either of them," says Silver. "IBM and GLOBALFOUNDRIES have already begun developing the technique since we first described it at a 2009 conference, and they are improving their measurements using this hybrid approach."

*N.F. Zhang, R.M. Silver, H. Zhou and B.M. Barnes. Improving optical measurement uncertainty with combined multitool metrology using a Bayesian approach. Applied Optics, Vol. 51, No. 25. Sept. 1, 2012. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1364/AO.51.006196

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

New NIST Reference Material Could Aid Nanomaterial Toxicity Research

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a new nanoscale reference material for use in a wide range of environmental, health and safety studies of industrial nanomaterials. The new NIST reference material is a sample of commercial titanium dioxide powder commonly known as “P25.”

TEM image shows the nanoscale crystalline structure of titanium dioxide in NIST SRM 1898 (color added for clarity.)
Credit: Impellitteri/EPA
View hi-resolution image

NIST Standard Reference Materials® (SRMs) are typically samples of industrially or clinically important materials that have been carefully analyzed by NIST. They are provided with certified values for certain key properties so that they can be used in experiments as a known reference point.

Nanoscale titanium-dioxide powder may well be the most widely manufactured and used nanomaterial in the world, and not coincidentally, it is also one of the most widely studied. In the form of larger particles, titanium dioxide is a common white pigment. As nanoscale particles, the material is widely used as a photocatalyst, a sterilizing agent and an ultraviolet blocker (in sunscreen lotions, for example).

“Titanium dioxide is not considered highly toxic and, in fact, we don’t certify its toxicity,” observes NIST chemist Vincent Hackley. “But it’s a representative industrial nanopowder that you could include in an environmental or toxicity study. It’s important in such research to include measurements that characterize the nanomaterial you’re studying—properties like morphology, surface area and elemental composition. We’re providing a known benchmark.”

The new titanium-dioxide reference material is a mixed phase, nanocrystalline form of the chemical in a dry powder. To assist in its proper use, NIST also has developed protocols* for properly preparing samples for environmental or toxicological studies.

The new SRM also is particularly well suited for use in calibrating and testing analytical instruments that measure specific surface area of nanomaterials by the widely used Brunauer-Emmet-Teller (BET) gas sorption method.

Additional details and purchasing information on NIST Standard Reference Material 1898, “Titanium Dioxide Nanomaterial” are available at www.nist.gov/srm/index.cfm.

SRMs are among the most widely distributed and used products from NIST. The agency prepares, analyzes and distributes nearly 1,300 different materials that are used throughout the world to check the accuracy of instruments and test procedures used in manufacturing, clinical chemistry, environmental monitoring, electronics, criminal forensics and dozens of other fields.

* See “Protocols for Measurement and Dispersion of Nanoparticles” at www.nist.gov/mml/np-measurement-protocols.cfm.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

Excellence by the Dozen: 12 Organizations Vie for 2012 Baldrige Award

Twelve U.S. organizations have reached the next step on the road to a possible silver anniversary Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation's highest recognition for organizational performance excellence. The Baldrige Panel of Judges has selected one organization in the manufacturing category, one in service, two in small business, one in education, five in health care and two in nonprofit for the final review stage for the 2012 award. Starting this month, teams of experts will make site visits to these organizations to clarify questions and verify information submitted in Award applications.

This is the second time since the Baldrige Award was expanded to six categories—the other being 2010—that organizations in all of the categories will receive site visits.

The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program received 39 applications in 2012 (one manufacturer, three service companies, two small businesses, three educational organizations, 25 health care organizations and five nonprofits/governmental organizations). The applicants were evaluated rigorously by an independent board of examiners in seven areas: leadership; strategic planning; customer focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; operations focus; and results. Examiners will provide 300 to 1,000 hours of review to each applicant receiving a site visit, and all applicants will receive a detailed report on the organization's strengths and opportunities for improvement.

The 2012 Baldrige Award recipients are expected to be announced in late November 2012. This year’s Award process is special because both the Award and the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program are celebrating their 25th anniversary (see the Web page, "Honoring Our Past . . . Building an Even Better Future," at www.nist.gov/baldrige/25th/index.cfm). The Baldrige Program also is building a larger, nationwide Baldrige enterprise, which required, for the first time this year, that any Baldrige Award applicant must have previously received its state’s performance excellence award (see www.nist.gov/baldrige/2012_applications.cfm).

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, 90 organizations have received Baldrige Awards.

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

For more information on the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and the Baldrige Award, see www.nist.gov/baldrige.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

September Workshop to Explore the Measurement Needs of the Flexible Electronics Industry

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in concert with the FlexTech Alliance, will hold a workshop on “Flexible Printed Electronics Metrology — The Status and Needs” on Sept. 12 and 13, 2012, at the NIST laboratories in Gaithersburg, Md. The workshop will highlight the growing need for reliable measurement tools to support the rapidly developing electronics field, which uses organic semiconductors and other new materials.

animated gif
Watching the ink dry on roll-to-roll printed electronics: NIST researchers are developing and correlating both fast, in-line measurements that are suitable for manufacturing quality control with slower analytical techniques, such as X-ray diffraction, to better understand the materials science of the process and and how it affects device performance.
Credit: DeLongchamp/NIST

These “new wave” electronics substitute carefully designed organic molecules for the rigid, inorganic crystals like silicon that are—almost literally—the bedrock of the semiconductor industry. They include “flexible” electronics that could be incorporated in fabrics or next-generation products like a computer display that can be rolled up and stuffed in a pocket. And they include “printable” electronics, based on novel materials both organic and inorganic that could harness traditional printing technologies to crank out large-scale electronic devices, like solar energy panels, by the hectare.

Flexible printed electronics won’t replace traditional semiconductors—they’re a whole new business with some important features. In principle, the devices are relatively low cost, easier to develop and fabricate than traditional chips, can be manufactured rapidly in huge volumes, and can be used on flexible, even transparent surfaces. In practice, however, manufacturers still require means to adequately monitor and control the properties of the materials and the associated manufacturing steps.

The workshop will examine the current measurement and monitoring challenges of an emerging electronics industry that employs a wide range of radically new substrate materials and processes—such as roll-to-roll printing—novel to the electronics sector. Manufacturers of a wide range of flexible electronics, including displays, lighting, photovoltaics and printed electronics as well as material, tool and substrate producers, will discuss the requirements for improving production quality and yield.

For more information or to register, see the workshop Web page at http://ow.ly/dk71y.

Based in San Jose, Calif, the FlexTech Alliance works throughout North America to foster development of the supply chain required to support a world-class, manufacturing capability for displays and flexible, printed electronics.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

Mars Robot, Curiosity, Tethered to NIST Measurements

Sometimes the chain of measurement traceability—the unbroken series of links between a calibrated instrument and the official standard maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—can get pretty long. But 250 million kilometers is remarkable, even for NIST.

That’s the current distance between the Curiosity rover on Mars and the temperature labs in Gaithersburg, Md., where the calibration process began for several small but critically important temperature sensors that monitor the rover’s power generator.

“They’re all hand-made and hand-customized,” says Chris Albert of Sensing Devices Inc. (SDI) in Lancaster, Pa., which designed the sensors to specifications. “Each one has to be calibrated, and each one has to have NIST traceability.”

So Albert brought the company’s master reference thermometer to the NIST laboratories to have it calibrated according to the International Temperature Scale of 1990, the worldwide standard for equipment calibration.

Read the full story at: www.nist.gov/pml/div685/grp01/mars-rover-sensors.cfm.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

Lost and Found: Audiotape Surfaces of President Eisenhower's 1954 Dedication of NIST Boulder

Almost exactly 58 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the 1954 dedication ceremony for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Boulder, Colo.

Now you can listen to what he and other dignitaries said.

Until recently, there were no known recordings of the ceremony, which attracted an estimated 10,000 people—about half the population of the city of Boulder at the time. Eisenhower was the first sitting president to visit Boulder; President Obama became the second this year.

Schools and businesses closed for the Sept. 14, 1954, dedication of the Colorado campus of what was then known as the National Bureau of Standards. It was built on a former cow pasture donated by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.

In retrospect it seems a quaint and simpler era: Gas cost 22 cents a gallon, jet airliners were new, and Elvis was just starting his musical career.

Many photographs were taken that day in Boulder, and silent video of some of the day’s events surfaced. Historical records indicate the media planned to audiotape the ceremony, including Eisenhower’s speech, but their recording equipment—primitive by today’s standards—failed.*

President Eisenhower
President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered the dedication address at NIST's campus in Boulder, Colo., in September 1954.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

Yet it turns out that a community radio station successfully recorded the entire ceremony, and the pristine original survives.

Piled among eight boxes of yet-to-be-catalogued material, a reel-to-reel magnetic tape recording of Eisenhower’s 1954 speech was found at the Boulder’s Carnegie Branch Library for Local History. The recording was donated to the library as part of a collection from KBOL-AM and KBVL-FM, community radio stations that operated from the late 1940s to the early 1990s.The old tape was spliced together in two places and broke during a replay, but it was successfully converted to digital form.

The 18-minute recording features remarks by then-Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks, an introduction by then-NBS Director Allen Astin (who served as director from 1951 to 1969) and Eisenhower’s speech (listen to accompanying audio clip).

Copies of the recording can be obtained from the Carnegie library at http://boulderlibrary.org/carnegie/. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum (Abilene, Kan.) has a seven-minute U.S. Army Signal Corps audio recording of the President’s speech as well as a 10-minute video with sound from an unknown source.

*An NBS employee’s reminiscence of the 1954 dedication and what happened to the sound system can be found at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/1954.cfm.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

Twelve Companies Win NIST SBIR Awards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced nearly $2 million in Phase I and Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards to 12 U.S. businesses. These awards provide funding to help companies develop technologies that could lead to commercial and public benefit.

"We are delighted by the high quality of SBIR proposals we received, and congratulate all the awardees," said Phillip Singerman, associate director for innovation and industry services at NIST. "Over the past year, NIST updated the solicitation process to focus on critical national priorities and provide maximum opportunities for businesses that are just starting out. With three-fourths of the Phase I recipients in business fewer than 10 years and two-thirds of them with 12 employees or fewer, the results of the solicitation demonstrate the success of that process."

The SBIR program's goal is for companies to commercialize their technologies, where appropriate, in Phase III, but this phase is not funded by the SBIR program.

NIST will provide the awardees with technical assistance and direct assistance, as allowed by the SBIR statute, and direct them to additional resources through NIST's Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Read the full announcement, with descriptions of the awardees and their projects: www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/sbir-083112.cfm.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top