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 - November 27, 2012

Tech Beat Archives

Submit an email address to receive news from NIST:

Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: November 27, 2012
Date Modified: November 27, 2012 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

NIST Experiments Challenge Fundamental Understanding of Electromagnetism

electron beam ion trap
Observations made with NIST's Electron Beam Ion Trap indicate that in ions with a strongly positive charge, electrons can behave in ways inconsistent with quantum electrodynamics (QED) theory, which describes electromagnetism. While more experiments are needed, the data could imply that some aspects of QED theory require revision.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

A cornerstone of physics may require a rethink if findings at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are confirmed. Recent experiments suggest* that the most rigorous predictions based on the fundamental theory of electromagnetism—one of the four fundamental forces in the universe, and harnessed in all electronic devices—may not accurately account for the behavior of atoms in exotic, highly charged states.

The theory in question is known as quantum electrodynamics, or QED, which physicists have held in high regard for decades because of its excellent track record describing electromagnetism's effects on matter. In particular, QED has been especially useful in explaining the behavior of electrons, which orbit every atomic nucleus. But for all of QED's successes, there are reasons to believe that QED may not provide a complete picture of reality, so scientists have looked for opportunities to test it to ever-increasing precision.

One way to test parts of QED is to take a fairly heavy atom—titanium or iron, for example—and strip away most of the electrons that circle its nucleus. "If 20 of titanium's 22 electrons are removed, it becomes a highly charged ion that looks in many ways like a helium atom that has been shrunk to a tenth its original size," says NIST physicist John Gillaspy, a member of the research team. "Ironically, in this unusual state, the effects of QED are magnified, so we can explore them in more detail."

Among the many things QED is good for is predicting what will happen when an electron orbiting the nucleus collides with a passing particle. The excited electron gets bumped up momentarily to a higher energy state but quickly falls back to its original orbit. In the process, it gives off a photon of light, and QED tells what color (wavelength) that photon will have. The NIST team found that electrons in highly charged helium-like ions that are excited in this fashion give off photons that are noticeably different in color than QED predicts.

While the results—obtained using NIST's Electron Beam Ion Trap Facility—are interesting enough on their own to warrant publication, Gillaspy says he hopes the finding will stimulate others to measure the emitted photons with even greater accuracy. Currently, the NIST team is preparing to release the results of measurements of other colors of light emitted from the exotic atoms that bolster the initial findings.

"What the NIST experiment found is interesting enough that it merits attention," says Jonathan Sapirstein, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame. "Independent calculations should be done to confirm the theory, and other experiments should also confirm the findings. However, if no errors are found in the theory and the NIST experiment is correct, some physics outside of QED must be present."

* C.T. Chantler, M.N. Kinnane, J.D. Gillaspy, L.T. Hudson, A.T. Payne, L.F. Smale, A. Henins, J.M. Pomeroy, J.N. Tan, J.A. Kimpton, E. Takacs and K. Makonyi. Testing three-body quantum electrodynamics with trapped Ti20+ ions: Evidence for a Z-dependent divergence between experiment and calculation. Physical Review Letters, Oct. 10, 2012. DOI 10.1103/PhysRevLett.109.153001.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

Mix Masters: NIST Scientists Image the Molecular Structure of Polymer Blends

Using an enhanced form of "chemical microscopy" developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), researchers there have shown that they can peer into the structure of blended polymers, resolving details of the molecular arrangement at sub-micrometer levels.* The capability has important implications for the design of industrially important polymers like the polyethylene blends used to repair aging waterlines.

BCARS composite image
Typical BCARS composite image of a polyethylene blend taken at NIST showing circular polarization response. LLD polyethylene shows red in this mode, while the HD polyethylene with deuterium substituted for hydrogen is green.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

Polyethylene is one of the most widely produced and used polymers in the world. It's used in many familiar applications—milk bottles, for instance—but the NIST research is motivated by a more critical application: water pipes. Aging water infrastructure is a significant national issue. The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that in the United States there are over 240,000 water main breaks per year, leaks wasting 1.7 trillion gallons of water per year, and costs to taxpayers of $2.6 billion per year.

Polyethylene pipes are one potential solution. They're relatively inexpensive to make and install, and they have negligible corrosion issues and a predicted service life of up to a century under ideal conditions. Unfortunately, current test standards do not address service life under field conditions, especially for fusion joints in the pipes. This uncertainty has slowed the use of large diameter polyethylene pipe.

The industry standard for polyethylene pipes is a blend of two different forms of the polymer, a medium-weight, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and a high molecular weight "linear low-density polyethylene" (LLDPE). Combining the two, says NIST materials scientist Young Jong Lee, dramatically improves the toughness, strength and resistance to fracture of the polymer.

The problem for quantitative service-life prediction is understanding exactly why that is. Developing the necessary predictive models has been hindered by knowing just how the HDPE and LLDPE molecules blend together. They are so close chemically that X-ray or electron imaging—the usual go-to techniques for molecular structure—can't readily distinguish them.

The NIST team is using a variation of Raman spectroscopy, which can distinguish different chemical species—and measure how much of each—by analyzing the frequencies associated with the different vibrational modes of each molecule. The exact mix of these frequencies is an extremely discriminating "fingerprint" for any particular molecule without help of fluorescence labeling. Raman spectroscopy using focused laser beams has been used as a chemical microscope, able to detail the structure of complex objects by mapping the chemical composition at each point in a three-dimensional space.

The NIST instrument, called "BCARS" (broadband coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering) microscopy, uses a pair of lasers to gather Raman data at least 10 times faster than other Raman imaging methods, a critical feature because of the vast amount of data that must be gathered to understand such highly structured blend systems.** The extra trick is to substitute deuterium ("heavy hydrogen") for hydrogen atoms in the HDPE component. The deuterium strongly shifts the Raman spectrum, making it easy to distinguish the two components. By controlling the polarization of the light, the technique provides additional details on the local crystal orientation of molecules in the polymer. The images show, for example, the formation of microscopic spherical regions of partial crystallization with the LLDPE more concentrated towards the center.

"This is a fast, three-dimensional chemical imaging technique that's particularly useful for studying microstructures of polymeric materials," says Lee. The group currently is using BCARS to find the correlation between microscopic structures with characteristics of deformation and thermal fusion on polyethylene pipes. For more on Broadband CARS microscopy, see www.nist.gov/mml/bbd/biomaterials/bcars.cfm.

* Y.J. Lee, C.R. Snyder, A.M. Forster, M.T. Cicerone and W. Wu. Imaging the molecular structure of polyethylene blends with broadband coherent Raman microscopy. ACS Macro Lett. 2012, 1, 1347-1351.DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1021/mz300546e.
** See, for example, the Oct. 2010 story, "Faster CARS, Less Damage: NIST Chemical Microscopy Shows Potential for Cell Diagnostics" at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20101013.cfm#cars.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

U.S., Brazil Publish Compliance Requirement Guides for Selected Industries

New publications from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and its counterpart in Brazil can help manufacturers in several industries successfully navigate the landscape of state and national product regulations and voluntary industry standards.

NIST has produced guides that distill U.S. requirements for four product classes: furniture, footwear, auto parts, and apparel and household textiles. Brazil’s National Institute of Metrology, Quality and Technology (INMETRO) has published guides to the South American nation’s compliance requirements for agricultural machinery, toys and petroleum products.

All seven guides can be downloaded from NIST’s Global Standards Information website at: http://gsi.nist.gov/global/index.cfm/L1-7/L2-35/A-630/.

In addition to laying out relevant regulations and standards, the industry-specific guides list testing laboratories and certification bodies that manufacturers can use to demonstrate that their products comply with requirements.

U.S. and Brazilian exporters are a key audience for the publications. In addition, U.S. companies, in particular small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), that produce merchandise for domestic markets may find the NIST-prepared guides to be useful references.

For example, the guide to U.S. requirements for furniture contains details on flammability and other safety standards as well as rules for labeling. The guide also lists regulations that states have enacted to govern the sale and import of products. For example, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington have banned the use of the fire retardants PentaBDE and/or OctaBDE in products, including upholstered furniture. The furniture guide advises that brominated flame retardant limits have been proposed in several states.

The collaboration between NIST and INMETRO was carried out under the U.S.–Brazil Commercial Dialogue, a bilateral cooperative mechanism between the United States and Brazil that seeks to increase bilateral trade and investment through increased mutual understanding and best practices exchanges. These guides support the objectives of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). The agreement requires WTO member nations to efficiently distribute trade-related regulatory, standards, and conformity-assessment information to other members. NIST and INMETRO serve as official WTO TBT Inquiry Points for their nations. NIST plans to publish additional sector guides in collaboration with other country inquiry points.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

NIST Publishes Methods to Manage Risk in the Federal ICT Supply Chain

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published the final version of Notional Supply Chain Risk Management Practices for Federal Information Systems. This guide offers an array of supply chain assurance methods to help federal agencies manage the risks associated with purchasing and implementing information and communications technologies (ICT) products and services.

Security risks introduced via the supply chain—both intentional and unintentional—are substantial and on the rise. The global ICT supply chain's growing sophistication and increasing speed and scale leave government agencies vulnerable to be exploited through a variety of means, including counterfeit materials, malicious software or untrustworthy products.

The guide describes ICT supply chain risk management as a multidisciplinary practice with a number of interconnected enterprise processes that, when performed correctly, will help departments and agencies manage the risk of using ICT products and services. The publication calls for procurement organizations to establish a coordinated team approach to assess the ICT supply chain risk and to manage this risk by using technical and programmatic mitigation techniques.

The new guide is based on information technology security practices and procedures published by NIST, the National Defense University, the National Defense Industrial Association and others. These practices were expanded to include supply chain implications. This version of Notional Supply Chain Risk Management Practices for Federal Information Systems has been through two public review periods, allowing for input from a broad array of stakeholders. The final publication differs from previous drafts in that it provides a more specific definition of the supply chain threat and further details on the roles of integrator and supplier and how they apply to the federal government's acquisition of commercial off-the-shelf products.

NIST is developing a draft Special Publication based on the proceedings of the Oct. 15-16, 2012, Supply Chain Risk Management Workshop and ongoing discussions with industry, academic and government stakeholders. PowerPoint presentations from that workshop are available at http://www.nist.gov/itl/csd/scrm_2012workshop.cfm. NIST will continue to engage public- and private-sector stakeholders throughout the publication development process.

Notional Supply Chain Risk Management Practices for Federal Information Systems (NIST IR 7622) is available at http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/ir/2012/NIST.IR.7622.pdf.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

NIST Releases Annual Report on Federal Technology Transfer

With new treatments for disease, test suites that safeguard computers, and even expertise to rescue miners trapped thousands of feet underground, federal laboratories have a wealth of technologies and know-how that can give U.S. companies a competitive edge and improve quality of life.

Chilean miners
When 33 miners became trapped 2,000 feet below ground, the Chilean government called on NASA specialists to help care for and rescue the men. The rescue is just one example of federal technology transfer highlighted in an annual report compiled by NIST.
Credit: Hugo Infante/Government of Chile
View hi-resolution image

These science and technology resources were developed in response to national challenges, but they also can be valuable assets for private industry and academia as well as other government agencies.

Each year—as required by federal regulation—the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) releases a report on technology transfer from federal laboratories, detailing efforts to transfer the results of public investment in research to meet marketplace and other needs. The newest technology transfer report tallies the thousands of patents, cooperative agreements, licenses and other pathways by which these transfers happened in 2010.

That year the 11 federal laboratories included in the report had more than 18,000 active collaborative relationships with private entities and other government agencies, disclosed more than 4,700 inventions, submitted 1,830 patent applications and received 1,143 patents.

Examples of federal technologies that have been successfully adopted by the private sector include tests developed at the Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the report, the new tests can detect HIV-1 and identify how recently a person was infected, leading to new assessments of infection rates. The technology has been licensed to companies around the world. Within the Department of Commerce, NIST developed the Advanced Combinatorial Testing Suites, which provide a systematic means for testing complex software failure modes. To date, more than 5,000 units have been deployed worldwide.

And arguably one of the most famous examples of federal technology transfer took place near the San José Mine in Chile, when a collapse left 33 men trapped more than 2,000 feet underground. The Chilean government invited NASA experts to consult on caring for the stranded men and to help develop a capsule that would bring them safely to the surface. On Oct. 13, 2010, all of the men were rescued.

In the report's foreword, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher notes, "This report will help serve as a baseline to measure our continued progress toward achieving the ambitious challenge issued to the federal agencies to significantly increase technology transfer over the next five years, while achieving excellence in performing our mission-focused research."

That challenge was outlined in a 2011 Presidential Memorandum* that highlighted the importance of innovation to accelerate development of new industries, products and services. The president directed federal agencies to take action to establish goals and measure performance, streamline administrative processes, and facilitate local and regional partnerships in order to accelerate technology transfer and support private-sector commercialization.

Federal Laboratory Technology Transfer—Fiscal Year 2010 is available at http://www.nist.gov/tpo/publications/upload/Fed-Lab-TT_FINAL.pdf.

* The Presidential Memorandum is available at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/28/presidential-memorandum-accelerating-technology-transfer-and-commerciali.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

New York Taps NIST's Sunder for Post-Sandy Review of Critical Systems and Services

S. Shyam Sunder, director of the Engineering Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has agreed to serve on the New York State Ready Commission, formed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to recommend ways to ensure critical systems and services are prepared for future natural disasters and other emergencies.

Dr. S. Shyam Sunder
Dr. S. Shyam Sunder
Credit: Berkemeyer/NIST
View hi-resolution image

The expert commission is one of three that Cuomo launched in the aftermath of recent major storms, including Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, that devastated parts of the state and revealed weaknesses in New York’s transportation, energy, communications and health infrastructures.

The Ready Commission will review critical systems and services and recommend measures to prepare for future natural disasters and other emergencies. It also will advise the governor on ways to ensure:

  • new, modified and existing construction is resilient;
  • adequate equipment, fuel, food, water and other emergency supplies are available;
  • first responders and other critical personnel can communicate efficiently and have access to adequate resources;
  • reliable, real-time information is available for decision makers; and
  • lines of authority are clear and officials have the authority to react rapidly to emergency situations.

Cuomo issued an Executive Order on Nov. 15, 2012, to form the Ready Commission and the two others—one focusing on responses to future weather-related disasters and the other on ways to improve the resilience and strength of the state’s infrastructure in the face of natural disasters and other emergencies.

Preliminary recommendations by all three commissions are due on Jan. 3, 2013.

As director of the NIST Engineering Laboratory, Sunder manages an annual budget of $90 million, 260 employees, and about 150 guest researchers from U.S industry and universities as well as foreign laboratories. He oversees NIST's statutory responsibilities for enhancing disaster resilience by reducing the risks of fires, earthquakes, windstorms and coastal inundation on buildings, infrastructure and communities, including facility occupants/users and emergency responders. He also oversees the multiagency U.S. National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Sunder led the federal building and fire safety investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

To read the press release announcing the launch of the commissions, go to: www.governor.ny.gov/press/11152012-Emergency-Preparedness.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top

Construction Industry Honors JILA X-Wing

JILA's new X-Wing addition has received two construction industry awards—best project in higher education/research and special judges' recognition—from the Engineering News-Record, a trade magazine.*

The new, and now award-winning, JILA X-Wing.
Credit: Baxley/JILA
View hi-resolution image

JILA is a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder. Located on the university campus, JILA recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and dedicated the X-Wing.** The new six-story wing adds about 4,600 square meters (50,000 square feet) of laboratory, office and collaboration space to enhance JILA's capacity to train a new generation of top scientists and innovators.

The X-Wing was honored in the News-Record's annual "best projects" competition for the Mountain States. Entries were judged based on safety, use of teamwork and innovation to overcome challenges, contribution to the community, design aesthetics, and how well the project was built and met the owner's goals.

The X-Wing was cited as a best project because the construction took place in a congested area and had to minimize impacts on nearby activities. For example, the construction team worked with scientists to limit noise and vibration effects on world-class precision measurement research under way in JILA's older building, which is attached to the X-Wing.

The X-Wing also received special judges' recognition for outstanding craftsmanship and impact on the community.

* See http://mountainstates.construction.com/mountainstates_construction_projects/2012/1022-cu-boulder-campus-expands-a-key-biophysics-research-facility.asp
** See NIST Tech Beat articles "Two New Advanced Laboratories Open at NIST Boulder and JILA," at www.nist.gov/pml/labs-041712.cfm, and "JILA Named 'Physics Historic Site' on its 50th Anniversary," at www.nist.gov/pml/div689/jila-071112.cfm.

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

Comment  Comment on this article.back to top