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Tech Beat - September 17, 2013

Tech Beat Archives

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: September 17, 2013
Date Modified: September 17, 2013 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

NIST Announces Five Grants to Pilot Trusted Identity Technologies

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced more than $7 million in grants to five organizations to fund pilot projects as part of the government’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) initiative.

The NSTIC initiative is a collaborative effort among the private sector, advocacy groups and public-sector agencies. It supports technologies that enable individuals and organizations to use secure, efficient, convenient and interoperable identity credentials to access online services in a way that promotes confidence, privacy, choice and innovation.

NIST announced a competition for the 2013 NSTIC pilot project grants on Jan. 30, 2013.* These new pilots build on the successful launch of five NSTIC pilots awarded in 2012.**

The five winners of the 2013 NSTIC grants are:

  • Exponent (Calif.), $1,589,400;
  • Georgia Tech Research Corporation (GTRC) (Ga.), $1,720,723;
  • Privacy Vaults Online, Inc. (PRIVO) (Va.), $1,611,349;
  • Troop ID (Va.), $1,204,957; and
  • Transglobal Secure Collaboration Participation, Inc. (TSCP) (Va.), $1,264,074.

For more details on the individual projects, see the NIST news announcement, “NIST Awards Grants to Improve Online Security and Privacy" at www.nist.gov/itl/nstic-091713.cfm. For further information about these meetings and NSTIC, visit www.nist.gov/nstic.

*See the Feb. 6, 2013, NIST news announcement, “NIST Solicits Proposals for 2013 Grants to Advance Trusted Identities in Cyberspace” at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20130206.cfm#nstic.
**See the Sept. 20, 2012, NIST news announcement, “Five Pilot Projects Receive Grants to Promote Online Security and Privacy” at www.nist.gov/itl/nstic-092012.cfm.

Media Contact: Jennifer Huergo, jennifer.huergo@nist.gov, 301-975-2170

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NIST Nose a Hit When They Smell It: A New Generation of Odor-Releasing Materials for Training Dogs

Traditionally, the training of bomb-sniffing dogs has been a hazardous job, but newly developed odor-releasing materials could take the risk out of that work. Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are seeking to patent a novel system that can capture scents and release them over time.

officer and dog
Federal police officer Donald Strawsburg putting his bomb-sniffing buddy and K-9 officer Banjo through his paces. For the purposes of this exercise, the odor-releasing material has been infused with the vapor profile of a major component of many plastic explosives.
Credit: Talbott/NIST
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These odor-releasing materials provide a safer, more consistent way to train the dogs used by police agencies to sniff out explosives and other contraband. The inventors at NIST hope to eliminate the need to transport, handle, or in some cases manufacture actual samples of explosives and other illicit or dangerous substances, an expensive and time-consuming task due to chain of custody requirements and safety concerns.

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell that can detect certain compounds at parts per trillion. This feat is the equivalent of tasting about a quarter teaspoon of sugar dissolved in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. This ability makes dogs invaluable to law enforcement and customs and border protection, and greatly surpasses efforts to date to replicate with portable detectors. Still, a talented nose is not enough; dogs need training and practice if they are to perform at their best.

According to NIST chemist and co-inventor of the new system Bill MacCrehan, police dogs are presently trained to sniff out explosives using actual explosives. In practical terms, this means that the materials have to be transported to the site, stored in a secure, explosion-proof location, documented before and after each use, and destroyed when they have expired.

The new system developed by MacCrehan and his collaborators uses a porous plastic with a consistency similar to a popular gelatin-based dessert. The plastic absorbs smells by being exposed to, or otherwise infused with, the volatile vapors of the desired sample material itself or chemical analogues, or "smell-alikes," that have been synthesized in the lab.

odor recorder
Test container of an odor-releasing material hiding in a pail waiting to be discovered...
Credit: Talbott/NIST
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"In addition to standard materials, we can build training aids for exotic things that are not easily accessible; the prime example is the improvised explosive TATP," says MacCrehan. "Preparing pure improvised explosives for dog training has proven to be very dangerous. Inert materials that provide the correct odors is the answer to this improvised explosive dilemma."

According to MacCrehan, once the polymer is infused with the odor, it can be shipped anywhere safely and easily, because while the polymer is infused with the volatile compounds of an explosive, the polymer itself does not become explosive. An additional safety feature of this approach is that the infused molecules cannot be extracted from the polymer to create an explosive.

Once the sample is put into the testing environment, the rate at which the odor is released into the air can be precisely controlled using the accompanying enclosure and can be sustained 11 days or more, depending on the vapor profile.

Another critical advantage of the system is that it will make it possible to achieve uniformity in training.

"Right now, dogs are trained by local police departments using real samples of varying age and composition, which can affect their vapor profiles," says MacCrehan. "This means that dogs trained in different jurisdictions will perform differently because they are not evaluated using the same performance standard. Identical training standards will make it so that dogs across jurisdictions can be trained to the same high level."

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided partial funding for the project.

Edited on Sept. 25, 2013, to correct photo caption.

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

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Dirty Job Made Easier: Microfluidic Technique Recovers DNA for IDs

A team of researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Applied Research Associates, Inc. (ARA, Alexandria, Va.) has demonstrated an improved microfluidic technique for recovering DNA from real-world, complex mixtures such as dirt. According to a recent paper,* their technique delivers DNA from these crude samples with much less effort and in less time than conventional techniques. It yields DNA concentrations that are optimal for human identification procedures and can potentially be miniaturized for use outside the laboratory.

dirt dna extraction
A laboratory technician pipettes dirt dissolved in a buffer solution from which DNA will be recovered using a novel NIST/Applied Research Associates microfluidic extraction technique. The dirt, originally collected on a swab (lower section seen in vial) like those on the right, is an example of a crude sample from which DNA for human identification has typically been difficult to obtain.
Credit: Newman/NIST
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Forensic DNA testing is extensively used to link individuals to crimes, establish paternity, solve missing person cases, identify casualties in military and mass fatality events, and provide genealogical histories. Typically, it takes a skilled technician in a properly equipped laboratory 1-2 days to extract DNA from a sample, quantify the amount, make multiple copies of specific genetic sequences (PCR amplification), and then create a "DNA signature" that is unique to an individual. However, when crude samples are the source of the desired DNA, the contaminants and particulates mixed in with the genetic material can seriously complicate the reading of a complete and accurate DNA signature. The additional purification steps needed for conventional means of handling crude samples, such as filtering, not only lengthen the processing time but also tend to reduce the quantity and concentration of DNA delivered—making human identification more difficult or impossible.

The new NIST/ARA technique is based on one the team first developed four years ago** for crude samples called "gradient elution moving boundary electrophoreses" or GEMBE. GEMBE separates specific components of a sample by a molecular "tug-of-war." The sample is pushed in one direction by an electric field and in the other by the counterflow of a buffer solution. Gradually reducing the buffer flow allows selected components from the sample to pass into a microfluidic channel to be analyzed. Unwanted components of the crude sample are kept out. (For details, see "'No Muss, No Fuss' Miniaturized Analysis for Complex Samples Developed" in NIST Tech Beat, Nov. 17, 2009, and "Researchers Expand Capabilities of Miniature Analysis for Complex Samples" in NIST Tech Beat, Aug. 30, 2011.)

To work with DNA, the researchers modified GEMBE so that two different buffer solutions—one with ions that move quickly and one with ions that move slowly during electrophoresis—are placed in the separate reservoirs connected by the microchannel. When a crude sample is suspended in the slow ion solution and electric current is applied, the DNA within the sample moves into the microchannel and concentrates at the interface between the two buffers. Unwanted contaminants and particulates—including those that can inhibit PCR amplification—are left behind. The collected DNA can be quantified directly in the microchannel and then delivered into a vial for further processing.

To demonstrate the forensic capabilities of its new technique, the NIST/ARA team extracted, purified, quantified and concentrated human genomic DNA from both clean and dirty buccal (cheek cell) swabs. In both cases, the process yielded full DNA signatures.

*E.A. Strychalski, C. Konek, E.L.R. Butts, P.M. Vallone, A.C. Henry and D. Ross. DNA purification from crude samples for human identification using gradient elution isotachophoresis. Electrophoresis, Vol. 34, No.17, pp. 2522–2530. Published online Sept. 2, 2013. DOI 10.1002/elps.201300133.
**www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20091117.cfm#gembe and www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20110830.cfm#gembe

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

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NIST Announces Award to Create New Manufacturing Support Center in Maryland

The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has awarded a cooperative agreement to Maryland MEP, Inc. (MD MEP), to run a center that will help the state’s small and medium-sized manufacturers increase profits and create and retain American jobs.

photo of roll of labels being printed in factory
MEP has a history of helping manufacturers in Maryland, such as Baltimore-based Tulkoff Food Products, Inc. With guidance from MEP experts, the company was able to save money by decreasing the time needed to switch between processes on its food manufacturing equipment, a process called “changeover."
photo credit: Courtesy Tulkoff Food Products
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MEP is a national network of more than 1,300 technical experts who work with manufacturing businesses to help solve their challenges and identify opportunities for growth. MEP offers local manufacturers a wealth of resources and a variety of services, from innovation strategies to process improvements to green manufacturing. MEP also works with state and federal partners on programs that help manufacturers find new customers, expand into new markets and create new products.

“The MEP program is an example of a successful public-private partnership that works to help America stay competitive and innovative in the 21st century,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “Not only does the MEP program provide a return on investment to taxpayers, it brings real financial benefits to the businesses that use its services. We look forward to working with the new Maryland MEP center as it helps manufacturers create jobs and strengthen the state’s economy.”

The award provides $650,000 to MD MEP, which is half of the center’s annual operating budget. MEP centers are public-private partnerships that receive a portion of their annual budgets from NIST MEP, nonfederal agencies or organizations, and industry through fees for service. Each year the agreement is renewed will bring an increase in the cost-shares from other sources. Centers that operate for five or more years receive one-third of their annual funding from NIST.

“This public-private partnership for Maryland manufacturers is about jobs today and jobs tomorrow,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee that funds NIST. “The old saying goes, ‘a country that doesn’t make something, can’t make something of itself.’ Maryland manufacturing is getting our economy rolling, keeping thousands of workers on the job. Through critical assistance, these small and medium-sized businesses are able to sell American products around the world. I’m proud to support the MEP program and stand firm in my commitment to manufacturing jobs, from Hagerstown to Stevensville, from Baltimore to Easton.”

Maryland has about 3,200 manufacturers, 99 percent of which employ no more than 500 people. More than one-third of these enterprises have just one to four employees. The state’s manufacturing industries are diverse, with computer and electronic product manufacturing leading the sector since 2007, and chemical manufacturing and food and beverage and tobacco product manufacturing being major industries as well. Maryland also ranks second in the nation for federal R&D investments and boasts a strong network of research centers and colleges, which provide significant opportunity for technology transfer and innovation in the state.

"Maryland has a long and proud history of manufacturing. This new partnership links that history with NIST, leveraging its expertise to build upon and strengthen Maryland manufacturers,” said Maryland Secretary of Business and Economic Development Dominick Murray.

For every one dollar of federal investment, MEP generates nearly $20 in new sales growth and $20 in new client investment. This translates into $2.5 billion in new sales annually. For every $2,100 of federal investment, MEP creates or retains one manufacturing job. NIST MEP is also a key partner in Manufacturing Day, which will be held Oct. 4, 2013. More than 300 manufacturers, schools and professional societies will host individual plant tours, manufacturing community events and educational fairs to showcase the value of manufacturing on today’s economy.

MD MEP is located in Columbia, Md. To learn more about the services it can offer manufacturers, and its partner institutions, visit http://www.mdmep.org. For more on NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, go to www.nist.gov/mep/index.cfm. Information on Manufacturing Day at www.mfgday.com/.

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

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Beyond Peer Review: NIST and Five Journals Find a Way to Manage Errors in Research Data

Traditional peer review is not enough to ensure data quality amid the recent boom in scientific research findings, according to results of a 10-year collaboration between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and five technical journals.

chemists Frenkel and Chirico
NIST chemists Michael Frenkel and Robert Chirico led a collaborative study with five journals to find ways to ensure the quality of thermophysical property data used in chemical process technologies.
Credit: Burrus/NIST
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While production of research data is growing about 7 percent annually, about one-third of papers submitted to participating journals contained erroneous or incomplete chemical property data, according to a report by 32 authors from NIST and the collaborating journals.* Poor data can lead to mistakes in equipment selection, over-design of industrial plant components, difficulty simulating and discovering new processes, and poor regulatory decisions, the report notes.

The traditional peer-review process is under pressure to work too fast to evaluate fully all new experimental data, the NIST-journal collaboration found. The authors' solution is a set of customized software tools and procedures for validating experimental data and eliminating errors after a paper is approved by peer review, but before a journal formally accepts the paper.

The collaboration focused on thermophysical property data used in chemical process technologies such as distillation, extraction and crystallization.** Thermophysical properties include boiling and melting points, density, viscosity, solubility and many other physical values related to temperature, including those for mixtures. The study findings also may be of broad value to scientific data publishing in general.

"The solutions we offer, while centered on the field of thermodynamics, should be applicable in principle to other areas of science and engineering," says Michael Frenkel, a co-author of the new paper and leader of NIST's Thermodynamics Research Center.

Managing thermophysical property data is particularly challenging because some 100-year-old data remain useful today for engineering purposes. Efforts to establish data-reporting standards for this field began more than 50 years ago but could not succeed until recently, with the development of specialized computer hardware and software tools.

The collaboration cites a variety of factors contributing to poor data quality. Advances in measurement science have boosted data collection, but increased automation has resulted in the loss of personnel expertise and knowledge required to run manual systems. In addition, equipment manufacturers sometimes make invalid uncertainty claims. And word processing software, with functions such as cut-and-paste and "fill down" in spreadsheets, has led to many published errors. The most common problem found in papers analyzed by the collaboration was missing or underestimated uncertainties for reported data.

After several tries, the collaboration developed a rapid, cost-effective process for identifying and eliminating errors. NIST developed a new online tool (NIST ThermoLit) that allows researchers to generate a literature report containing relevant references retrieved from a NIST database. Researchers can combine this capability with an older experiment planning system (NIST ThermoPlan) at both the conceptualization and publication stages of their work. If the submitted paper passes a journal's peer review, NIST generates a report noting any inconsistencies between the new experimental data and critically evaluated data based on past research. Data are extracted from the submitted paper and validated by NIST's expert software system for data evaluation (NIST ThermoData Engine).

The NIST-journal collaboration plans to continue its work by refining and expanding the modeling and prediction tools in the expert system software.

*R.D. Chirico, M. Frenkel, J.W. Magee, V. Diky, C.D. Muzny, A.F. Kazakov, K.G. Kroenlein, I.M. Abdulagatov, W.E. Acree Jr., J.F. Brennecke, P.L. Brown, P.T. Cummings, T.W. de Loos, D.G. Friend, A.R. Goodwin, L.D. Hansen, G.R. Hardin, W.M. Haynes, N. Koga, A. Mandelis, K.N. Marsh, P.M. Mathias, C. McCabe, J.P. O'Connell, A. Padua, V. Rives, R. Vicente; C. Schick, M.P. Trusler, S. Vyazovkin, R.D. Weir and J. Wu. Improvement of quality in publication of experimental thermophysical property data: Challenges, assessment tools, global implementation, and online support. Journal of Chemical and Engineering Data, Article ASAP. Sept. 6, 2013 (Web). DOI: 10.1021/je400569s.
**The five journals are Journal of Chemical and Engineering Data, Fluid Phase Equilibria, The Journal of Chemical Thermodynamics, the International Journal of Thermophysics and Thermochimica Acta.

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

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Federal ID Credential Security Standard Strengthens Authentication, Extends To Mobile Devices

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued an updated version of the standard specification Personal Identification Verification (PIV) Card that federal employees and contractors use to enter government facilities or log on to federal computer systems.

person using a PIV card
Government employees use PIV cards for facility access.
Credit: Gray/NIST
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The revised Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 201-2 Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors provides a stronger authentication credential that combines new technology, including enhanced support for mobile devices and lessons learned from federal agencies.

"Offering a strong credential provides better identity assurance as to who you are," explains Hildegard Ferraiolo, a NIST computer scientist who co-authored the document. "The standard can be updated every five years, if needed, and agencies wanted to incorporate their years of experience in a fresher revision."

The original FIPS 201 document from 2005 required all PIV cards to contain an integrated circuit chip for storing electronic credentials and protected biometric data—fingerprint specifics and, optionally, a photograph.

The FIPS 201-2 revision includes adaptions to changes in the environment since the original FIPS 201. It does not require existing cards to be replaced. Close to 5 million cards have been issued to date.

New FIPS 201-2 capabilities include:

  • derived PIV credential option for use in mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets for improved security;
  • optional on-card fingerprint comparison capability that offers additional privacy because the reference data never leaves the card*;
  • use of a person's iris pattern as an optional biometric; alone or in conjunction with fingerprints, for stronger authentication *;
  • secure messaging through a protected channel between cards and readers as an option; and
  • remote updating of a card's credentials to save the time and cost of the cardholder traveling to an issuer site.

The new version of FIPS 201-2, Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors, is available at http://www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=914530.

The specification of the optional iris biometric is based on the ISO/IEC 19794-6 iris biometric standard published in 2011. These specifications can serve other iris-based authentication uses cases beyond the PIV program. The on-card fingerprint comparison may be used as an alternate to the Personal Identification Number in use currently. More information on these options can be found in the recently published, Biometric Data Specifications for Personal Identity Verification (NIST Special Publication 800-76-2). This publication is one of several that provide guidance to support FIPS 201.

Technical details for FIPS 201-2 PIV cards are published in a draft special publication Interfaces for Personal Identity Verification (3 Parts) (NIST SP 800-73-4). A draft of a new Special Publication 800-157 on derived PIV credentials for mobile devices is being prepared.

*NIST Special Publication 800-76-2, Biometric Specifications for Personal Identity Verification, is available at www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=914224.

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

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