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Tech Beat - March 26, 2014

Tech Beat Archives

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: March 26, 2014
Date Modified: March 26, 2014 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

Rochford Chosen to Head New Joint NIST/NTIA Communications Lab

Officials of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have announced the selection of Kent Rochford to head NIST's new Communication Technology Laboratory (CTL) in Boulder, Colo. The new CTL will be the seventh of NIST's major research units and will serve as the NIST portion of the "Center for Advanced Communications," a joint effort between NIST and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that was announced last year.

Kent Rochford
Kent Rochford
Credit: Burrus/NIST
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The center's mission is to advance the fundamental understanding of spectrum and spectrum usage to promote spectrum sharing approaches and innovation. It will:

  • enhance the effectiveness of both agencies by better coordinating the research, standards development and testing functions of NIST and NTIA in the area of advanced communications technology;
  • promote interdisciplinary research, development and testing in areas related to advanced communications such as radio frequency technology, digital information processing, cybersecurity, interoperability and usability; and
  • provide a single focal point for working with both industry and other government agencies on advanced communications technologies, including testing, validation and conformity assessment.

The center will be jointly managed by Rochford and the director of NTIA's Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS). For the purposes of coordination and engagement with external stakeholders, the director of the CTL will be the principal representative of the center and its activities.

A NIST veteran, Rochford as previously served as chief of the NIST Optoelectronics Division, and later director of the NIST Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory. He also served previously as Boulder Laboratory Operations Director. The Commerce Department's Boulder (Colo.) Laboratories include research facilities for NIST, NTIA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most recently, Rochford has been senior director for Sharp Labs of America.

Rochford's appointment as CTL director was effective March 24, 2014.

Alternate media contact: Jim Burrus, (303) 497-4789.

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

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FY 2015 Budget Request for NIST Focuses on Innovation, Technology Transfer and Economic Growth

On March 13, 2014, the U.S. Department of Commerce released details about the President's fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget request to Congress for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The FY 2015 budget request of $900 million aligns with the agency's vision for expanding and strengthening NIST programs in a number of key national priority areas such as forensic science, lightweight vehicle alloys and bioengineering measurement tools. The request is a $50 million increase from FY 2014 enacted levels.

The budget reflects the Administration's continued commitment to enhancing innovation and economic growth through NIST's broad array of research, standards development and services. The FY 2015 budget request will help NIST increase regional and national capacity for innovative manufacturing, advance the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure and the digital economy, and remain at the forefront of measurement science and technology research and development. Read more…

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

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NIST Gives Astronomers a Better Ruler in the Search for Extrasolar Planets

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have rejuvenated a technique for finding planets near distant stars.* New measurements of light from special lamps could help astronomers find planets hidden in data from more than a decade's worth of extrasolar planet searches, as well as improve telescopes' current capabilities.

thorium composite
A thorium emission lamp’s violet glow, when viewed through a spectroscope (metal tube on right in top image), is split into a spectrum of thousands of bright lines (bottom image). New measurements of these lines could help astronomers search for earthlike planets around distant stars.
Credit: Boutin/NIST
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Finding extrasolar planets is tricky. Seen through a telescope, planets in the "habitable zone"—a region close to a star, where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface—usually get lost in their star's glare. But as a planet orbits, its gravity makes its parent star wobble a tiny bit, resulting in slight color changes in the star's light due to the Doppler effect. These changes can only be spotted if the light is first broken into a spectrum of thin lines, which are then compared to an unchanging reference spectrum.

"It's like holding one ruler in front of another and moving the front one to the right and left," says NIST physicist Gillian Nave. "You can see the front ruler move compared to the one behind it. The star's spectrum is the front ruler, which moves as the planet tugs at it. But the movement is so small that to see it clearly, we need to put a fixed ruler of very high quality behind it. That's where NIST comes in."

The NIST team made extensive new measurements of thorium, a heavy element often used in emission lamps that help provide that fixed ruler. Scientists have detected more than 400 planets using the Doppler technique but have yet to discover a solar system similar to ours. The new data could help, says Nave.

"Earth causes the Sun to move at a snail's pace," says Nave. "We don't yet have techniques that can find planets of that size, but our new data will get us much closer."

Stephen Redman, a postdoctoral fellow working at NIST, worked with Nave and physicist Craig Sansonetti to update the most recent thorough measurement of thorium's spectrum, published in 1983. The more than 8,000 spectral lines it lists are a bit fuzzy by today's standards—good enough to reveal the larger wobble caused by a Jupiter-sized gas giant's gravity, but not the small one an Earth-like world would cause. Redman spent a year combining observations he made on a spectrometer at NIST with data culled from other researchers' work. The result is a set of nearly 20,000 spectral lines of far greater clarity.

In addition to finding systems similar to our own, the new data should aid the search for planets around dwarf stars. These have been hard to find using the Doppler method, in part because dwarfs are so faint, but Nave says the new data include good lines in the near infrared, which is the region of the spectrum in which many of these cool stars give off the most light.

"We've already had astronomers from several telescopes ask if they could use the data for planet hunting," Nave says. "With luck, the measurements will help us search for planets near stars whose wobbling has been hard to detect."

*S.L. Redman, G. Nave and C.J. Sansonetti. The spectrum of thorium from 250 nm to 5500 nm:Ritz wavelengths and optimized energy levels. Astrophysical Journal, DOI: 10.1088/0067-0049/211/1/4, February. 2014.

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

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NIST Chips Help BICEP2 Telescope Find Direct Evidence of Origin of the Universe

The view back in time—way back to the origins of the universe—just got clearer. Much clearer.

telescope squid
NIST chip identical to the 16 chips integrated into the BICEP2 telescope camera at the South Pole. Each custom superconducting circuit chip amplifies the electrical signals generated by 32 microwave detectors and assembles them into a sequential time stream.
Credit: Schmidt/NIST
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A team of U.S. cosmologists using the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole announced this week that they have discovered the first direct evidence of the rapid inflation of the universe at the dawn of time, thanks in part to technology developed and built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The BICEP2 camera relies, in part, on the extraordinary signal amplification made possible by NIST's superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs).

The team of cosmologists from Harvard University, the University of Minnesota, the California Institute of Technology/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Stanford University/SLAC used BICEP2 to observe telltale patterns in the cosmic microwave background—the afterglow of the Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago—that support the leading theory about the origins of the universe.

The patterns, so-called "B-mode polarization," are the signature of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. These waves are direct evidence that the currently observable universe expanded rapidly from a subatomic volume in the first tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation.

BICEP2 telescope focal plane array (camera) using NIST SQUID chips.
Credit: Anthony Turner/JPL
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Researchers at NIST's campus in Boulder, Colo., made the custom superconducting circuits, or chips, that amplify electrical signals generated by microwave detectors measuring primordial particles of light. JPL made the detectors. The NIST chips, which along with the detectors are chilled to cryogenic temperatures, also assemble the signals into a sequential time stream that can be read by conventional room-temperature electronics.

"This is an exciting and important new result, and we are pleased that technology developed at NIST played a role," said physicist Gene Hilton, who was responsible for production of the NIST chips.

The 16 NIST chips contain a total of more than 2,000 SQUIDs, which measure the magnetic fields created in coils that carry and amplify the very small currents generated by the detectors. NIST researchers invented a method for wiring hundreds of SQUID signal amplifiers together to make large arrays of superconducting detectors practical—part of the cutting-edge technology that helps make BICEP2 especially powerful.

Physicists just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the SQUID, which has broad applications from medicine to mining and materials analysis—and now more than ever, cosmology.

For more on the BICEP2 discovery, see the Harvard announcement, "First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation," at www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2014-05.

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

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New Roadmap Outlines Research Path to Reduce Storm Impacts

The animation shows how a storm surge is created by hurricane-strength winds. A new "roadmap" report announced by NIST identifies research areas that need to be addressed to reduce impacts from windstorms and coastal inundations, such as those caused by surges.

Credit: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research's COMET Program

A new measurement science research and development (R&D) roadmap,* prepared for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) over the past two years by a private-sector group of hazard mitigation experts, provides a broad strategic approach and R&D objectives to reduce impacts from windstorms and coastal inundations (including storm surge during hurricanes and tsunamis).

The impetus for the project was the extensive property losses and casualties that have occurred during the last several decades as a result of powerful hurricanes such as Katrina in August 2005,** and severe tornadoes such as the massive storm that struck Joplin, Mo., in May 2011.*** Windstorms, storm surges and other coastal inundation events were responsible for approximately $250 billion in property losses and more than 4,000 fatalities during the period 1996-2012.

Recognizing that losses from these hazards have been dramatically increasing over time, NIST requested that the Applied Technology Council, an organization devoted to advancing engineering applications for hazard mitigation, develop a roadmap to identify high-priority national needs for improved standards, codes and practices. Input for the roadmap was obtained from two NIST workshops

The roadmap includes:

  • a vision for communities resilient to these hazards;
  • a list of grand challenges facing those working toward reducing impacts (such as designing 'smart' buildings with wind performance monitoring systems built into the structural system and developing computer models that incorporate changing and future conditions when predicting storm surge and tsunami risks);
  • descriptions of 30 priority R&D topics that must be addressed in the effort (such as performance levels and acceptable design criteria for wind hazards, and methods for testing the ability of materials and systems to resist the impacts of flooding); and
  • a proposed program of prioritized R&D activities and their associated benefits.

The development of the roadmap was supported by NIST and the National Science Foundation.

*NEHRP Consultants Joint Venture Measurement Science R&D Roadmap for Windstorm and Coastal Inundation Impact Reduction (NIST Grant Contractor Report 14-973-13), 2014. Available online at www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=915541.
**See "NIST Reports Stricter Adherence to Standards and Codes, Recognition of Storm
Surge as Keys to Minimizing Structural Damage from Hurricanes"
at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/hurricane_report060906.cfm.
***See "NIST Investigation of Joplin, Mo., Tornado Details Proposed Measures for Saving Lives and Property" at http://www.nist.gov/el/disasterstudies/joplin-112113.cfm.

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

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NCCoE Invites Collaboration on Energy Sector Cybersecurity Challenge

The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology seeks collaborators to address key security challenges in identity verification and access management for the electric power sector. The center is looking for technology vendors interested in working on a standards-based model solution—a "reference design"—that would demonstrate how companies can control physical and computer network access to resources that range from buildings and equipment to information technology and industrial control systems.

power station
Credit: ©Dreef - Fotolia.com

This challenge was described in a recently released Identity Access and Management "use case"—a tool software engineers use to define specific function requirements of a system. The center invited public comment on a draft version of the use case in 2013, and used that input to develop the final version.

The NCCoE addresses businesses' most pressing cybersecurity problems with practical, standards-based demonstrations using commercially available technologies. The reference design developed through this effort will help companies more securely authenticate the individuals and systems to which they are giving access rights. In addition, it should allow them to enforce access control policies (e.g., allow, deny, inquire further) across resources consistently, uniformly and quickly.

The project also will result in a NIST practice guide that includes a materials list and instructions for steps needed to implement the reference design.

Companies interested in participating in the use case should read the Federal Register Notice at https://federalregister.gov/a/2014-05960 for complete details and instructions for requesting a letter of interest template, in which the company must outline its proposed contributions. Those selected to participate will enter into a cooperative research and development agreement with NIST.

To learn more about the NCCoE and how to collaborate on its projects, visit http://nccoe.nist.gov.

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

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NIST: The Year in Patents

Scientists and engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) invent tools, technologies and techniques applicable to a spectrum of disciplines, including the biosciences, building and fire research, materials science and manufacturing. This past year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded NIST researchers with 20 patents for their original technologies and methods. Fifteen of these patents were developed with collaborators from universities, private companies, government laboratories and other organizations.

The 20 patents are:

  • Low Cost Multi-channel Data Acquisition Systems, U.S. Patent 8,543,356
    Invented by Alan Migdall, Sergey Polyakov* and Sae Woo Nam, this inexpensive and fast pulse characterization platform operates in real time and is capable of capturing single-photon data and analog pulses. The system can also be used to acquire digital multichannel data and all combinations of coincidences between channels, and is suitable for a wide range of measurement and sensing applications.
  • Silsequioxane Derived Hard, Hydrophilic and Thermally Stable Thin Films and Coatings for Tailorable Protective and Multi-structured Surfaces and Interfaces, U.S. Patent 8,535,761
    Richard Laine,* Christopher Soles, David J. Krug, III,* Hyun Wook Ro* and Vera Nikolova Popova-Gueorguieva* have invented a way to coat substrates with silsequioxane. Coatings formed using this process form a hard protective layer that is transparent to ultraviolet light, which lets them be used in nanoimprint lithography.
  • Charged Particle Source from a Photoionized Cold Atom Beam, U.S. Patent 8,530,853
    Adam Steele, Brenton Knuffman and Jabez McClelland invented a system for producing a charged particle beam from a photoionized cold atom beam. The ion beams that scientists can make using this system are up to 10 times more intense than conventional ion sources, promising improvements in microscopy, lithography, nanoscale milling and fabrication, sample preparation for transmission electron microscopy, editing of electronic circuits inside chips, and mapping the makeup of materials.
  • Tip-mounted Nanowire Light Source Instrumentation, U.S. Patent 8,484,756
    Kris Bertness, Norman Sanford, Pavel Kabos and Thomas Wallis designed a cantilevered tip that combines microwave scanning probe microscopy with a nanowire light-emitting diode, both of which function in near-field mode simultaneously. This combination allows nondestructive, contactless testing of material quality for important semiconductor nanostructures such as transistor channels in new microelectronic circuits and individual grains in solar cells. The probe also enables higher throughput and resolution for research on protein unfolding and cell structure.
  • Nanofluidic Structures with Complex and Arbitrary Three-dimensional Surface Topographies, U.S. Patent 8,435,415
    Samuel Stavis,* Elizabeth Strychalski* and Michael Gaitan created a nanofabrication process that can create three-dimensional nanoscale patterns on a surface.
  • interferometer sensor
    Nicholas Dagalakis and Yong-sik Kim developed an interferometer sensor that uses a laser to measure the displacement of moving objects with high precision. This invention has proven to be particularly useful for tracking moving parts in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) devices.
    Credit: NIST
    high resolution image
    Displacement Sensor with Embedded Coherent Electromagnetic Radiation Interferometer for Micro-scale Proximity Measurements, U.S. Patent 8,437,006
    Nicholas Dagalakis and Yong-sik Kim* developed an interferometer sensor that uses a laser to measure the displacement of moving objects with high precision. This invention has proven to be particularly useful for tracking moving parts in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) devices.
  • Apparatus and Method for Enhancing the Electromagnetic Signal of a Sample, U.S. Patent 8,436,996
    Wen-li Wu and Shuhul Kang* created an apparatus and method that enhances the electromagnetic signal of a sample for ellipsometry or characterization.
  • Highly Sensitive Oxygen Sensor for Cell Culture, U.S. Patent 8,398,922
    Samuel Forry and Peter Thomas* invented a new oxygen sensor that uses a special oxygen-sensing compound to noninvasively and nondestructively measure the rate at which cells in culture are consuming oxygen, which is indicative of their growth and development.
  • Laser Guided Tip Approach with 3-D Registration to a Surface, U.S. Patent 8,387,158
    Thomas Perkins, Gavin King* and Ashley Carter* designed a rapid and repeatable method to guide sharp probes close to a sample with laser-guided precision.
  • Gradient Elution Electrophoresis and Detectorless Electrophoresis Apparatus, U.S. Patent 8,366,897
    David Ross, Samuel Forry and Jason Kralj developed a very simple and easily multiplexed apparatus and method for performing electrophoretic separation and detection of compounds.
  • System and Method for Automated Sample Introduction, U.S. Patent 8,361,805
    Ryan Brennan* and Savelas Rabb invented a microswitch that prevents air from being introduced into an automated spectrometry system. Because air interrupts the automated analysis, the microswitch should help to increase the efficiency and speed of these systems.
  • Method and Device for Validating or Calibrating a Chemical Detector at a Point of Use, U.S. Patent 8,347,685
    Pamela Chu and Jeffrey Anderson developed a low-cost device that enables soldiers to verify that their chemical detectors are working properly while still in the field.
  • Integrated Optical Element and Faraday Cup, U.S. Patent 8,350,556
    Brenton Knuffman, Adam Steele and Jabez McClelland built an integrated optical element and Faraday cup that can measure charged particle beam currents, manipulate light and analyze charged particle beam energy distributions simultaneously. Measuring charged particle beams often requires a metal collector, which blocks the view of the source. A “see-through” version of a charge collector, the invention makes it possible to shine a laser on cold atoms to make a cold-atom focused ion beam.
  • Magnetic Connectors for Microfluidic Applications, U.S. Patent 8,337,783
    Laurie Locascio and Francisco Atencia-Fernandez* engineered a way to use magnetic connectors to rapidly assemble and disassemble microfluidic components.
  • Atomic Magnetometer and Method of Sensing Magnetic Fields, U.S. Patent 8,334,690
    John Kitching, Svenja Knappe,* Jan Preusser* and Vladislav Gerginov* created a miniature laser-pumped magnetometer for measuring weak magnetic fields. The fiber-optically coupled sensor has exceptional sensitivity and could be mass produced. Applications include measurements of magnetic fields produced by the human body and remote detection of vehicles, ships and aircraft.
  • Indexing Face Templates Using Linear Models, U.S. Patent 8,331,632
    Pranab Mohanty,* Sudeep Sarkar,* Rangachar Kasturi* and Jonathan Phillips designed a linear modeling method for a face recognition algorithm based on the match scores produced by the algorithm, as well as an efficient way to index the results.
  • Approach to Contain Nanowire Arrays Using Nanoparticles, U.S. Patent 8,324,703
    Prahalad Parthangal,* Michael Zachariah* and Richard Cavicchi developed a way to connect and electrically contact vertically aligned nanowire arrays in situ using conductive nanoparticles. The assembly approach can be used with any nanowire array that needs a top contact electrode.
  • Method of Optimizing Combinatorial Circuits, U.S. Patent 8,316,338
    Computational and industrial methods for making circuits smaller often yield results that are far from optimal. Rene Peralta and Joan Boyar* invented a new two-step approach to this problem that typically results in the final circuit being much smaller than previous techniques produced.
  • Distributed Ion Source Acceleration Column, U.S. Patent 8,314,404
    Jabez McClelland, Brenton Knuffman, Adam Steele and Jonathan Orloff* built an ion beam system to herd and accelerate ions while improving resolution. The system was developed for cold atom focused ion beam sources, but may also be applicable to other situations where ions need to be moved.
  • Method for Stabilization of Functional Nanoscale Pores for Device Applications, U.S. Patent 8,294,007
    Devanand Shenoy,* Alok Singh,* William Barger* and John Kasianowicz created a membrane made from a compound that has a hydrophilic head group, an aliphatic tail group, and a polymerizable functional group. The membrane can be made robust, and thus, may be useful for DNA sequencing and characterizing other biopolymers when the membrane includes a protein ion channel.

NIST encourages patent protection on inventions when a patent would further the interests of U.S. manufacturing, increase the potential for current or future commercialization or use of the technology, would likely to lead to a license, would have a positive impact on a new field of science or technology and/or the visibility and vitality of NIST, or would further the goals of collaborative agreements.

Although patents are issued in the name of the inventor, the rights to inventions resulting from government work belong to the government. NIST's Technology Partnerships Office negotiates licensing of patented NIST technology.

*Not a member of the NIST staff at the time of the invention.

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

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Engineering for Privacy: NIST Workshop Meets April 9-10, 2014

On April 9 and 10, 2014, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will host a workshop that focuses on developing "privacy engineering" to ensure that privacy is an integral part of the design process of new IT products, services or systems.

The Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPS), first articulated in the early 1970s, provide a widely accepted framework of basic precepts that have traditionally been used to evaluate the systems, processes and programs that affect individual privacy. But privacy often is an afterthought when systems are being developed or implemented, and principles can be difficult to implement consistently due to a lack of associated technical standards.

"We still have some foundational work to do to achieve technical privacy standards," said Naomi Lefkovitz, senior privacy policy advisor at NIST. "We have high-level principles, but we lack a mature body of work around threat models, risk management models and design system requirements."

The goal of privacy engineering is to create and follow a repeatable process that can be counted on to deliver consistent results under the same conditions. By examining existing models such as security engineering and safety risk management, the workshop will explore the concepts of a privacy engineering methodology, including a privacy risk management model, privacy requirements and system design and development.

The workshop also will support efforts to address the gaps and challenges revealed by the development of the Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. The framework's accompanying roadmap identified technical privacy standards as among several areas in need of development, alignment and collaboration.

IT professionals including privacy policy experts and system design engineers, are encouraged to attend the workshop. Register to attend at http://www.nist.gov/itl/csd/privacy-engineering-workshop.cfm. Registration closes April 2, 2014.

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

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NIST Information Technology Professionals Recognized for Excellence

Three employees of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently received awards for their national and international contributions to information technology.

Naomi LefkovitzMatthew SchollJonathon Phillips
Naomi Lefkovitz
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Matthew Scholl
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Jonathon Phillips
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On March 20, 2014, two NIST employees received the 2014 Federal 100 Award. Recipients are chosen from government, industry and academia. The Federal 100 are selected by government and industry leaders convened by Federal Computer Week.

Senior Privacy Policy Advisor Naomi Lefkovitz was chosen for her efforts to safeguard privacy in the identity-management initiative being developed via the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.

Computer Security Division Deputy Chief Matthew Scholl was named for his role in leading the development of the recently released Cybersecurity Framework—called for by an executive order issued by President Obama, NIST's actions in response to the Digital Government Strategy and the government goals for improved cybersecurity.

Facial recognition researcher Jonathon Phillips received the inaugural Everingham Prize from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence (PAMI) Technical Committee for his contributions to the computer vision community. The award is in memory of Mark Everingham, a leader in the facial recognition field. IEEE is the world's largest professional association for the advancement of technology.

Phillips is an electronic engineer who works in automatic, psychological and neuroscience aspects of face and person recognition. He was recognized for establishing evaluations and challenges as a standard methodology in the computer vision field.

His current goals are to develop challenge problems to advance the technology and science of face and person recognition, including recognition of video taken by handheld cell phones, adapting face recognition for social media networks, and developing face and person recognition algorithms that outperform humans.

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

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