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Tech Beat - August 26, 2014

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: June 23, 2010
Date Modified: August 26, 2014 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

Lighten Up! New NIST Research Facility Gives Material Help to Automakers

Want to make more fuel-efficient cars and trucks? Build them out of lighter materials.

video clip image
Feeling the heat. New NIST instrument in the Center for Automotive Lightweighting captures temperature changes--and much more--during the stress and strain of metal forming.
Credit: NIST

Sounds easy, but it’s not. Automakers have decades of experience with the traditional car materials like steel. They know pretty well how they will behave at every step of the complex process of making an automobile—knowledge that’s vitally important in the design of the manufacturing molds and dies.

But the new, high-tech alloys and composite materials? Not so much.

New metals are lighter and stronger. This means they can sustain more collision forces, if properly engineered. But it also means that they resist the stress of twisting, stretching and squeezing, making them fussier to press into desired shapes. So automakers and their suppliers are turning to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and its new Center for Automotive Lightweighting (NCAL) for information key to the manufacturability of these materials.

The NIST research center specializes in measuring how the new materials are strained in response to the stresses of forming operations that shape them into hoods, fenders, door panels, floor pans and other parts.

Center-supplied information also guides design decisions that will impact the performance, durability and crashworthiness of future cars and trucks.

Read more here …

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

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Optical Microscope Technique Confirmed as Valid Nano-Measurement Tool

How TSOM works... | Credit: NIST

Recent experiments have confirmed* that a technique developed several years ago at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) can enable optical microscopes to measure the three-dimensional (3-D) shape of objects at nanometer-scale resolution—far below the normal resolution limit for optical microscopy (about 250 nanometers for green light). The results could make the technique a useful quality control tool in the manufacture of nanoscale devices such as next-generation microchips.

NIST’s experiments show that Through-focus Scanning Optical Microscopy (TSOM) is able to detect tiny differences in 3-D shapes, revealing variations of less than 1 nanometer in size among objects less than 50 nm across. Last year,** simulation studies at NIST indicated that TSOM should, in theory, be able to make such distinctions, and now the new measurements confirm it in practice.

“Up until this point, we had simulations that encouraged us to believe that TSOM could allow us to measure the 3-D shape of structures that are part of many modern computer chips, for example,” says NIST’s Ravi Attota, who played a major role in TSOM’s development. “Now, we have proof. The findings should be helpful to anyone involved in manufacturing devices at the nanoscale.”

Attota and his co-author, Ron Dixson, first measured the size of a number of nanoscale objects using atomic force microscopy (AFM), which can determine size at the nanoscale to high accuracy. However, the great expense and relatively slow speed of AFM means that it is not a cost-effective option for checking the size of large numbers of objects, as is necessary for industrial quality control. TSOM, which uses optical microscopes, is far less restrictive—and allowed the scientists to make the sort of size distinctions a manufacturer would need to make to ensure nanoscale components are constructed properly.

Attota adds that TSOM can be used for 3-D shape analysis without needing complex optical simulations, making the process simple and usable even for low-cost nanomanufacturing applications. “Removing the need for these simulations is another way TSOM could reduce manufacturing costs,” he says.

More details on the TSOM technique and its application to 3-D electronics manufacturing can be found in this story, which covers the 2013 simulation study.

*R. Attota and R.G. Dixson. Resolving three-dimensional shape of sub-50 nm wide lines with nanometer-scale sensitivity using conventional optical microscopes. Applied Physics Letters, 105, 043101, July 29, 2014, http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4891676.
**See the June 2013 NIST Tech Beat story, “Microscopy Technique Could Help Computer Industry Develop 3-D Components” at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20130625.cfm#tsom.

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

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JILA Team Finds First Direct Evidence of 'Spin Symmetry' In Atoms

Just as diamonds with perfect symmetry may be unusually brilliant jewels, the quantum world has a symmetrical splendor of high scientific value.

spin symmetry
Illustration of symmetry in the magnetic properties—or nuclear spins—of strontium atoms. JILA researchers observed that if two atoms have the same nuclear spin state (top), they interact weakly, and the interaction strength does not depend on which of the 10 possible nuclear spin states are involved. If the atoms have different nuclear spin states (bottom), they interact much more strongly, and, again, always with the same strength.
Credit: Ye and Rey groups and Steve Burrows/JILA
View hi-resolution image

Confirming this exotic quantum physics theory, JILA physicists led by theorist Ana Maria Rey and experimentalist Jun Ye have observed the first direct evidence of symmetry in the magnetic properties—or nuclear “spins”—of atoms. The advance could spin off practical benefits such as the ability to simulate and better understand exotic materials exhibiting phenomena such as superconductivity (electrical flow without resistance) and colossal magneto-resistance (drastic change in electrical flow in the presence of a magnetic field).

The JILA discovery, described in Science Express,* was made possible by the ultra-stable laser used to measure properties of the world’s most precise and stable atomic clock.** JILA is jointly operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder.

 “Spin symmetry has a very strong impact on materials science, as it can give rise to unexpected behaviors in quantum matter,” JILA/NIST Fellow Jun Ye says. “Because our clock is this good—really it’s the laser that’s this good—we can probe this interaction and its underlying symmetry, which is at a very small energy scale.”

The global quest to document quantum symmetry looks at whether key properties remain the same despite various exchanges, rotations or reflections. For example, matter and antimatter demonstrate fundamental symmetry: Antimatter behaves in many respects like normal matter despite having the charges of positrons and electrons reversed.

To detect spin symmetry, JILA researchers used an atomic clock made of 600 to 3,000 strontium atoms trapped by laser light. Strontium atoms have 10 possible nuclear spin configurations (also referred to as angular momentum), which influences magnetic behavior. In a collection of clock atoms there is a random distribution of all 10 states.

The researchers analyzed how atom interactions—their collisions—at the two electronic energy levels used as the clock “ticks” were affected by the spin state of the atoms’ nuclei. In most atoms, the electronic and nuclear spin states are coupled, so atom collisions depend on both electronic and nuclear states. But in strontium, the JILA team predicted and confirmed that this coupling vanishes, giving rise to collisions that are independent of nuclear spin states.

In the clock, all the atoms tend to be in identical electronic states. Using lasers and magnetic fields to manipulate the nuclear spins, the JILA researchers observed that, when two atoms have different nuclear spin states, no matter which of the 10 states they have, they will interact (collide) with the same strength. However, when two atoms have the same nuclear spin state, regardless of what that state is, they will interact much more weakly.

"Spin symmetry here means atom interactions, at their most basic level, are independent of their nuclear spin states,” Ye explains. “However, the intriguing part is that while the nuclear spin does not participate directly in the electronic-mediated interaction process, it still controls how atoms approach each other physically. This means that, by controlling the nuclear spins of two atoms to be the same or different, we can control interactions, or collisions.”

The new research adds to understanding of atom collisions in atomic clocks documented in previous JILA studies.*** Further research is planned to engineer specific spin conditions to explore novel quantum dynamics of a large collection of atoms.

JILA theorist Ana Maria Rey made key predictions and calculations for the study. Theorists at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and the University of Delaware also contributed. Funding was provided by NIST, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

*X. Zhang, M. Bishof, S.L. Bromley, C.V. Kraus, M.S. Safronova, P. Zoller, A.M. Rey, J. Ye. Spectroscopic observation of SU(N)-symmetric interactions in Sr orbital magnetism. Science Express. Published online Aug. 21, 2104.
**See Jan. 22, 2014, Tech Beat article, “JILA Strontium Atomic Clock Sets New Records in Both Precision and Stability,” at www.nist.gov/pml/div689/20140122_strontium.cfm.
***See 2011 NIST news release “Quantum Quirk: JILA Scientists Pack Atoms Together to Prevent Collisions in Atomic Clock,” at www.nist.gov/pml/div689/jila-020311.cfm; and 2009 NIST news release "JILA/NIST Scientists Get a Grip on Colliding Fermions to Enhance Atomic Clock Accuracy," at www.nist.gov/pml/div689/fermions_041609.cfm.

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

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For the Sake of Energy Efficiency, New "Intelligent Agents Lab" Doubles As a Building

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is converting one of its laboratories into the equivalent of a small office building—not because of an increase in administrative overhead, but to develop and test smart software technologies designed to slash energy use in commercial buildings.

HVAC Test Lab
Architectural drawing of the new NIST 'intelligent agents' lab for more efficient building control systems.
Credit: Kikkeri/NIST
View hi-resolution image

From schools and hospitals to stores, offices and banks, commercial buildings account for a growing share of U.S. energy use—about 19 percent of the total and a third of electric power consumption.* More than four-fifths of this energy is consumed after construction by heating, cooling, lighting, powering plug-in equipment and other operations. By one estimate, day-to-day energy expenses make up 32 percent of a building’s total cost over its lifetime.**

NIST figures that these energy-eating operations can be accomplished far more efficiently and frugally with existing equipment by more intelligently coordinating their use. At the mock office building now under construction in a standard 1,000 square foot (93 square meters) modular lab space, NIST researchers will put this assertion to the test. There, they and their collaborators will investigate whether artificial intelligence tools already used in search engines, robots, routing and scheduling programs, and other technologies can work cooperatively to optimize building performance—from minimizing energy use to maximizing comfort to ensuring safety and security.

“Adapting intelligent agent technologies from other fields offers the promise of significant improvements in building operations,” explains Amanda Pertzborn, a mechanical engineer working in NIST’s Embedded Intelligence in Buildings Program. “The idea is a kind of ‘one for all approach’—use networked intelligent agents to manage and control devices and equipment subsystems to enhance the overall performance of a building rather than to optimize the operation of each component independently of all the others.”

Intelligent agents are combinations of software and hardware—sensors, mechanical devices and computing technologies—that perceive their environment, make decisions and take actions in response. They can monitor, communicate, collaborate and even learn, predict and adapt.

The energy-saving potential of this smart technology will grow with the evolution of the “smart grid” and its two-way communication capabilities, Pertzborn says. So, for example, cooperating teams of intelligent agents can parse time-of-day pricing, weather forecasts, availability of renewable energy supplies, and occupancy patterns to adjust individual equipment and systems to achieve optimal overall performance.

NIST’s simulated office building will serve as a proving ground for assessing whether intelligent agents dispersed among a structure’s multitudes of devices and subsystems can achieve this unity of purpose and work in concert. Prototypes will be tested on the most energy-intensive of building operations: heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC). So-called HVAC systems in commercial buildings account for about 7 percent of total U.S. energy consumption.***

Modern HVAC systems consist of thousands of devices from local dampers, heaters, thermostats and fans to boilers, air handling units, chillers and cooling towers. When a building’s HVAC system is first installed and tested, this vast assortment of components can be tuned so that the system starts out performing at peak efficiency. Over time, however, efficiency tends to degrade from the optimum and energy use patterns of occupants change, requiring retesting and retuning the system. Intelligent agents distributed throughout a HVAC system would enable continuous tweaking to orchestrate the operation of all components so as to maintain peak performance and efficiency throughout the building’s lifetime.

Using a real building HVAC system under controlled laboratory conditions will enable meaningful comparisons of prototype intelligent agents, Pertzborn explains. Scheduled to be completed in the fall, this building-in-a-lab will consist of four zones serviced by two chillers, three air-handling units, four variable air volume units to control air flow and one ice storage tank, plus pumps, heat exchangers and other equipment.

*U.S. Department of Energy, Buildings Energy Data Book, http://buildingsdatabook.eren.doe.gov/ChapterIntro1.aspx.
**Siemens, Integrated Building Optimization: A Crucial Convergence of Demand-side and Supply-side Energy Management Strategies, 2014.
***J. Shonder, “Fact Sheets on HVAC Measures,” www.pertan.com/ORNL_govenergy/Shonders_HVAC.pdf

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

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NIST to Establish Research Center of Excellence for Forensic Science

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced a competition to create a Forensic Science Center of Excellence dedicated to collaborative, interdisciplinary research. The center’s mission will be to establish a firm scientific foundation for the analytic techniques used in two important branches of forensic science, pattern evidence and digital evidence.

SRM 2460
A NIST Standard Reference Material 2460 "standard bullet" mounted on a blue stub. Each one has six signature markings typically found in a fired bullet. SRM 2460 is intended primarily for use as a check for crime laboratories to help verify that the computerized optical equipment for bullet imaging and profiling is operating properly.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

The seminal 2009 National Research Council report Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States – A Path Forward called for a thorough examination of the techniques used in forensic analysis to better understand their strengths and limitations. It also called for establishing scientifically rigorous standards and practices, including the development of tools and methods to better standardize analytical protocols.

Forensic investigations involve the collection of evidence, measurements of the evidence, analysis of those measurements and the determination of conclusions of known validity. One important goal is to develop so-called “probabilistic methods”—techniques that produce a quantifiable assessment of the likelihood that a given method produced a correct result. Forensic DNA analyses, for example, typically report the probability that an apparent match between two separate samples could come about by chance.

The new NIST-sponsored center will focus on developing probabilistic methods for dealing with pattern evidence and digital evidence. Pattern evidence encompasses much of what is typically thought of as forensic evidence: fingerprints, shoeprints, tire marks, tool marks, shell casing or bullet striations—anything that relies on comparing two sets of markings. Digital evidence includes such things as the data on cellphones or personal computers.

The planned center will work on scientific advances in probabilistic methods and information technology tools, as well as the necessary infrastructure to educate and train forensic science practitioners in using the new methods. The center will help expand NIST’s expertise in the field and promote interactions between NIST, academia and various stakeholders in the forensic science community.

NIST anticipates funding the new center at about $4 million annually for five years, with the possibility of renewing the award for an additional five years. Funding is subject to the availability of funds through NIST's appropriations.

The competition is open to accredited institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations located in the United States and its territories. The proposing institution may work as part of a consortium that could include other academic institutions; nonprofit organizations; companies; or state, tribal or local governments.

Full details of the solicitation, including eligibility requirements, selection criteria, legal requirements and the mechanism for submitting proposals are found in an announcement of Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) posted at Grants.gov under funding opportunity 2014-NIST-FS-COE-01. See http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=262395.

Applications will be accepted only through the Grants.gov website. The deadline for applications is 11:59 p.m. Eastern time, Dec. 11, 2014.

NIST will hold a webinar on the Forensic Science Center of Excellence within the next few weeks to offer general guidance on preparing proposals and provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions about the program. Participation in the webinar is not required to apply. There is no cost for the webinar, but participants must register in advance. Information on the webinar will be post on www.nist.gov/coe/forensics/ as soon as it becomes available.

This Center of Excellence is one of several NIST plans to establish to provide an interdisciplinary environment where researchers from NIST, academia, industry and government can collaborate on emerging areas of basic and applied research and innovations in measurement science. On Dec. 3, 2013, NIST announced the establishment of a Center for Hierarchical Materials Design (CHiMaD) under a consortium led by Northwestern University that will pursue advanced materials research. A second NIST Center of Excellence to be focused on community disaster resilience is the subject of a current competition.

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

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NIST Vetting Guide Helps in Testing Mobile Apps to Learn What They Really Do

While many mobile device apps such as a calendar or collaboration tools are very handy and can improve productivity, they can also introduce vulnerabilities that can put sensitive data and network resources at risk. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) is preparing recommendations for organizations to help them leverage the benefits of mobile apps while managing their risks. The authors are asking for public comments on a draft of Technical Considerations for Vetting 3rd Party Mobile Applications* by September 18, 2014.

mobile devices
Credit: ©tashka2000-Fotolia_com

The draft publication describes tests that allow software security analysts to discover and understand vulnerabilities and behaviors before the app is approved for use,” says NIST computer scientist Tom Karygiannis.

“Agencies and organizations need to know what a mobile app really does and to be aware of its potential privacy and security impact so they can mitigate any potential risks,” explains Karygiannis. Many apps may access more data than expected and mobile devices have many physical data sensors continuously gathering and sharing information.

For example, when an employee shares a photograph through a mobile application, the mobile app may be granted access to the employee’s contact list that may hold personally identifiable information that should remain private. Or individuals might be tracked without their knowledge by way of a calendar app, social media app, Wi-Fi sensor, or other utilities that access a global positioning system (GPS).

“Apps with malware can even make a phone call recording and forward conversations without its owner knowing it,” Karygiannis says. Not all issues are as sinister. Certain poorly designed apps may drain batteries rapidly and may not meet the requirements of people working in the field without access to a power source. Employees should weigh any productivity gains offered by a mobile app, with the potential security and privacy risks they introduce.

The draft publication provides information for vetting mobile apps including: common mobile app testing requirements, such as security, functionality, performance and reliability; and mobile app vetting tools and techniques.

The mobile apps vetting guidance also provides an overview of software assurance issues, describes undesirable characteristics that vetting may reveal, provides examples of security weakness issues affecting apps, and discusses app power consumption.

Technical Considerations for Vetting 3rd Party Mobile Applications is not a step-by-step guide. It highlights the tests that should be considered when vetting a mobile app before it is approved for use. Each organization needs to consider the environment in which the app is employed, organization-specific security requirements, the context in which it will be used and the underlying security technologies supporting the use of mobile apps. For example, an organization may approve the use of a social media app for their public affairs office in order to meet its mission, but other staff members may need to restrict the permissions an app is granted, encrypt sensitive data, or change other configurations on the mobile device.

In an appendix, the authors identify and define the types of vulnerabilities specific to applications running on devices using Android and iOS operating systems.

Additional recommendations include:

  • mobile app security and privacy training for employees,
  • recommendations for creating a Mobile App Vetting System, and
  • long-term vetting of app software throughout its lifecycle, including updates.

Comments on the draft of Technical Considerations for Vetting 3rd Party Mobile Applications should be sent to nist800-163@nist.gov by September 18, 2014. The draft and a template for submitting comments are available at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsDrafts.html#SP-800-163.

*J. Voas, S. Quirolgico, C. Michael and K Scarfone. Technical Considerations for Vetting 3rd Party Mobile Applications (NIST Special Publication 800-163 Draft). August, 2014. Available at: http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsDrafts.html#SP-800-163.

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

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Technology Commercialization Support for Small Businesses

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking an organization to support its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awardees by providing technical and business expertise and resources to promote commercialization of the technologies developed through the SBIR program.

Through the SBIR program, NIST funds small businesses to conduct research projects related to its mission to advance measurement science, standards and technology to support U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness and to improve the nation's quality of life.

"Commercialization is the main intent of the SBIR program," said Phillip Singerman, NIST's associate director for Innovation and Industry Services. "This award will provide vital support to small companies seeking to launch new products that contribute to the growth of the U.S. economy."

Nonprofit organizations, accredited institutions of higher education, state or local governments or commercial organizations within the United States are eligible to compete for a cooperative agreement under the Technology Commercialization Assistance Program (TCAP). The TCAP recipient will support SBIR awardees in making better technical decisions, solving technical problems, minimizing technical risks, and developing and commercializing new commercial products and processes.

NIST anticipates funding a five-year project beginning in fiscal year 2015 with approximately $60,000 per year, subject to the availability of funds. The complete announcement of this Federal Funding Opportunity, 2014-NIST-SBIR-02, including details on how to apply, is available at Grants.gov at www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=262612. Applications are due by Sept. 23, 2014.

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

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NIST Seeks Info on User Experiences with Cybersecurity Framework

Six months ago, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released version 1.0 of its voluntary Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, a methodical approach that organizations of all types can use to create, guide, assess or improve their cybersecurity plans. The framework was developed with industry in a collaborative and open process over the course of a year, as directed by President Obama in Executive Order 13636. NIST is now seeking public feedback on the framework.

Fotolia_44838574_@norinori303_LR
© norinori303/Fotolia

NIST has posted to its Cybersecurity Framework website a preview version of a request for information (RFI) it intends to announce in an upcoming issue of the Federal Register.The goal of the RFI is to gain understanding of organizations' awareness of and experiences with the framework. NIST is posting the preview to provide organizations additional time to consider the RFI.

Over the past six months, NIST has worked closely with industry groups, associations, non-profits, government agencies and international standards bodies to strengthen awareness of the framework and to promote its use as a basic, flexible and adaptable tool for managing and reducing cybersecurity risks.

"We've seen organizations approach the framework in different ways," said Adam Sedgewick, senior policy analyst for NIST. "Some are using it to start conversations within their organizations or across their sectors, others to create detailed cyber risk management plans. We want to hear from all stakeholders to understand how they've used the framework, how it's been helpful, and where challenges may lie."

Responses to the RFI will affect NIST's planning and decisions about possible tools and resources to help organizations use the framework more effectively and efficiently. They also will inform the Department of Homeland Security's Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community C³ Voluntary Program and frame discussion at the Oct. 29 and 30, 2014, Cybersecurity Framework Workshop, in Tampa, Fla.

All responses will be posted on the framework website after the comment period closes, 45 days after the RFI is published in the Federal Register. NIST is especially interested in comments that will help to determine the framework's usefulness and applicability throughout industry, but input from all organizations is encouraged.

In addition to feedback on the framework itself, the RFI asks for input on its accompanying Roadmap, which outlines issues and challenges that should be addressed in order to improve future versions of the framework.

Links: 

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

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