Technology at a Glance is a quarterly newsletter from the National Institute of Standards and Technology reporting on research results, funding programs, and manufacturing extension and technology services. If you have comments or general questions about this newsletter or if you would like to receive the four-page, color newsletter in hard copy, please email your mailing address to Gail Porter, editor, or call (301) 975-3392. About Technology at a Glance.
Cell membrane researchers are eagerly bracing for a long-awaited cold wave. A new partnership involving NIST, the University of California-Irvine (UCI), and other organizations will use beams of super-chilled neutrons to probe the elusive structure and interactions of cell membranes and their components, gathering information key to improving disease diagnosis and treatment.
Led by UCI biophysicist Stephen White, the Cold Neutrons for Biology and Technology team received $5 million from the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health to build the nations first neutron-beam research station fully dedicated to biological membrane experiments. To be located at the NIST Center for Neutron Research and completed in 2003, the station will use high-quality beams of cold neutrons to explore the disordered, continually changing landscape of cell membranes.
Neutrons are non-destructive, highly penetrating probes. Because they behave like tiny waves of energy, neutrons also make excellent rulers.
Depending on temperature, the length of the neutron ruler can be tuned over a range spanning roughly the size of a single atom to the size of a molecule with hundreds or thousands of atoms.
The research teams instrument will have dual capabilities: diffractometry and reflectometry. It will detect neutrons that are reflected or otherwise scattered after striking membrane samples. Reflected or diffracted neutrons will provide information on the location, orientation, size, and composition of membrane components. (See graphic above of the molecular structure of a protein found on e coli membranes.) In addition, the team is upgrading an existing instrument useful for studying large moleculesa small-angle neutron scattering spectrometerthat will be shared with researchers in other fields.
The partnership also includes the University of Pennsylvania, Rice University, Carnegie Mellon University, the Duke University Medical Center, and the Department of Energys Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Contact: Susan Krueger, (301) 975-6734 or Stephen White, (949) 824-7122, SHWhite@uci.edu.
In testimony before the Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on May 1, NIST Director Arden L. Bement, Jr., outlined a proposed NIST investigation to study the Sept. 11 collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. The study would investigate building construction, the materials used, and the technical conditions that combined to cause these disasters following the initial impact of the aircraft.
NIST also is proposing a multiyear R&D program to provide the technical basis to support improved building and fire codes, standards, and practices. In addition, it recommends an industry-led dissemination and technical assistance program to provide practical guidance and tools to better prepare facility owners, contractors, designers, and emergency personnel to respond to future disasters. A full description of the proposed plan is available on the Web at wtc.nist.gov.
President Bush appointed Bement as the 12th NIST director several months ago. Bement previously has served on the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (NISTs primary private-sector advisor) as well as on advisory committees for the Advanced Technology Program and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
Prior to joining NIST, Bement was the David A. Ross Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering and head of the School of Nuclear Engineering at Purdue University. He joined the Purdue faculty in 1992 after a 39-year career in industry, government, and academia. These positions included: vice president of science and technology for TRW Inc.; deputy under secretary of defense for research and engineering; director, Office of Materials Science, DARPA; and appointments with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Battelle Northwest Laboratories, and General Electric Co.
He has served on numerous federal advisory boards. Bement holds a doctorate degree in metallurgical engineering and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.
Contact: Public and Business Affairs, (301) 975-2762.
NISTs Advanced Technology Program (ATP) has announced a new competition for cost-sharing awards to support high-risk R&D projects that accelerate the development of path-breaking new technologies important to the U.S. economy.
NIST will accept proposals for the 2002 competition until 3 p.m. EDT on Sept. 30, 2002. Only those proposals postmarked by 3 p.m. EDT on June 10, 2002, will be considered for funding in the current fiscal year. All other proposals received before the Sept. 30 deadline will be evaluated and considered for future funding. Details of the deadline rules are in an April 18, 2002, Federal Register notice. All ATP applicants may now choose to submit proposals electronically through digitally signed documents.
The ATP has a FY 2002 appropriation of $60.7 million for new awards. Because NIST is now funding ATP applications on a rolling basis, some portion of this may be used for proposals submitted for FY 2001 or FY 2003 competitions.
Further information: www.atp.nist.gov/www/press/2002comp.htm or call (800) ATP-FUND.
Service Calibrates Excimer Lasers
Youve heard of homogenized milk, but how about homogenized laser beams? In an effort to provide accurate power calibrations for ultraviolet lasers used in advanced semiconductor manufacturing and eye surgery, NIST researchers have developed a system for homogenizing the beam intensity of excimer lasers. NIST is the only laboratory in the world providing such calibrations.
Each laser emits light of only one specific wavelength, but the intensity of light across a cross section of the beam may vary substantially. NIST scientists use a tiny array of overlapping lensesa flys eye approachto mix various parts of the beam together. The intensity of the more uniform beam then can be measured with half the uncertainty of previous techniques.
In the graphics of laser power levels, color indicates the intensity of light in different areas of the beam, with red representing the most intense areas and violet representing the least intense. Using the NIST apparatus, the beam (graphic above) was converted from power levels varying by plus or minus 20 percent to a uniformity of plus or minus 2.7 percent (graphic below).
Uniform power and pulse energy are critical parameters in semiconductor lithography, a technique that uses light and elaborate stencils to print microscopic circuits. The next generation of advanced semiconductor lithography machines will be able to make circuits less than 70 nm (billionths of a meter) wide. Beam uniformity also is important for excimer lasers used in laser eye surgery to prevent complications such as double vision or glare problems at night.
To assist manufacturers, NIST provides power calibrations for excimer lasers operating at 248 nm and 193 nm and has plans to add calibrations of 157 nm lasers within a year.
Each calibration takes about one week to complete and NIST performs between 60 and 80 of these calibrations per year. Because NIST is the only lab doing this work, other countries such as Japan, Israel, Germany, and Canada send their detectors to NIST for calibrations. The excimer laser used in NISTs dose measurements is on loan from SEMATECH, the semiconductor industry consortium based in Austin, Texas.
Contact: Marla Dowell, (303) 497-7455.
The new Cargill Dow plant has the capacity to produce up to 140,000 metric tons annually of polylactide polymer (PLA), a polymer resin derived from natural plant sugars. PLA is the first polymer entirely derived from a renewable resource to compete head-to-head in the market with polymers made from oil. Recently recognized by the Federal Trade Commission as a generic class of fiber, PLA can be used for clothing, carpets, bedding, packaging, and other products. PLA fits existing disposal systems and also is fully compostable at the end of its product life.
The Cargill Dow PLA technology was developed in part under a 1994 ATP award. The ATP co-funded research led to processing methods that helped PLAs gain important new properties without losing the environmentally friendly traits that made them attractive in the first place. In 2001, the PLA development received environmental innovation awards from the magazines Discover, Popular Mechanics, and Industry Week.
Contact: Michael OBrien, (952) 984-3306.
Supermans got nothing on NIST. Using a new apparatus and software, NIST researchers recently developed a type of materials X-ray vision that can see minute voids, tiny cracks, and other previously indiscernible microstructural details in a wide range of materials, including metals, ceramics, and biological specimens. The NIST system uses ultra-small-angle X-ray scattering to capture 3-D images on film. And just like a camera needs a flash, the NIST system uses the ultimate flashthe Advanced Photon Source (APS) at the Argonne National Laboratory. Extremely uniform high-energy X-rays from the APS are sent through a sample, yielding plots of data points that correspond to angles and intensities of scattered X-rays. The NIST system collects X-ray scattering data from different perspectives and then assembles them into 3-D images. The images are maps of the small fraction of X-rays scattered by electrons in the material rather than being absorbed or transmitted.
Contact: Lyle Levine, (301) 975-6032.
A properly functioning gas mask can be a soldiers best friend. To help ensure that gas masks work properly, the U.S. Army utilizes portable gas mask testers that can be employed in the field. The instruments detect problems like poor fit that may make the mask leak around the edges, small holes in the mask, or a malfunctioning filter. The Army uses a commercial system that compares the concentration of airborne particulate matter inside the soldiers mask while it is being worn with the ambient concentration of particulates outside the mask. Ordinary small particulates in the air serve as a stand-in for chemical or biological agents like mustard gas or anthrax since their flow behavior is very similar. The Army has asked NIST to verify that the test system is counting airborne particles properly. NIST uses a uniform particulate source and is developing two independent methods to check the accuracy of the equipment.
Fletcher, (301) 975-3912.
Researchers recently used DNA testing to show that a male slave was fathered by someone from Thomas Jeffersons family. Such tests indicate both the presence of male DNA in a blood or tissue sampleonly males have Y chromosomesand the family it came from, because the markers (particular chemical sequences) identified in the test are inherited. NIST has developed a new test that identifies 20 markers on the Y chromosome instead of the six used in older tests. NIST researchers are using the new test to create a Y chromosome Standard Reference Material to help private and government DNA labs simplify paternity testing and improve analysis of forensic samples. The markersshort chemical sequences repeated in pairsvary enough in a populations DNA to distinguish individuals and produce good analytical results. None of the markers are believed to occur on X chromosomes, carried by both males and females.
Butler, (301) 975-4049.
With co-funding from NISTs Advanced Technology Program, Lamb Technicon (a UNOVA company) has worked with four universities to develop an innovative flexible fixturing system for manufacturing. Precision machining requires custom-built clamps or fixtures that hold a part rigidly in a specific place in the machine tool with micrometer accuracy. An automobile engine alone might require 100 different fixtures, at a cost of up to $5 million. A new fixture must be designed and built for every new or modified part. Lamb Technicons system automatically adapts itself to any part within a family, a group of like parts with similar size. The system recognizes different parts automatically and positions each in the proper orientation for the machining process. Lamb Technicon estimates that the system can save automakers $30 to $50 per car, as well as simplify set-up, speed up model change-overs, and economize the production of cars with low-volume demand. The system earned a Technology of the Year award from Industry Week.
Contact: Philip Szuba, (586) 497-6131.
Disaster Response A new agreement between NIST and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designates the Institute as a research and technical resource for FEMA. The two agencies will work jointly to reduce loss of life and property by protecting buildings and infrastructure from all types of hazards, and aiding technology development and evaluation of equipment used by first responders to emergencies. The agreement also ensures that FEMA can quickly call on NIST for assistance with scientific and technological services in disaster investigations, recovery planning, and support technologies. More information is available at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/nistfema.htm.
DiversityHelping create an ethnically diverse technical
workforce is a goal of a new agreement between NIST and the Science
and Engineering Alliance. SEA is an alliance of four state-supported
historically black colleges and universities and the Depart-ment of
Energys Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The partnership
aims to foster collaborative research among the staff of the participating
organizations and to provide a vehicle for the exchange of
Lean ManufacturingAfter Sept. 11, 2001, requests for products made by Garrett Metal Detectors skyrocketed. The Garland, Texas small manufacturer is keeping pace with demand with the help of the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center, an affiliate of NISTs Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). The centers specialists used the lean manufacturing approach to identify possible improvements and provide training to Garretts staff. As a result, the company reduced cycle time by 75 percent and increased production by 300 to 400 percent with the same number of people and one third less floor space. Contact: Susan Tully, (512) 206-9081or (800) MEP-4MFG.
NIST is an agency of the US Department of Commerce's Technology Administration. NIST develops and promotes measurement, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life. Technology at a Glance is produced by Public and Business Affairs, NIST, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 3460, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-3460. Any mention of commercial products is for information only; it does not imply recommendation or endorsement by NIST. Technology at a Glance Editor: Gail Porter, (301) 975-3392, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For patent information, call (301) 975-3084.