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Tech Beat - June 2, 2009

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: April 4, 2011
Date Modified: April 4, 2011 
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Memory with a Twist: NIST Develops a Flexible Memristor

NIST researchers have used inexpensive, readily available materials to create an electronic memory chip that can be bent or twisted—some 4,000 times in tests—and still keep functioning.
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Electronic memory chips may soon gain the ability to bend and twist as a result of work by engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). As reported in the July 2009 issue of IEEE Electron Device Letters,* the engineers have found a way to build a flexible memory component out of inexpensive, readily available materials.

Though not yet ready for the marketplace, the new device is promising not only because of its potential applications in medicine and other fields, but because it also appears to possess the characteristics of a memristor, a fundamentally new component for electronic circuits that industry scientists developed in 2008.** NIST has filed for a patent on the flexible memory device (application #12/341.059).

Electronic components that can flex without breaking are coveted by portable device manufacturers for many reasons—and not just because people have a tendency to drop their mp3 players. Small medical sensors that can be worn on the skin to monitor vital signs such as heart rate or blood sugar could benefit patients with conditions that require constant maintenance, for example. Though some flexible components exist, creating flexible memory has been a technical barrier, according to NIST researchers.

Hunting for a solution, the researchers took polymer sheets—the sort that transparencies for overhead projectors are made from—and experimented with depositing a thin film of titanium dioxide, an ingredient in sunscreen, on their surfaces. Instead of using expensive equipment to deposit the titanium dioxide as is traditionally done, the material was deposited by a sol gel process, which consists of spinning the material in liquid form and letting it set, like making gelatin. By adding electrical contacts, the team created a flexible memory switch that operates on less than 10 volts, maintains its memory when power is lost, and still functions after being flexed more than 4,000 times.

What’s more, the switch’s performance bears a strong resemblance to that of a memristor, a component theorized in 1971 as a fourth fundamental circuit element (along with the capacitor, resistor and inductor). A memristor is, in essence, a resistor that changes its resistance depending on the amount of current that is sent through it—and retains this resistance even after the power is turned off. Industrial scientists announced they had created a memristor last year, and the NIST component demonstrates similar electrical behavior, but is also flexible. Now that the team has successfully fabricated a memristor, NIST can begin to explore the metrology that may be necessary to study the device’s unique electrical behavior.

“We wanted to make a flexible memory component that would advance the development and metrology of flexible electronics, while being economical enough for widespread use,” says NIST researcher Nadine Gergel-Hackett. “Because the active component of our device can be fabricated from a liquid, there is the potential that in the future we can print the entire memory device as simply and inexpensively as we now print a slide on an overhead transparency.”

* N. Gergel-Hackett, B. Hamadani, B. Dunlap, J. Suehle, C. Richter, C. Hacker, D. Gundlach. A flexible solution-processed memristor. IEEE Electron Device Letters, Vol. 30, No. 7. Posted online the week of June 8, 2009. (http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/pre_abs_all.jsp?isnumber=4357973&arnumber=5061634)

** D. B. Strukov, G. S. Snider, D. R. Stewart, and S. R. Williams. The missing memristor found. Nature, Vol. 453, May 1, 2008.

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

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NIST Seeks Proposals for $35 Million in Grants for Measurement Science

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced that it will award up to $35 million in grants and cooperative agreements for measurement science and engineering research. Approximately 20-60 awards, lasting from one to three years, and ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million, will be funded by these grants, which are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“The Recovery Act provides a unique opportunity to expand scientific research in the pursuit of economic prosperity,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said.

NIST is looking for proposals that advance the state of knowledge and practice of measurement science in six identified research areas of critical national importance:

  • Energy;
  • Environment and climate change;
  • Information technology and cybersecurity;
  • Biosciences/health care;
  • Manufacturing; and
  • Physical infrastructure.


State-of-the-art measurement science provides the infrastructure that industry and science need to develop and commercialize new technologies. The air conditioning and refrigeration industry, for example, has saved millions of dollars over the past 20 years due to NIST’s work on the measurement of the thermophysical properties of alternative refrigerants (i.e., alternatives to ozone-depleting compounds).

U.S. innovation and competitiveness in areas such as automobile manufacturing, medical imaging, bridge safety, climate change studies, cloud computing, and renewable energy sources depend on measurement science research.

In addition to advancing NIST’s mission to quickly develop measurement methods as new science and technology emerges, these grants are also expected to create jobs, promote economic recovery, and make investments in research areas that will provide long-term economic benefits.

The program is open to U.S. higher education institutions, nonprofits, and commercial organizations, as well as state, local, and Indian tribal governments.

The deadline for applications is Monday, July 13, 2009. NIST expects to announce grant awards later this year.

For more detailed information on the Measurement Science Grants, see the links on the NIST Recovery Act Measurement Science and Engineering Research Grants Program Web page at www.nist.gov/recovery/measurement_program.html. Application information is available at Grants.gov under Federal Funding Opportunity code 2009-NIST-ARRA-MSE-RESEARCH-01 or CFDA 11.609

A Federal Register notice, “Recovery Act Measurement Science and Engineering Research Grants Program” (Docket Number: 090306283-9284-01]), announcing this competition was published on June 1, 2009.

Media Contact: Ben Stein, bstein@nist.gov, 301-975-3097

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NIST Delivers Updated Draft Standards for Electronic Voting Machines

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has delivered to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) a draft revision to the 2005 federal Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) Version 1.0, specifying how electronic voting machines are built and tested. The EAC made the draft revision available for public comment June 1st, with a final version expected by the end of 2009.

photo of voting machine

NIST delivered to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) a draft revision to the 2005 federal Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) Version 1.0, specifying how electronic voting machines are built and tested.
Credit: National Museum of American History

“The guidelines are designed to further improve the quality and efficiency of the testing conducted on voting systems,” says John Wack, NIST’s voting team manager. “This enables improvements to be made sooner rather than later when the next full set of standards is finalized.”

The draft revision, titled “Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, Version 1.1,” provides improved requirements for electronic voting machine accuracy, reliability, usability, accessibility, and security. The strengthened requirements have been taken from the August 2007 VVSG recommendations delivered to the EAC by NIST and the Technical Guidelines Development Committee. Because the EAC wants the draft revision to be achievable by voting system manufacturers in the near term, the revision requires no changes to voting system hardware and no significant changes to system software.

NIST has developed associated tests to go along with the revised standards, which will be available to the public and to federally accredited testing labs. Revisions include:

  • Accuracy and reliability testing. Testing would be expanded to ensure comprehensive coverage of the entire voting system. Testers will evaluate all errors that could potentially impact voting tallies, such as problems with voting machine printers.
  • Paper audit trails. Requirements for those systems that produce paper audit trails have been improved, including additional information on the paper trails making them easier to read and handle.
  • Cryptographic defenses to protect systems from malicious software. Election software and any updates must be digitally “signed”, and voting systems must verify these signatures before accepting or running any software. Electronic records produced by voting systems must also be digitally signed.
  • New reporting requirements for system manufacturers. Manufacturers will now be required to provide details of their voting systems’ security architecture and usability testing results.
  • Improved usability for poll workers. Clear operating instructions for poll workers are required, including details on how to set up, start, and close down the voting system as well as easily enable and configure accessibility features for disabled voters.


EAC will review the NIST-developed revisions and public comments before the new standards are adopted. For more information on voting standards and NIST’s role, visit http://vote.nist.gov

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

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NIST’s LIDAR May Offer Peerless Precision in Remote Measurements

By combining the best of two different distance measurement approaches with a super-accurate technology called an optical frequency comb, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have built a laser ranging system that can pinpoint multiple objects with nanometer precision over distances up to 100 kilometers. The novel LIDAR (“light detection and ranging”) system could have applications from precision manufacturing lines on Earth to maintaining networks of satellites in perfect formation, creating a giant space-based platform to search for new planets.

LIDAR transmits light through the air and analyzes the weak reflected signal to measure the distance, or range, to the target. NIST’s new LIDAR, described in Nature Photonics, has a unique combination of capabilities, including precision, rapid updates from multiple reference points at the same time, and minimal “measurement ambiguity.” The system can update measurements to multiple targets simultaneously every 200 microseconds. Measurement ambiguity in a LIDAR system is due to the fact that, if the target is at long range from the instrument, the system can’t distinguish between two different distances that are multiples of its “ambiguity range.” The new NIST LIDAR has a comfortably large ambiguity range of at least 1.5 meters—large enough to check the coarse distance with widely available technologies such as GPS.

No other ranging system offers this combination of features, according to the new paper. NIST’s LIDAR could enable multiple satellites to maintain tight spacing and pointing while flying in precision formations, acting as a single research instrument in space, the paper states. Formation flying has been proposed as a means to enhance searches for extraterrestrial planets, enable imaging of black holes with multiple X-ray telescopes on different satellites, and support tests of general relativity through measurements of satellite spacing in a gravitational field. The new LIDAR could enable continuous comparisons and feedback of distances to multiple reference points on multiple satellites. There also may be applications in automated manufacturing, where many parts need to fit together with tight tolerances, according to Nate Newbury, the principal investigator.

NIST’s LIDAR design derives its power from combining the best of two different approaches to absolute distance measurements: the time-of-flight method, which offers a large ambiguity range, and interferometry, which is ultraprecise. The LIDAR relies on a pair of optical frequency combs, tools for precisely measuring different colors (or frequencies) of light. The frequency combs used in the LIDAR are based on ultrafast-pulsed fiber lasers, which are potentially smaller and more portable than typical combs that generate laser light from crystals. The two combs operate at slightly different numbers of pulses per second. Pulses from one comb are reflected from a moving target and a stationary reference plane. The second comb serves as precise timer to measure the delay between the reflections returning from the target and from the reference plane. A computer calculates the distance between the target and the reference plane by multiplying the time delay by the speed of light.

For more information,

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

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NIST Processes to Help Build Next-Generation Nuclear Power Plants

Information exchange processes developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will be at the center of the effort to design and build the next generation of modern, highly efficient nuclear power plants.

New nuclear power plants will be designed, procured and constructed using advanced software applications for three-dimensional modeling and exchange of engineering information. Construction information gleaned from multiple databases and electronic documentation sources also will be used. The power industry and regulators recognize that an automated, integrated and interoperable configuration management capability must be established to maintain consistency between the design requirements and facility configuration documentation to ensure the ability to document and maintain compliance with a plant’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission license.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is leading the effort to develop this needed capability for new nuclear plant projects. EPRI assessed the results of the NIST-led Automating Equipment Information Exchange (AEX) project and adopted the AEX methodologies and specifications as foundational technology for achieving this new level of integrated and interoperable configuration management for critical equipment in new nuclear power plants.

AEX provides a common mechanism for designers and manufacturers using varied software applications to exchange data required to engineer, manufacture and install equipment ranging from fans, pumps, valves, heat exchangers and pressure vessels. The AEX XML specifications are used to automate information exchange among various software systems that support capital facility equipment engineering, procurement, construction, and operations and maintenance work processes. XML is a computer language designed to transport and store data.

These XML specifications standardize the names of equipment types and their attributes such as those found on common industry equipment data sheets. “Automated data interfaces between software systems enable significant reductions in manual transcription costs and errors,” says NIST’s Mark Palmer, program manager of the construction integration and automation technologies program in NIST’s Building and Fire Research Laboratory. “The economic benefits of these XML specifications are estimated to be substantial.”

The AEX XML specifications have been adopted by a number of industry and standards development organizations as the basis for new electronic data exchange standards, including the American Petroleum Institute (API), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Additionally, EPRI adopted the “NIST Capital Facilities Information Handover Guidelines” (NIST Internal Reports 7259 and 7417) to develop a new nuclear plant information handover guide providing a full plant life cycle information strategy establishing the methodology for defining the information requirements and for developing and implementing an information handover plan. The information handover plan is used to achieve comprehensive information management and integration of work processes across all organizations participating in the design, review and construction of the power plant. Palmer is serving as technical advisor on the EPRI project.

For more information on these processes, see http://cic.nist.gov.

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

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Seventy Apply for 2009 Baldrige Award

Seventy organizations have taken the first step toward the 2009 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest recognition for innovation and performance excellence. Applicants include two manufacturers, four service companies, five small businesses, nine educational organizations, 42 health care organizations and eight nonprofits/governmental organizations.

Baldrige medallion
Baldrige award medallion.

The 70 applicants will be evaluated rigorously by an independent board of examiners in seven areas: leadership; strategic planning; customer focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; process management; and results. Examiners provide each applicant with 300 to 1,000 hours of review and a detailed report on the organization’s strengths and opportunities for improvement.

The 2009 Baldrige Award recipients are expected to be announced in late November.

Named after Malcolm Baldrige, the 26th Secretary of Commerce, the Baldrige Award was established by Congress in 1987. The award—managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in collaboration with the private sector—promotes excellence in organizational performance, recognizes the achievements and results of U.S. organizations, and publicizes successful performance strategies. The award is not given for specific products or services. Since 1988, 75 organizations have received Baldrige Awards.

The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence have played a valuable role in helping organizations of all types improve their operations. The Criteria are designed to help organizations improve their performance by focusing on three goals: delivering ever-improving value to customers and stakeholders, improving the organization’s overall effectiveness, and organizational and personal learning. The Criteria have been widely distributed since 1988, and last year, they were downloaded more than 1.8 million times from the Baldrige Web site.

For more information on the Baldrige award program, see www.nist.gov/baldrige.

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

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NIST Announces $120 Million Available for Research Construction Grants

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced the availability of approximately $120 million in competitive grants for the construction of new or expanded scientific research buildings at higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations. Approximately eight to 12 projects will be funded by these grants, which are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). Possible projects include laboratories, test facilities, measurement facilities, research computing facilities, and observatories.

The Commerce Department particularly is seeking projects that are able to start quickly and complement the research programs of the U.S. Commerce Department’s three science agencies: NIST, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Grant proposals will be evaluated based on three criteria: scientific and technical merit and the need for federal funding; design quality and suitability for the intended purpose; and management plan quality of the proposed project. Grant evaluations also will be judged on how proposals meet the core objectives of the Recovery Act—job creation and preservation, and investing in infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits.

Interested organizations must provide NIST with a Letter of Intent outlining the proposed project by 3 p.m. EDT, on June 25, 2009. Organizations that submit timely Letters of Intent may then submit full proposals, which must be received by 3 p.m. EDT, on Aug. 10, 2009. Review, selection and grant award processing is expected to be completed by the end of February 2010.

Applicant organizations may submit only one Letter of Intent and full proposal. Academic campuses within multi-campus systems (those that award their own degrees, have independent administrative structures, admission policies, alumni associations, etc.) qualify as separate institutions.

Letters of Intent must be submitted on paper to NIST, 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 4701, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-4701. Full proposals may be submitted on paper or online through Grants.gov.

In addition to this new construction grant competition, NIST also will issue grant awards totaling approximately $60 million to meritorious proposals submitted under the fiscal year 2008 NIST Construction Grant Program competition, but, because of limited research-and-development funding, were not selected initially.

FY 2008 applicants who receive a meritorious ranking will be contacted in writing by NIST in the near future. Applicants who do not receive this notification should assume that their proposals are not under consideration for this Recovery Act funding.

Interested applicants who did not receive funding in the FY 2008 competition are encouraged to submit a Letter of Intent and full proposal for the FY 2009 competition. Decisions on unfunded FY 2008 proposals will not be made until after Letters of Intent for the new competition are due.

For more information, go to www.nist.gov/recovery/construction_frn.html and www.nist.gov/recovery/construction_ffo.html.

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

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NIST Hosts Two International Materials Research Meetings in June

For the materials research community, all roads will lead to the Gaithersburg, Md., headquarters of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) during the week of June 21, 2009, when the agency hosts two major international meetings.

First up from June 22-23, 2009, is the Symposium on Materials Challenges for Clean Energy. This assembly of international experts will examine current and emerging challenges to sustainable energy that may require new or improved materials. Lectures will focus on the materials aspects of solar energy, hydrogen and biofuels, energy storage and conversion, energy efficiency and nuclear energy. The symposium is co-organized by NIST and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

During the following two days, June 24-25, 2009, NIST will host the World Materials Research Institute Forum (WMRIF). The WMRIF fosters international cooperation in materials research by bringing together executives from the world’s leading materials research institutes to exchange information on research priorities, management approaches and strategic directions.

Featured presentations will cover sustainability, synchrotrons and the environmental health and safety of nanomaterials.

Details about both meetings are available at http://www.e-materials.net/network/WMRIF. Registration for both the WMRIF and the Energy Workshop is $350; for the Energy Workshop only, $275. Registration deadline is June 15, 2009. Register online at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/confpage/090621.htm or contact Angela Ellis, angela.ellis@nist.gov, (301) 975-3881.

For technical information, please contact Steve Freiman, stephen.freiman@nist.gov, (301) 975-5310.

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

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