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Tech Beat - February 16, 2010

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: August 12, 2010
Date Modified: September 8, 2010 

NIST Budget Request Proposes 7.3 Percent Increase in Funding

The fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) submitted to Congress proposes a funding level of $918.9 million, a 7.3 percent increase over the FY 2010 appropriations for the agency.

The proposed NIST budget is divided into three appropriations:

Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS), $584.5 million—This category includes $574.6 million for NIST laboratory research and $9.9 million for the Baldrige National Quality Program. The STRS request includes funding increases in several major research areas as well a $2 million increase to a fund for Strategic and Emerging Research Initiatives to ensure that NIST can quickly develop interdisciplinary research teams as needed to exploit rapidly changing innovation trends. The R&D initiatives include:

  • Competitive Manufacturing and Construction in a Clean-Energy Economy:
    • Green Manufacturing and Construction (+$10 million)
    • Innovations for 21st Century U.S. Manufacturing (+$10 million)
  • Standards and Conformity Assessment for Interoperability in Emerging Technologies (+$10 million)
  • Scalable Cybersecurity for Emerging Technologies and Threats  (+$10 million)
  • Innovations in Healthcare - Measurement Science and Standards to Support Manufacturing and Regulatory Approval of Biologic Drugs (+$10 million)
  • Disaster Resilient Buildings and Infrastructure (+$5 million)
  • Sustainable Energy Use and Nanomaterials:
    • Advanced Solar Technologies - Third Generation Photovoltaics (+$5 million)
    • Nanomaterial Environmental, Health and Safety (+$4 million)
  • Strengthening Science, Engineering and Mathematics Education through the NIST NRC Postdoctoral Research Associateships Program (+$3.4 million)

Construction of Research Facilities
(CRF), $124.8 million—This category includes $66.1 million for three initiatives to carry out major renovations of aging buildings on the NIST campuses in Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Colo., as well as an increase to the agency’s regular maintenance and repair budget.

Industrial Technology Services (ITS), $209.6 million—This category consists of funding for:

  • The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP)—Through locally based MEP centers, the program supports the adoption of technological innovations that spur economic growth and foster development of new products, expanded markets, and process improvements ($129.7 million).
  • The Technology Innovation Program (TIP) —TIP supports, promotes, and accelerates innovation in the United States by funding high-risk, high-reward research in areas of critical national need ($79.9 million).

For more details, see the Feb. 1 NIST news release, “Obama Administration’s Budget Request Includes Vital Science and Technology Investments to Advance U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness.” []

Media Contact: Ben Stein,, 301-975-3097

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Future of Hydrogen Fuel Flows Through New NIST Test Facility

If hydrogen is ever to play a significant role as a clean, everyday energy source, it will need a safe and reliable distribution system. To pave the way for a hydrogen fuel infrastructure, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Boulder Labs recently launched the largest hydrogen test facility in the United States for evaluating how component parts of such an infrastructure will react to exposure to this potentially corrosive gas in order to develop needed data and standards.

photo of pressure test chamber

Located in a new, state-of-the-art NIST test facility, this specially designed chamber holds samples of pipeline, valve or delivery device materials for testing under pressure to determine their reaction to hydrogen.

Credit: Burrus/NIST
View hi-resolution image

Because hydrogen can penetrate and embrittle some metals and alloys, developing standards for using existing pipelines, storage tanks, pumps and delivery systems is an essential first step before the elemental gas can be considered as a viable fuel for widespread use.

Tom Siewert leads a group of researchers at this NIST test facility that will be testing these component parts—pipes, valves, fittings and pumps, among other pieces—for their suitability in transporting and delivering hydrogen.

The facility is state-of-the-art and contains one of the largest (at 10 centimeters) internal diameter test chambers in the country. In it are placed standard test specimens of component materials – chunks of pipeline, a piece of a valve – and exposed to pressurized hydrogen to measure how it reacts to such an environment and that kind of chemical exposure. With such test data in hand, standards for building a safe, reliable and robust hydrogen fuel system can be developed for future storage, delivery and dispensing.

“You put in specimens to gather the property data, and when it’s pressurized, a shaft goes into the chamber that puts stresses on the specimen to simulate the strains that occur in everyday use,” says Siewert, who helped plan the facility. “Structural designers would then put the data we get from these specimens into their models to understand how a structural component would respond to that hydrogen under those conditions.”

The test facility is also replete with state-of-the-art safety features including the ability to run every phase of testing from a remote control center, multiple sensors that automatically shut down the entire system and vent the test building at even the slightest scent of hydrogen gas (1 percent concentration), a massive venting system that is double what code requires, and a lightning detection system that will automatically shut the facility down if a strike occurs within 10 kilometers.

“The quantity of hydrogen in the equipment is low enough that even if all the hydrogen suddenly leaked into the building, it wouldn’t be enough to cause an explosion,” said Andy Slifka, a materials research engineer and project leader.

The design of the hydrogen test facility won the RMH Group—a Denver-based mechanical, electrical and industrial process consulting engineering firm—a Gold Hardhat award in 2009 from McGraw-Hill Construction. The award honors the building teams that created the best projects of 2009 as selected by juries of local prominent industry professionals.

Media Contact: James Burrus,, 303-497-4789

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JILA Scientists Demonstrate First Controlled Chemical Reactions of Ultracold Molecules

Physicists at JILA have for the first time observed chemical reactions near absolute zero, demonstrating that chemistry is possible at ultralow temperatures and that reaction rates can be controlled using quantum mechanics, the peculiar rules of submicroscopic physics. The new results and techniques, described in the Feb. 12 issue of Science,* will help scientists understand previously unknown aspects of how molecules interact, knowledge of fundamental importance to virtually every one of the physical sciences and engineering.

molecular gas image

One of the first-ever images of a molecular gas in which each molecule is in its lowest possible energy state. The molecules are near absolute zero, a temperature at which quantum properties reign. The image—made by detecting the absorption of laser light by the molecules—reveals their spatial distribution, with density indicated by peak height and false color. The fact that such an image can be created indicates the molecular quantum gas is dense enough to enable scientists to observe novel interactions among the molecules.

Credit: D. Wang/JILA
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JILA is a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado at Boulder. A NIST theorist at the Joint Quantum Institute, a collaborative venture of NIST and the University of Maryland, also contributed to the research.

Ultracold molecules are a hot research area because they may offer more diverse insights and applications than ultracold atoms, which scientists have deftly manipulated for more than 20 years. Scientists have long known how to control the internal states of molecules, such as their rotational and vibrational energy levels. In addition, the field of quantum chemistry has existed for decades to study the effects of the quantum behavior of electrons and nuclei—constituents of molecules. But until now scientists have been unable to observe direct consequences of quantum mechanical motions of whole molecules on the chemical reaction process. Creating simple molecules and chilling them almost to a standstill makes this possible by presenting a simpler and more placid environment that can reveal subtle, previously unobserved chemical phenomena.

In conventional chemistry at room temperature, molecules may collide and react to form different compounds, releasing heat. In JILA’s ultracold experiments, quantum mechanics reigns and the molecules spread out as ethereal rippling waves instead of acting as barbell-like solid particles. They do not collide in the conventional sense. Rather, as their quantum mechanical wave properties overlap, the molecules sense each other from as much as 100 times farther apart than would be expected under ordinary conditions. At this distance the molecules either scatter from one another or, if quantum conditions are right, swap atoms. Scientists expect to be able to control long-range interactions by creating molecules with specific internal states and “tuning” their reaction energies with electric and magnetic fields.

The JILA team produced a highly dense gas of molecules consisting of one potassium atom and one rubidium atom at temperatures of a few hundred billionths of a Kelvin (nanokelvins) above absolute zero (minus 273 degrees Celsius or minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit). They found that, although molecules move slowly at ultralow temperatures, reactions can occur very quickly. However, reactions can be suppressed using quantum mechanics. For instance, a cloud of molecules in the lowest-energy electronic, vibrational and rotational states reacts differently if the nuclear spins of some molecules are flipped. If a cloud of molecules is divided 50/50 into two different nuclear spin states, reactions proceed 10 to 100 times faster than if all molecules possess the same spin state. Thus, by purifying the gas (by preparing all molecules in the same spin state), scientists can deliberately suppress reactions.

“We are observing a new fundamental aspect of chemistry—it gives us a new ‘knob’ to understand and control reactions,” says NIST physicist Jun Ye, one of the lead researchers on the project.

For more details, see the NIST Feb. 11 news release, “Seeing the Quantum in Chemistry: JILA Scientists Control Chemical Reactions of Ultracold Molecules.” [] This research was supported by NIST, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

* S. Ospelkaus, K.K. Ni, D. Wang, M.H.G. de Miranda, B. Neyenhuis, G. Quéméner, P.S. Julienne, J.L. Bohn, D.S. Jin and J. Ye. Quantum-state controlled chemical reactions of ultracold KRb molecules. Science. Feb. 12, 2010.

Media Contact: Laura Ost,, 303-497-4880

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NIST's Second 'Quantum Logic Clock' is Now World's Most Precise Clock

Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have built an enhanced version of an experimental atomic clock based on a single aluminum atom that is now the world’s most precise clock, more than twice as precise as the previous pacesetter based on a mercury atom. The new aluminum clock would neither gain nor lose a second in about 3.7 billion years, according to measurements to be reported in a forthcoming issue of Physical Review Letters.*

NIST postdoctoral researcher James Chin-wen Chou

NIST postdoctoral researcher James Chin-wen Chou with the world’s most precise clock, based on the vibrations of a single aluminum ion. The ion is trapped inside the metal cylinder (center right).

Credit: Burrus/NIST
View hi-resolution image

The new clock is the second version of NIST’s “quantum logic clock,” so called because it borrows the logical processing used for atoms storing data in experimental quantum computing, another major focus of the same NIST research group. The second version of the logic clock offers more than twice the precision of the original. In addition to demonstrating that aluminum is now a better timekeeper than mercury, the latest results confirm that optical clocks are widening their lead—in some respects—over the NIST-F1 cesium fountain clock, the U.S. civilian time standard, which currently keeps time to within 1 second in about 100 million years.

Because the international definition of the second (in the International System of Units, or SI) is based on the cesium atom, cesium remains the “ruler” for official timekeeping, so technically no clock can be more accurate than cesium-based standards such as NIST-F1.

The logic clock is based on a single aluminum ion trapped by electric fields and vibrating at ultraviolet light frequencies, which are 100,000 times higher than microwave frequencies used in NIST-F1 and other similar time standards around the world. Optical clocks thus divide time into smaller units, and could someday lead to time standards more than 100 times as accurate as today’s microwave standards. Higher frequency is one of a variety of factors that enables improved precision and accuracy.

Aluminum is one contender for a future time standard to be selected by the international community. NIST scientists are working on five different types of experimental optical clocks, each based on different atoms and offering its own advantages. NIST’s construction of a second, independent version of the logic clock proves it can be replicated, making it one of the first optical clocks to achieve that distinction. Any future time standard will need to be reproduced in many laboratories.

Clocks have myriad applications. The extreme precision offered by optical clocks is already providing record measurements of possible changes in the fundamental “constants” of nature, a line of inquiry that has important implications for cosmology and tests of the laws of physics, such as Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity. Next-generation clocks might lead to new types of gravity sensors for exploring underground natural resources and fundamental studies of the Earth. Other possible applications may include ultra-precise autonomous navigation, such as landing planes by GPS.

For more on this story, see the NIST Feb. 4 news release “NIST’s Second ‘Quantum Logic Clock’ Based on Aluminum Ion is Now World’s Most Precise Clock.” [] For additional info on the application of quantum logic to timekeeping, see the March 6, 2008, NIST news release “NIST ‘Quantum Logic Clock’ Rivals Mercury Ion as World’s Most Accurate Clock.” [] This work was supported in part by the Office of Naval Research.

* C.-W. Chou, D.B. Hume, J.C.J. Koelemeij, D.J. Wineland and T. Rosenband. Frequency comparison of two high-accuracy Al+ optical clocks. Physical Review Letters. Forthcoming. A preprint is available at

Media Contact: Laura Ost,, 303-497-4880

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International Biometrics Conference to Meet at NIST March 2-4

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is co-sponsoring an international conference on biometric performance March 2-4 at NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md. Related workshops will be held March 1 and March 5.

The “International Biometric Performance Conference (IBPC): Performance, Evaluation and Specification of Biometric Technologies” will bring together biometric users, technology providers, integrators and evaluators. The conference aims to identify how the accumulated experience of the past decade (research, evaluation, deployment, outcomes) can be leveraged to direct future biometrics-based research and applications. The conference will address the required properties of core algorithms used to determine if two sets of biometric data, such as fingerprints or voice prints, belong to the same individual. Another goal is to identify novel evaluation methodologies and recent trends in testing and determine what performance criteria are most relevant in the context of the contemporary and emerging marketplaces.

Three separate workshops will be held in conjunction with the conference. They will address fingerprint image quality, biometric template protection testing, and fingerprint feature conformance.

The IBPC 2010 conference is co-sponsored by NIST, the National Physical Laboratory (UK) and Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research (Germany). Registration deadline is Feb. 24.

For more information on the conference, see the conference program at To register, go to Press interested in attending should contact Evelyn Brown at

Media Contact: Evelyn Brown,, 301-975-5661

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NIST Issues Expanded Draft of Smart Grid Cyber Security Strategy

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued the second draft of its Smart Grid Cyber Security Strategy and Requirements, which now identifies more than 120 interfaces that will link diverse devices, systems and organizations engaged in two-way flows of electricity and information and classifies these connections according to the level of damage that could result from a security breach.

Prepared by the NIST-led Cyber Security Working Group, the new draft report expands upon an earlier preliminary version, which was released last September and underwent 60 days of public review. It incorporates responses to the more than 350 individual comments received.

The updated draft also includes new or more detailed technical inputs stemming from the working group’s continuing assessment of what will be required to ensure the security and reliability of the entire modernized power system and protect the integrity and confidentiality of information exchanged during energy-related transactions on the Smart Grid.

The 300-page second draft of the Smart Grid cyber security document also will undergo public review, ending on April 2, 2010. After reviewing the comments received and completing ongoing analyses of requirements and relevant standards, the working group will finalize the Smart Grid cyber security strategy. NIST expects to issue a completed report by early summer.

Compared with the initial version, the draft cyber security report issued today contains significantly expanded sections on privacy, vulnerability categories, analyses of the potential security issues, and the overall approach to achieving Smart Grid cyber security. The 120 interfaces identified in the report pertain to high-priority Smart Grid applications, including electric transportation, electric storage, advanced metering infrastructure, distribution grid management, energy management in homes and businesses and grid management.

Smart Grid Cyber Security Strategy and Requirements (Draft NISTIR 7628) is a companion document to the NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0 (NIST SP 1108), which NIST issued on Jan. 19, 2010. The framework and roadmap report describes a high-level conceptual reference model for the Smart Grid, identifies 75 existing standards that are applicable (or likely to be applicable) to the ongoing development of an interoperable Smart Grid, and specifies a set of high-priority standards-related gaps and issues (in addition to cyber security).

Continuing work by the cyber security working group is carried out cooperatively under the umbrella of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP). NIST launched the panel in mid-November as a collaborative means for private and public sector stakeholders to provide input to the process. For more information, see the NIST Feb. 3 release “NIST Issues Expanded Draft of Smart Grid Cyber Security Strategy For Public Review and Comment.” [] To download the second draft, go to

To learn more about the SGIP, go to

Media Contact: Mark Bello,, 301-975-3776

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MEP to Support New Building-Efficiency Research Center

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) will be supporting the creation of a regional research center that will develop new energy-efficiency technologies for buildings. MEP is taking part in an interagency initiative to establish an Energy Regional Innovation Cluster (E-RIC). The new regional center, announced by the Obama Administration last week, will receive up to $129.7 million in support from seven federal agencies over the next five years.

The E-RIC will be established in a U.S. region to be selected through a competitive process. The center will be based at a university, Department of Energy laboratory or private firm, and will work with local partners to develop and implement energy-efficiency building technologies in area buildings. Upon creation of the E-RIC, MEP will make available up to $500,000 for a one-year award, with the possibility of renewal for up to two additional years, to support the services of an existing regional MEP Center that would assist the E-RIC.

For more information on the E-RIC effort, see the Department of Energy's Feb. 12 news release, "Obama Administration Launches $130 Million Building Energy Efficiency Effort."

Media Contact: Michael Baum,, 301-975-2763

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