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Tech Beat - July 6, 2010

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: July 6, 2010
Date Modified: July 6, 2010 

Novel Ion Trap with Optical Fiber Could Link Atoms and Light in Quantum Networks

Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated an ion trap with a built-in optical fiber that collects light emitted by single ions (electrically charged atoms), allowing quantum information stored in the ions to be measured. The advance could simplify quantum computer design and serve as a step toward swapping information between matter and light in future quantum networks.

ion trap illustration

Diagram of a NIST ion trap that incorporates an optical fiber to collect light emitted by the ions (electrically charged atoms). Individual electrodes used to trap an ion 30 to 50 micrometers above the surface are shown in different colors surrounding a 50-micrometer-wide hole where light is collected and deposited in a fiber attached below.

Credit: A. VanDevender/NIST
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Described in a forthcoming issue of Physical Review Letters,* the new device is a 1-millimeter-square ion trap with a built-in optical fiber. The authors use ions as quantum bits (qubits) to store information in experimental quantum computing, which may someday solve certain problems that are intractable today. An ion can be adjustably positioned 80 to 100 micrometers from an optical fiber, which detects the ion's fluorescence signals indicating the qubit's information content.

"The design is helpful because of the tight coupling between the ion and the fiber, and also because it's small, so you can get a lot of fibers on a chip," says first author Aaron VanDevender, a NIST postdoctoral researcher.

NIST scientists demonstrated the new device using magnesium ions. Light emitted by an ion passes through a hole in an electrode and is collected in the fiber below the electrode surface (see image). By contrast, conventional ion traps use large external lenses typically located 5 centimeters away from the ions—about 500 times farther than the fiber—to collect the fluorescence light. Optical fibers may handle large numbers of ions more easily than the bulky optical systems, because multiple fibers may eventually be attached to a single ion trap.

The fiber method currently captures less light than the lens system but is adequate for detecting quantum information because ions are extremely bright, producing millions of photons (individual particles of light) per second, VanDevender says. The authors expect to boost efficiency by shaping the fiber tip and using anti-reflection coating on surfaces. The new trap design is intended as a prototype for eventually pairing single ions with single photons, to make an interface enabling matter qubits to swap information with photon qubits in a quantum computing and communications network. Photons are used as qubits in quantum communications, the most secure method known for ensuring the privacy of a communications channel. In a quantum network, the information encoded in the "spins" of individual ions could be transferred to, for example, electric field orientations of individual photons for transport to other processing regions of the network. 

The research was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, National Security Agency, Office of Naval Research, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, and Sandia National Laboratories.

*A.P. VanDevender, Y. Colombe, J. Amini, D. Leibfried and D.J. Wineland. Efficient fiber optic detection of trapped ion fluorescence. Physical Review Letters. Forthcoming.

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

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NIST Software Security Patent to Help Improve Health IT Privacy

A computer security invention patented* a decade ago at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is now poised to help safeguard patient privacy in hospitals.

medical files

Photo courtesy GWImages/Shutterstock

The invention—an algorithm that can be built into a larger piece of software—is designed to control access to information systems, and it has attracted the attention of a company that is putting it to use in the health care field. John Barkley, the algorithm’s creator, says the idea could solve one of the pervasive issues in the country’s health care system.

“We think this software will provide dramatically improved security and privacy to patients,” says Barkley, now retired from NIST’s Software and Systems Division and now consulting with Virtual Global, which is commercializing the product. “It solves the problem of overly broad access to patient information, which is widespread.”

Barkley’s efforts stretch back to the 1980s, when the computer tools available for protecting electronic information were poor. Generally, access to information was available to anyone whose name was on a specific list of authorized users, but a large organization might have thousands of restricted files, each with its own access list—making security management awkward. Help came with the creation of Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), in which a person’s job function, not name, was the key to accessing a particular file. However, even RBAC could allow large numbers of people to have unlimited access to information—a particular problem in health care, where it is crucial but difficult to guarantee patient privacy.

“We didn’t invent RBAC, but we wanted to systematize it and standardize it,” says Richard Kuhn of NIST’s Computer Security Division and Barkley’s former supervisor. “While we were working on this, John [Barkley] came up with a way to control access by using RBAC within the context of a lengthy, multistep task, and I suggested he patent it.”

In essence, the patent covers a method of ensuring that access to information is available to those who need it, but only when necessary. For example, at a hospital, the patient admission procedure involves a number of steps, and in each step someone needs access to the patient’s medical records for a specific purpose, like registering the patient or verifying their insurance information.

“Once you’ve been admitted to the hospital, the admissions staff doesn’t necessarily need access to your records anymore. But in many hospitals, those staff members nonetheless continue to have access to every record on file,” Barkley explains. “Using the algorithm we patented, those staffers would only be able to access your record during admission processing. After that, they would find your information unavailable—though the doctor who was treating you would still have access to it.”

NIST released a Small Business Innovation Research solicitation in an effort to find a company to develop a product from the patent in 2008, which happened to be when Virtual Global, Inc., was searching for a way to protect electronic records for its clients. The company purchased the rights to it shortly thereafter and integrated the invention into its “HealthCapsule” cloud platform. Virtual Global is now using HealthCapsule to create a pilot security system for LIFE Pittsburgh, a long-term care facility.

* J. Barkley. “Workflow Management Employing Role-Based Access Control,” U.S. Patent No. 6,088,679. July 11, 2000. Available at

Media Contact: Chad Boutin,, 301-975-4261

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JILA Team Finds New Parallel Between Cold Gases and 'Hot' Superconductors

Scientists at JILA, working with Italian theorists, have discovered another notable similarity between ultracold atomic gases and high-temperature superconductors, suggesting there may be a relatively simple shared explanation for equivalent behaviors of the two very different systems.

NIST Fellow Deborah Jin

NIST Fellow Deborah Jin in her laboratory at JILA where she studies ultracold atomic gases and their similarities to high-temperature superconductors. The atoms are initially trapped and cooled in a glass cylinder located below the copper coils.

Credit: NIST
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Described in Nature Physics,* the new research lends more support to the idea that JILA studies of superfluidity (flow with zero friction) in atomic gases may help scientists understand far more complicated high-temperature superconductors, solids with zero resistance to electrical current at relatively high temperatures. Known high-temperature superconductors only superconduct well below room temperature, but a detailed understanding of how the materials work may one day lead to practical applications such as more efficient transmission of electricity across power grids.

JILA is operated jointly by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The JILA group studies how atoms in a Fermi gas** behave as they "cross over" from acting like a Bose Einstein condensate, in which atom pairs form tightly bound molecules, to behaving like pairs of separated electrons in a superconductor. In the new study, JILA scientists applied a technique they developed in 2008 <> to explore subtle energy properties of ultracold atoms. The technique is an adaptation of photoemission spectroscopy, long used to probe the energy of electrons in materials. A superconductor research group recently used electron photoemission spectroscopy to find evidence of electron pairing above the critical temperature where the material switches from a superconductor to a regular conductor. Why this duality occurs is a subject of debate.

The JILA scientists performed comparable measurements for an ultracold gas of potassium atoms at and above temperatures where superfluidity disappears. Like the superconductor group, the JILA team found evidence of atom pairing above the critical temperature. This demonstrates the existence of a so-called "pseudo-gap region" where the system retains some pairs of correlated fermions but not all characteristics of superfluidity. The findings were made possible in part by significant improvements in the signal strength of the atom photoemission spectroscopy technique since 2008.

"What makes this really interesting is that the two systems are actually very different, with the high-temperature superconductor being much more complicated than atomic gases," says NIST/JILA Fellow Deborah Jin. "The observation of similar behavior with similar measurements suggests that having a pseudogap phase does not require complicated explanations, such as lattice effects, two-dimensionality, or exotic pairing mechanisms."

Co-authors of the new paper are theorists from the Universita di Camerino in Italy. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

* J.P. Gaebler, J.T. Stewart, T.E. Drake and D.S. Jin, A. Perali, P. Pieri and G.C. Strinati. 2010. Observation of pseudogap behavior in a strongly interacting Fermi gas. Nature Physics. Posted online July 4.

** A Fermi gas is a collection of noninteracting particles called fermions, one of two categories of fundamental particles found in nature (bosons are the other). Identical fermions cannot occupy the same place at the same time.

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

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Baldrige Program Seeks Input During 2010 Improvement Events

Inspired by last year’s successful first try at a “virtual improvement day,” the Baldrige National Quality Program (BNQP) is planning two online events this July and August when interested parties can again recommend ways to better the program that guides organizations toward innovation and performance excellence.

The Baldrige program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) collects suggestions throughout the year on opportunities for improving the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award processes and other key BNQP activities. For many years, the program held an annual “Improvement Day” at NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus at which stakeholders could review, consolidate, filter, prioritize and recommend which suggestions should be implemented. In 2009, the event went virtual for the first time by expanding to three separate online discussion sessions. These Virtual Improvement Days proved so successful that they’re back for 2010.

The Baldrige program will consider all recommendations for improvement during events on July 27, 2010, and Aug. 2, 2010, from 1 - 4 p.m. Eastern time both days. A third date will be announced soon.

Anyone wishing to participate in one of the sessions should register by sending an e-mail to The account also may be used to send improvement suggestions prior to the virtual events.

Members of the professional social media site LinkedIn can send in suggestions by joining the Baldrige Improvement Discussion Group. Log into your LinkedIn account, select “Groups” on the pull-down search menu at the top of the home page, enter “Baldrige Improvement Discussion Group,” and when the group page comes up, ask to join. Once you have joined, click on the “Subgroup” tab and sign up for the “Improvement Day 2010” subgroup.

For more information, contact Bob Fangmeyer,, (301) 975-4781.

Media Contact: Michael E. Newman,, 301-975-3025

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Updated Computer Security Publication Focuses on Security Assessment Plans

After a public comment period, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published an updated set of guidelines for developing security assessment plans and associated security control assessment procedures that are consistent with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

The revised Guide for Assessing Security Controls in Federal Information Systems and Organizations (NIST Special Publication 800-53A, Revision 1) reflects the most recent, third revision of Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations (NIST Special Publication 800-53, Revision 3), one of the principal documents for FISMA implementation. Changes in the guide are part of a larger strategic initiative to focus on enterprise-wide, near real-time risk management. The guideline includes security control assessment procedures for both national security and non-national security systems and is intended to support a variety of assessment activities in all phases of the system development life cycle, including development, implementation and operation.

This new publication is the third in a series of special publications that NIST has produced with its partners in the Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative Working Group—the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Committee on National Security Systems (CNSS). The Joint Task Force's goal is to develop a unified information security framework for the federal government and its contractors.

More details are available in the May 11, 2010, NIST Tech Beat article "Comments Sought on Updated Guide for Assessing Federal IT Security Controls" at SP 800-53A, Revision 1, can be downloaded in PDF format from

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

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