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Tech Beat - August 17, 2010

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: August 23, 2010
Date Modified: September 8, 2010 
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Extreme Darkness: Carbon Nanotube Forest Covers NIST’s Ultra-dark Detector

Harnessing darkness for practical use, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a laser power detector coated with the world's darkest material—a forest of carbon nanotubes that reflects almost no light across the visible and part of the infrared spectrum.

Colorized micrograph of the world's darkest material

Colorized micrograph of the world's darkest material—a sparse "forest" of fine carbon nanotubes — coating a NIST laser power detector. Image shows a region approximately 25 micrometers across.

Credit: Aric Sanders/NIST
View hi-resolution image

NIST will use the new ultra-dark detector, described in a new paper in Nano Letters,* to make precision laser power measurements for advanced technologies such as optical communications, laser-based manufacturing, solar energy conversion, and industrial and satellite-borne sensors.

Inspired by a 2008 paper by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) on "the darkest man-made material ever,"** the NIST team used a sparse array of fine nanotubes as a coating for a thermal detector, a device used to measure laser power. A co-author at Stony Brook University in New York grew the nanotube coating. The coating absorbs laser light and converts it to heat, which is registered in pyroelectric material (lithium tantalate in this case). The rise in temperature generates a current, which is measured to determine the power of the laser. The blacker the coating, the more efficiently it absorbs light instead of reflecting it, and the more accurate the measurements.

The new NIST detector uniformly reflects less than 0.1 percent of light at wavelengths from deep violet at 400 nanometers (nm) to near infrared at 4 micrometers (μm) and less than 1 percent of light in the infrared spectrum from 4 to 14 μm. The results are similar to those reported for the RPI material and in a 2009 paper by a Japanese group. The NIST work is unique in that the nanotubes were grown on pyroelectric material, whereas the other groups grew them on silicon. NIST researchers plan to extend the calibrated operating range of their device to 50 or even 100 micrometer wavelengths, to perhaps provide a standard for terahertz radiation power.

NIST previously made detector coatings from a variety of materials, including flat nanotube mats. The new coating is a vertical forest of multiwalled nanotubes, each less than 10 nanometers in diameter and about 160 micrometers long. The deep hollows may help trap light, and the random pattern diffuses any reflected light in various directions. Measuring how much light was reflected across a broad spectrum was technically demanding; the NIST team spent hundreds of hours using five different methods to measure the vanishingly low reflectance with adequate precision. Three of the five methods involved comparisons of the nanotube-coated detector to a calibrated standard.

Carbon nanotubes offer ideal properties for thermal detector coatings, in part because they are efficient heat conductors. Nickel phosphorous, for example, reflects less light at some wavelengths, but does not conduct heat as well. The new carbon nanotube materials also are darker than NIST's various Standard Reference Materials for black color developed years ago to calibrate instruments.

* J. Lehman, A. Sanders, L. Hanssen, B. Wilthan and J. Zeng.  2010. A Very Black Infrared Detector from Vertically Aligned Carbon Nanotubes and Electric-field Poling of Lithium Tantalate. Nano Letters. Posted online Aug. 3, 2010.

** Z.P. Yang, L. Ci, J.A. Bur, S.Y. Lin and P.M. Ajayan. Experimental observation of an extremely dark material made by a low-density nanotube array. Nano Letters. Vol. 8, No. 2, 446-451.

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

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NIST to Frame the Magna Carta

Fabrication specialists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are joining forces with conservators at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to protect and display a document that influenced our nation’s foundation, the 1297 Magna Carta. Only four originals of the 1297 Magna Carta survive, and the one at the Archives is the only original on display in the United States.

magna carta

The Magna Carta as confirmed by Edward I in 1297.

Courtesy of David M. Rubenstein

The famous charter is on exhibit in the West Rotunda Gallery in the National Archives Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

The Magna Carta harkens back to 1215 when King John of England was forced by an assembly of barons to write down the traditional rights of the country’s free persons. By so doing, he bound himself and his heirs to grant “to all freemen of our kingdom” the rights and liberties described in the great charter, or Magna Carta. Each subsequent ruler did the same. The 1297 Magna Carta represents the transition from a brokered agreement to the foundation of English law, upon which U.S. law is based.

NIST has been involved in safeguarding several important historical documents. In 1951, NIST researchers developed and implemented a preservation technique to encase the Charters of Freedom—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights—safely in helium-filled cases. . NIST and NARA worked together on a five year project from 1998 to 2003 to create a totally new and updated encasement design for very long-term sealed encasements filled with argon gas. Building on that experience, working with the Library of Congress, NIST manufactured and delivered an encasement in 2007 that was six times larger than those for the Charters of Freedom to protect the 1507 Waldseemüller map, often called “America’s Birth Certificate” because it is the first world map to label the lands of the New World as “America.”

“Working with the Archives,” explained NIST engineer Mark Luce, “we incorporated the latest technology for the encasements to help protect these documents from negative environmental effects and maintain their condition for many years.” Like the Charters of Freedom, the Magna Carta will be displayed in an inert gas environment that reduces oxidative degradation and maintains constant moisture content so that the parchment will lie flat and not deteriorate.

The Archives will display the Magna Carta until early 2011 while plans for the new encasement are developed. The document will be withdrawn from display for one year while the new encasement is constructed at NIST, Archives conservators carry out any needed conservation on the document, and it has time to become acclimated to the new encasement environment. A new exhibit is planned to explore the connections between the Magna Carta and the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution so visitors will better understand how this document influenced American freedoms more broadly.

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

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MEP ExporTech: Supporting Manufacturing Growth Through Export

For the past four years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), along with the U.S. Commercial Service, and local MEP and export assistance centers, has been working with U.S. manufacturers to increase their exports. So far, MEP has completed 28 ExporTech projects in 18 states with a total of 230 companies participating.

stock photo of ship in port

©corepics/courtesy Shutterstock

Now, MEP has begun to offer other versions of their training program, including condensed and industry- and market-specific models. MEP has also begun to sponsor ExporTechs in target countries so attendees have access to local resources. One is planned for Ireland during the spring of 2011.

“All of these different models really have helped us to provide more specific, tailored research for each of the participating companies,” says Kari Reidy, MEP ExporTech program manager.

Wilco Machine & Fab, an Oklahoma-based energy industry equipment manufacturer, is one successful graduate of ExporTech. After taking the export market training program offered by NIST MEP, Wilco expanded their export business from 8 percent of revenues in 2008 to 51 percent by mid-2009.

Speaking at the 2010 MEP National Conference, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said that less than 1 percent of U.S. companies are engaged in export, and of the U.S. companies that do export, 58 percent export to only one country.

“Just one additional country, and we will substantially increase the goods that we sell,” Locke said. “And again, the more that we sell, the more we make, the more revenues for the companies and ultimately more employment for the people of America.”

ExporTech’s three days of intensive training typically are spread over three months and draw six to eight senior-level executives from various manufacturing companies. The first day of training is dedicated to a discussion of what makes a successful exporter and identifying the challenges facing the attending companies. Day two delves more deeply into the mechanics of exporting, including financing and logistics. By day three, the participating companies have developed a growth plan, which they present to a panel of experts for feedback.

“ExporTech provided the opportunity to learn how international business works, from infrastructure to shipping, legal to logistics, strategy and country knowledge,” says Conrad Karbowniczak, vice president of sales and marketing at D.W. Haber & Son, a fourth-generation family owned company from New York City that manufacturers hollowware (serving vessels, e.g.) for the hotel and banquet industry.

Before attending ExporTech, D.W. Haber & Son’s business only realized 2 to 3 percent of sales from exports. After ExporTech, the company decided to take the economic downturn as an opportunity to reinvest in their business. While their sales were down in 2009, they did markedly better than their competition. They also found themselves much better positioned to capitalize on the recovery by doubling their exports. “Without the class, it would have taken me an incredibly long time to learn and find all the critical information. In the process, it gave me an opportunity to take a more detailed look into the business and develop a plan for moving forward,” says Karbowniczak.

To learn more about ExporTech and find contact information for MEP affiliates in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, go to http://www.nist.gov/mep. MEP also offers an accelerated 2-day version of the course for companies that need a quick lesson in exporting.

Media Contact: Mark Esser, mark.esser@nist.gov, 301-975-8735

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NIST Technology Called Upon to Clean Up Chernobyl Disaster Site

A modified version of the RoboCrane®, a unique floating platform developed by manufacturing research engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), will be helping cleanup operations fly into action over the destroyed reactor number four at the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine. PaR Systems, a company based in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., owns a license to use the computer-controlled roving tool platform in the area immediately surrounding the exploded reactor core.

On April 26, 1986, a confluence of a variety of factors and errors caused a massive power surge resulting in a core explosion at reactor number four of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine in the former Soviet Union. The core explosion released a plume of highly radioactive material into the atmosphere and necessitated the evacuation of nearly 340,000 people from the surrounding areas. The International Atomic Energy Association and the World Health Organization state that 31 people died of injuries sustained during the explosion and estimate that 4,000 additional cancer deaths may be attributable to the release of radioactivity.

The G-7 countries, the European Commission, and the Ukraine government decided to replace the hastily constructed “sarcophagus” that presently covers the crater with a more robust shelter in 1997. Construction on the shelter, which will house and support the tool platform and other instruments related to the cleanup effort, began in 2006.

Developed at NIST in the 1990s, the Modular Suspended Manipulator,* expands upon the principle of a Stewart platform, a device that uses three sets of paired winches (motor-driven spools of cable) to suspend and manipulate a platform with six degrees of freedom (lateral, longitudinal, vertical, roll, pitch and yaw). Stewart platforms are most familiar for their use as the base of flight simulators. (See the NIST RoboCrane project summary.)

PaR extensively modified the nine cable version of the Modular Suspended Manipulator to create a kind of mobile tool resembling a pencil stuck through a slice of pizza. Cables are affixed to the top end of the pencil, or spine, as well as the pizza, the triangular platform, enabling the whole assembly to not only move freely through the air, but also make complicated stylus-like motions. (Hold a pencil at its midpoint with the point down between thumb and forefinger and place the other forefinger on the eraser. Move the pen every which way to get an idea of how the machine moves.) The design’s precision maneuverability throughout a large space and ability to be outfitted with a large variety of tools make it ideal for this type of application.

The company will affix a variety of interchangeable tools to the end of the spine, including a robotic arm, drill, jackhammer, shear, high-power vacuum system, and closed circuit television viewing system, all of which will be operated remotely.

* J.S. Albus, R.V. Bostelman and A.S. Jacoff. Modular suspended manipulator. United States Patent No. 6,566,834, May 20, 2003.

Media Contact: Mark Esser, mark.esser@nist.gov, 301-975-8735

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From Hydrogen Fuel Stations to Bean Counters, NIST Weights and Measures Works to Meet Market Needs

State regulators, meter manufacturers and hydrogen gas producers concerned with developing markets for hydrogen fuel; farmers seeking to more precisely plan their plantings; and consumers and manufacturers of dry goods seeking fairness in commerce all should have something to smile about after this year’s annual meeting of the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM).

Held this year from July 11-15 in St. Paul, Minn., the NCWM Annual Meeting serves as a forum for the development and adoption of model standards for legal metrology in the United States. Most states and territories voluntarily implement NCWM model standards as a whole or in part into their respective legal frameworks.

The NCWM was originally convened by the National Bureau of Standards in 1905 as a way of promoting and achieving uniformity in standards related to commerce among the states. Now a nonprofit corporation with members representing industry, consumers, federal agencies and regulatory officials, the NCWM works closely with NIST to develop standards and model laws. NIST publishes the standards recommended by NCWM in Handbooks 44, 130 and 133, and NIST personnel serve as members of the NCWM and as expert advisors to NCWM technical committees.

This year’s meeting saw a number of notable events. NCWM members endorsed a method of sale for hydrogen, thus filling a critical gap in the developing hydrogen economy infrastructure. The approved method stipulates that hydrogen fuel be sold by the kilogram and that street sign pricing be shown in terms of whole cents (e.g., $3.49 per kg, not $3.499 per kg).

Additionally, the conference espoused a tentative code that includes device design, accuracy, and installation and use requirements, and test procedures for hydrogen fuel. NIST will publish the tentative code in its 2011 edition of NIST Handbook 44 “Specifications, Tolerances, and Other Technical Requirements for Weighing and Measuring Devices.”

In another measure, the NCWM voted to allow state regulators to use mechanical counters for the inspection of bulk agricultural seed (specifically corn seed, soybean seed, field bean seed, and wheat seed) labeled by “count” to ensure that the count is accurate.

Seeds are still bagged and sold by weight in accordance with NIST Handbook 133, but with supplementary labeling and verification of seed counts, farmers will now be able to calculate the exact number of seeds they will need to plant their crops.

Finally, the conference chose to accept a revision of NIST Handbook 133, “Checking the Net Contents of Packaged Goods.” As an update to the current handbook (fourth edition, January 2005), the new version contains changes that eliminate confusion and ambiguity, and provide improved guidance and clarity for sections detailing moisture evaporation allowances in dry goods such as flour and dog food and seafood ice glazing test procedures.

A workgroup on packaged inkjet printer ink and toner cartridges was formed and will reconvene during the semiannual meeting in January, 2011.

A previously formed workgroup on price posting and computing capability for gasoline dispensers met during the conference to discuss alternate language for Handbook 44 as a result of various new technologies introduced into the marketplace.

For more information, visit the NIST Weights and Measures Division and the National Conference of Weights and Measures.

Media Contact: Mark Esser, mark.esser@nist.gov, 301-975-8735

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NIST Publishes Approved Testing Procedures for Electronic Health Records

In efforts to help the nation's health care industry make the transition to the digital age in an effective and meaningful fashion, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published a set of approved procedures for testing information technology systems that work with electronic health records  (EHRs).  Released in draft form earlier this year (see "NIST, Partners Develop Testing Infrastructure for Health IT Systems," NIST Tech Beat for March 16, 2010, at http://www.nist.gov/itl/hit_031610.cfm), the approved and finalized testing procedures are now available for use.

Under a certification program established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator (HHS/ONC), testing organizations authorized by HHS/ONC can use the tools to evaluate EHR software and systems that vendors would like to sell to doctor's offices, hospitals and other health care providers.  Starting next year, the federal government will provide extra Medicare and Medicaid payments to health care providers that implement EHR systems certified to meet ONC requirements that conform to technical standards and are put to "meaningful use," performing specifically defined functions.

These ONC-approved test procedures help ensure that electronic health records function properly and work interchangeably across systems developed by different vendors.  The set of 45 approved test procedures evaluate components of electronic health records such as their encryption, how they plot and display growth charts, and how they control access so that only authorized users can access their information.

The development of these tools was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in order to support a health IT infrastructure.

Notice of the approved test procedures appears in the August 9, 2010, Federal Register. For more information, see http://healthcare.nist.gov/use_testing/finalized_requirements.html  and http://healthit.hhs.gov/certification

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

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