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Tech Beat - February 15, 2011

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: February 15, 2011
Date Modified: February 15, 2011 
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President Proposes $1 Billion Budget for NIST in FY 2012

President Barack Obama's fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget proposal announced on Feb. 14, 2011, proposes a funding level of $1.001 billion for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an 8.9 percent increase over the President's FY 2011 budget request and a 16.9 percent increase above NIST's FY 2010 appropriations.

The NIST budget request reinforces the Administration's commitment to science and technology by doubling funding for NIST laboratories, one of several strategies for maintaining U.S. technological leadership laid out in the President's Plan for Science and Innovation and reaffirmed in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358).

The total request of $1.001 billion for NIST is divided into three appropriations:

Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS), $678.9 million, to fund NIST's laboratory programs as well as a number of important initiatives in cyber security; standards for emerging, complex technology systems; manufacturing and biomanufacturing; nanotechnology; infrastructure improvement; and others.

Industrial Technology Services (ITS), $237.6 million for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) ($142.6 million), the Technology Innovation Program (TIP) ($75 million), the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP) ($7.7 million) and a new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Program ($12.3 million).

Construction of Research Facilities (CRF), $84.6 million for the agency's regular maintenance and repair budget as well as a new initiative to renovate the agency's principal research building at the NIST Boulder (Colo.) campus.

In addition to the three appropriations outlined above, the Administration will be submitting authorizing legislation for the auction of spectrum licenses to collect up to an estimated $27 billion in revenue by 2021, of which $500 million is proposed for re-allocation to NIST between 2012-2016 for the Public Safety Innovation Fund (PSIF). The PSIF is NIST's component of the Wireless Innovation Fund as part of the President's Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative (WI3). This initiative proposes to reallocate a total of 500 megahertz of federal agency and commercial spectrum bands over the next 10 years to allow greater access to wireless broadband.

For details, see the Feb. 14 news announcement, "Obama Administration's Budget Request for NIST Includes Critical Science and Technology Investments to Advance U.S. Innovation and Boost Economic Recovery" at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/budget_2012.cfm.

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

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Here Comes the Sun: NIST Radio Station WWVH in Hawaii Adds Solar Power

The sun is now a significant power source for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) radio station WWVH, which broadcasts time of day, marine storm warnings, and other information to listeners worldwide from its base on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

illustration of solar array
Illustration of the solar array that powers NIST radio station WWVH on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.
Credit: Image by D. Okayama/K. Talbott
View hi-resolution image

Photovoltaic arrays were built at WWVH during 2010 and connected to the local electrical grid last week. The array provides much of the 100 kilowatts of daytime power used by the radio station and reduces the need for electricity produced by the local utility with diesel generators. The conversion is expected to save the radio station nearly $60,000 per year. The station operates 24 hours a day and gets power from the grid at night.

In addition to lowering electricity costs, the solar array will reduce pollution. Giving WWVH a renewable energy source—the sun is plentiful in Hawaii—significantly reduces the facility’s “carbon footprint” from diesel emissions such as soot, components of smog, and hydrocarbons.

WWVH provides time and frequency calibrations for marine radios and GPS status announcements for mariners as well as other users. WWVH has been located at the Barking Sands Naval Base on Kauai since 1971. The radio station originally began broadcasting in 1948 from the island of Maui in what was then the U.S. territory of Hawaii (Hawaii was granted statehood in 1959). The move to Kauai was prompted by an eroding shoreline at the original site.

The $1.4 million solar construction project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). A small business, Adon Construction Inc. of Kaneohe, Hawaii, was the general contractor, with about 37 people employed on the six-month project. The system consists of eight separate arrays, with each module housing the equipment needed to convert the energy generated from the panels into usable power. The solar array is designed for a marine environment and to withstand 105 mile-per-hour winds. The project is part of an upgrade and expansion of WWVH infrastructure.

More information about WWVH can be found at http://tf.nist.gov/timefreq/stations/wwvh.htm.

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

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The NIST Role in Role-Based Control: A 20th Anniversary Appraisal

What NIST-led innovation is estimated to have saved U.S. industry $6.1 billion over the past 20 years? Well, probably several, but, perhaps surprisingly, a new economics study* points to the development of "role-based access control," a computer-security technology fostered and championed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the 1990s.

Role-based access control (RBAC) is the idea of establishing standard levels of access—"permissions"— to the various computing resources and networks of an organization that are tailored to specific employee roles, or job functions rather than individuals. In a large, information-intensive organization, it is generally far easier and more reliable for system security managers to assign a new hire to one or more "roles" and have all the appropriate permissions set automatically than to do each manually.

RBAC is now a common security tool. Facebook users employ it when they assign privileges on their pages to roles like "Friends," "Friends of Friends" and "Everyone." But in the early 1990s, it was a new—and difficult to implement—strategy. Organizations tended to rely on the more primitive "access control lists" that had to be set individually for each system for each employee. NIST has been at the center of RBAC development for nearly 20 years. The agency published a comprehensive RBAC model and the first technical specifications and formal description for RBAC in 1992. This was followed by both theoretical research and prototypes demonstrating the scalability and efficiency of RBAC. By 2000, in cooperation with George Mason University, NIST had developed a proposed RBAC standard. NIST led the ANSI/INCITS** effort to establish a formal industry standard*** in 2004.

In a study prepared for NIST, RTI International used a combination of surveys of industry IT security managers in 2002 and 2010 and published industry data to estimate the impact of the NIST activities on the development and adoption of RBAC. The analysts estimate that by the end of 2010, over 50 percent of IT users at organizations with more than 500 employees have at least some of their system permissions managed by RBAC. NIST's work, they report, probably accelerated the introduction of RBAC by a year and also reduced development costs for firms adopting the strategy. The economic benefits flowed from more efficient management of system access, lower unproductive employee time due to more efficient access management, and more efficient maintenance and documentation of system access. The importance of the last item has been heightened by regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which mandated much more careful documentation and accountability for access to data in the regulated industries.

Assigning dollars to their model, the RTI researchers estimate that RBAC technology itself has generated $6.1 billion in net economic benefits to industry (values adjusted to 2009 dollars), of which $1.1 billion is attributable to NIST's work. Reckoning in the cost to the public of the NIST work, this translates to about $249 in benefit for every dollar spent.

The RTI study, 2010 Economic Analysis of Role-Based Access Control Final Report. is available on-line at http://csrc.nist.gov/groups/SNS/rbac/documents/20101219_RBAC2_Final_Report.pdf. NIST continues to work with industry to improve RBAC and will host a meeting of the INCITS CS1.1 committee on March 15, 2011, to discuss a proposal for a Role Based Access Control Next Generation Standard. Interested parties should contact D. Richard Kuhn at kuhn@nist.gov for details. More information on NIST's RBAC program is available at http://csrc.nist.gov/groups/SNS/rbac/index.html.

* A.C. O'Connor and R.J. Loomis. 2010 Economic Analysis of Role-Based Access Control Final Report. RTI International, Project Number 0211876. December 2010.
** American National Standards Institute/ InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards. Leading organizations for developing consensus standards in information technology.
*** ANSI/INCITS 359-2004, Role Based Access Control.

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

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Compact High-Temperature Superconducting Cables Demonstrated at NIST

A researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has invented a method of making high-temperature superconducting (HTS) cables that are thinner and more flexible than demonstration HTS cables now installed in the electric power grid while carrying the same or more current. The compact cables could be used in the electric grid as well as scientific and medical equipment and may enable HTS power transmission for military applications.

cross-section of high-temperature superconducting cable
Cross-section of a high-temperature superconducting cable design invented at NIST. In the center are copper wires bundled with nylon and plastic insulation. The outer rings are a series of superconducting tapes wrapped in spirals around the copper. The cable is 7.5 millimeters in outer diameter.
Credit: van der Laan/NIST
View hi-resolution image

Described in a paper just published online,* the new method involves winding multiple HTS-coated conductors** around a multi-strand copper “former” or core. The superconducting layers are wound in spirals in alternating directions. One prototype cable is 6.5 millimeters (mm) in outer diameter and carries a current of 1,200 amperes; a second cable is 7.5 mm in diameter and carries a current as high as 2,800 amperes. They are roughly one-tenth the diameter of typical HTS cables used in the power grid. (Standard electrical transmission lines normally operate at currents below 1,000 amperes.)

HTS materials, which conduct electricity without resistance when cooled sufficiently (below 77 K, or minus 196 C/minus 321 F, for the new cables) with liquid nitrogen or helium gas, are used to boost efficiency in some power grids. The main innovation in the compact cables is the tolerance of newer HTS conductors to compressive strain that allows use of the unusually slender copper former, says developer Danko van der Laan, a University of Colorado scientist working at NIST.

“The knowledge I gained while working at NIST on electromechanical properties of high-temperature superconductors was very important for inventing the initial cable concept,” van der Laan says. “For instance, my discovery that the conductor survives large compressive strains*** made me realize that wrapping the conductor around a small diameter former would most likely work.”

Van der Laan and NIST colleagues demonstrated the feasibility of the new concept by making several cables and testing their performance. They used an HTS material with a critical current that is less sensitive to strain than some other materials. Although the prototype cables are wound by hand, several manufacturers say mass production is feasible.

NIST researchers are now developing prototype compact HTS cables for the military, which requires small size and light weight as well as flexibility to pull transmission lines through conduits with tight bends. Beside power transmission, the flexible cabling concept could be used for superconducting transformers, generators, and magnetic energy storage devices that require high-current windings. The compact cables also could be used in high-field magnets for fusion and for medical applications such as next-generation magnetic resonance imaging and proton cancer treatment systems.

The work was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy.

* D.C. van der Laan, X.F. Lu, and L.F. Goodrich. Compact GdBa2Cu3O7-δ. coated conductor cables for electric power transmission and magnet applications. Superconductor Science & Technology. 24 042001, doi: 10.1088/0953-2048/24/4/042001.
** The superconducting compound used in the work is gadolinium-barium-copper-oxide, or GdBa2Cu3O7-δ.
*** See the NIST Feb. 15, 2007, Tech Beat article “Strain Has Major Effect on High-Temp Superconductors,” at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/techbeat/tb2007_0215.htm#htc.

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

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Information Retrieval Research Conference Adds Tracks on Health Records, Crowd-sourcing and Micro-blogging

If you found this article through a search engine, you can thank an automated text retrieval system. For 20 years, the Text REtrieval Conference (TREC) sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been one of the major research efforts in the field, and TREC is seeking researchers to participate in this year's workshop series. This year researchers will add new tracks to study information retrieval in more challenging areas such as electronic healthcare records.

Applications are being accepted until May.

A recent economic impact study* prepared for NIST found that the NIST-led TREC project has significantly improved search engines' ability to retrieve electronic data and the report notes that TREC-related improvements are responsible for about one-third of the web-search advances between 1999 and 2009. The report notes that the improvements may have saved up to 3 billion hours of web-search time.

TREC brings together scientists from academia and public and private-sector organizations to focus on improving information retrieval in specific areas. The groups develop algorithms to find information from large, challenging datasets often provided by NIST.

New tracks in 2011 include health records, crowd-sourcing, which is outsourcing tasks to a community through an open call, and "micro-blogging"— blogging smaller items and information, such as status updates on social networking sites. Other tracks continuing from 2010 are chemical, entity (non-documents), session, web and the growing legal track.

"We are searching for concepts that are well beyond the simple string-of-words technique," explained TREC organizer Ellen Voorhees. "For example, in electronic health care records, we want to find data beyond what is in the typical fields for case number and patient name. We are interested in finding information in the care providers' notes that could, for example, use many different phrases to describe that a patient has a history of smoking." Those phrases could include "heavy tobacco use" or "occasional smoker," she added.

Results of the studies are shared at a workshop in November at NIST's Gaithersburg, Md., campus. TREC research is precompetitive and results are shared openly.

For more information on TREC and participating, see trec.nist.gov.

Note: The author relied heavily on web-based information retrieval for this article.

* B.R. Rowe, D.W.Wood, A.N. Link and D.A. Simoni. Economic Impact Assessment of NIST's Text REtrieval Conference (TREC) Program. RTI Project Number 0211875, July 2010. Available on-line at: trec.nist.gov/pubs/2010.economic.impact.pdf.

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

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Crowding Out Collisions: Close Quarters Boost Atomic Clock's Accuracy

In a paradox typical of the quantum world, JILA scientists have eliminated collisions between atoms in an atomic clock by packing the atoms closer together. The surprising discovery, described in the Feb. 3 issue of Science Express,* can boost the performance of experimental atomic clocks made of thousands or tens of thousands of neutral atoms trapped by intersecting laser beams.

optical tubes
Intersecting laser beams create "optical tubes" to pack atoms close together, enhancing their interaction and the performance of JILA's strontium atomic clock.
Credit: Baxley/JILA
View hi-resolution image

Such clocks work by using the interaction of light from lasers and magnetic fields with atoms to “cool” the atoms until they are almost motionless and hold them in small regions defined by the light beams, a technique called optical trapping. The devices provide highly accurate time by measuring oscillations (which serve as “ticks”) between the energy levels in the atoms. Things that perturb or alter those energy levels, such as collisions, limit the accuracy of the clocks.

JILA** scientists demonstrated the new approach using an experimental clock holding about 4,000 strontium atoms. Instead of configuring the trap as a stack of pancake-shaped regions as in their previous work, the scientists packed the atoms into thousands of optical traps shaped like horizontal tubes. The result was a more than tenfold improvement in clock performance because the atoms interacted so strongly that, against all odds, they stopped hitting each other. The atoms, which normally like to hang out separately and relaxed, get so perturbed from being forced close together that the ensemble is effectively frozen in place.

“The atoms used to have the whole dance floor to move around on and now they are confined in alleys, so the interaction energy goes way up,” says NIST/JILA Fellow Jun Ye, leader of the experimental team.

The trick works because strontium atoms are fermions, a class of particles that cannot occupy the same place at the same time in the same energy state—energetically identical strontium atoms cannot collide. Normally the laser beam used to operate the clock interacts with the atoms unevenly, leaving the atoms dissimilar enough to collide.*** But the interaction energy of atoms packed in optical tubes is now higher than any energy shifts that might be caused by the laser, preventing the atoms from differentiating enough to collide.

Ye believes this clock and others based on neutral atoms will become competitive in terms of the accuracy with world-leading experimental clocks. The JILA strontium clock is currently the best performing experimental clock based on neutral atoms and, along with several NIST ion and neutral atom clocks, a possible candidate for a future international time standard. The research was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (grant administered by the Army Research Office), NIST, National Science Foundation and Air Force Office for Scientific Research. For more details, see the Feb. 3 release “Quantum Quirk: JILA Scientists Pack Atoms Together to Prevent Collisions in Atomic Clock” at www.nist.gov/pml/div689/jila-020311.cfm.

* M.D. Swallows, M. Bishof, Y. Lin, S. Blatt, M.J. Martin, A.M. Rey and J. Ye. Suppression of collisional shifts in a strongly interacting lattice clock. Science Express. Posted online Feb. 3.
** JILA is jointly operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder.
*** See NIST news release “JILA/NIST Scientists Get a Grip on Colliding Fermions to Enhance Atomic Clock Accuracy,” at http://www.nist.gov/pml/div689/fermions_041609.cfm.

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

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April Workshop To Focus on Preserving Digital Health Records

Information technology experts, insurers, policy makers and representatives of healthcare organizations will convene on April 5-6, 2011, in Bethesda, Md., to survey current approaches to preserving electronic health records (EHRs) and then to chart steps toward ensuring that this valuable digital information is managed over the long term to the full benefit of patients, physicians, researchers and others.

To be held at the National Library of Medicine on the campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Workshop on Long-term Preservation and Management of Electronic Health Records aims to sharpen the focus and accelerate the pace of efforts to meet one of the key challenges in implementing a national health information network. Sponsors are the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), NIH/NLM and the National Archives and Records Administration.

Key questions include: What information should be retained and for how long? What is the most effective way to adjust to obsolescence of hardware and software and to accommodate new technology? What privacy needs must be addressed and what legal requirements exist? What is the most efficient and practical way to verify the quality of archived patient information? Are existing methods of version control sufficient for ensuring that data is up-to-date, accurate, and complete? How do record preservation and management requirements differ between patients and other potential users of health data, such as researchers or insurers?

Speakers will include William W. Stead, Associate Vice Chancellor for Strategy/Transformation and Director of the Informatics Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Charles P. Friedman, Chief Scientific Officer for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Chris Greer, Assistant Director for Information Technology Research and Development, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; John D. Halamka, Chief Information Officer, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Chief Information Officer, Harvard Medical School; Clement J. McDonald, Director, Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communication, NLM; Mark Frisse, Accenture Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Vanderbilt Center for Better Health; Lynn H. Vogel, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; and Christopher G. Chute, Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Mayo Clinic, and Director of Health Informatics, Clinical Translational Science Institute, University of Minnesota.

Breakout sessions will focus on the infrastructure for acquiring, storing, exchanging and retrieving health information; methods for preserving and reusing EHRs for research; and institutional policies for sharing archived EHRs.

To learn more about the workshop and to register, go to: http://ddpehr.nist.gov/home.php.

For information about NIST research and services that contribute to improvements in the use, effectiveness, and capabilities of health information technology, including the preservation of EHRs, go to www.nist.gov/healthcare/hit/index.cfm.

Edited on March 4, 2011, to remove the Department of Veterans Affairs from the list of sponsors.

Media Contact: Mark Bello, mark.bello@nist.gov, 301-975-3776

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Emerging Trends in Cybersecurity Is Topic of March IT Security Trainers' Conference

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Information Systems Security Educators' Association (FISSEA) are co-hosting FISSEA’s 24th annual conference March 15-17, 2011, at NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md. campus.

“Bridging to the Future—Emerging Trends in Cybersecurity” is designed for information systems security professionals from government, industry or academia who are trainers, developers, educators, managers, supervisors or researchers involved with information systems security awareness, training, education and certification.

Some highlights of the annual meeting will be a keynote to provide an overview of the NIST-coordinated National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) with a panel on the NICE program following, and presentations to FISSEA Security Contest winners and FISSEA “Educator of the Year.”

The conference offers two tracks: “Bridging to the Future—Emerging Trends in Cybersecurity” and “Open Forum.” The meeting offers an opportunity to develop a better understanding of current cybersecurity projects including NICE, emerging trends and initiatives; awareness and training ideas, resources and contacts; and new techniques for developing and conducting training. The conference also provides opportunities to network with the federal cybersecurity training community, and for professional development.

Registration information and an agenda can be found at https://www.fbcinc.com/nist_FISSEA, and more information can be found at www.fissea.org or http://csrc.nist.gov/fissea. Journalists interested in attending should contact Evelyn Brown, evelyn.brown@nist.gov.

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

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