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Tech Beat - March 1, 2011

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: March 1, 2011
Date Modified: March 1, 2011 
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'A Little Off the Top' Helps NIST Map Cells with Submicrometer Resolution

To determine if a tissue biopsy reveals the presence of cancer, a histologist often screens for cells with an abnormal appearance or a specific visible trait such as a larger-than-usual nucleus. However, by the time a cancer is physically noticeable, the disease may be in its later stages and more difficult to treat. In an effort to identify the earlier-onset, more subtle chemical changes occurring in a cell heading toward malignancy, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have developed a technique that slices off the top of a cell and makes the structures accessible to spectroscopic examination of their chemical "signature."

HeLa cell
Artist’s illustration showing a HeLa cell with its top already “milled” off being probed by a secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) beam. Molecules from three sections of the cell—the membrane, the cytoplasm and the nucleus—are seen ejecting from the surface in response. The spectra from these molecules are used to map the cell sections from which they originate.
Credit: Donald Bliss, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
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Secondary-ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) is a laboratory method developed in the 1960s to define and map the chemicals making up a substance or structure. An ion beam is shot at the surface of a sample, knocking chemical species off the target area that can then be identified by a mass spectrometer. The resulting spectra, in turn, can be used to create a chemical map of the sample.

To date, using SIMS imaging to map mammalian cells has yielded only modest success. To get to the interesting stuff inside the cell, the beam must first blast away the outer cell membrane. Like using a pickax to uncover a fossil, the beam often digs unevenly or too deeply and can damage or destroy the complex molecules and structures inside. The NIST/NCI team tried something more surgical. They first freeze-dried the cell in a manner that prevented its membrane from rupturing and then gently milled the top off the cell with a more powerful, more precisely controlled focused ion beam (FIB) that can skim across the cell at a specified depth. The interior of the cell is left exposed and as close to its natural state as possible for the SIMS beam. "In effect, we get a new, extremely data-rich surface for analysis," says team leader Christopher Szakal.

In a recently published proof-of-concept experiment,* the NIST/NCI researchers applied their method to samples from the HeLa immortal human cancer cell line. Specific chemical signals were mapped across the region sliced open by the FIB, yielding images of the cell structures they define at resolutions better than a micrometer (millionth of a meter). For example, spectral maps of phospholipids were used to produce two-dimensional views of cell membranes.

The next step, Szakal says, is to show that the FIB can cleanly slice more than just the top layer off of a cell. "If we can use the FIB-SIMS method to chemically map successive layers of a cell, we'll be able to get three-dimensional images of the cell's components," he explains.

Additionally, the NIST/NCI team is developing mathematical algorithms to enhance and improve the images produced by its new system. The researchers hope that the technique will eventually enable diagnosticians to spot early changes in cell structure that could indicate a move toward abnormality (such as an enlargement of the nuclear membrane) or detect the initial presence of biomarkers, chemical species that can potentially be used to monitor the growth of specific cancers.

* C. Szakal, K. Narayan, J. Fu, J. Lefman and S. Subramaniam. Compositional mapping of the surface and interior of mammalian cells at submicrometer resolution. Analytical Chemistry. Vol. 83, Issue 4, pages 1207–1213. Published online Jan. 26, 2011.

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

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NIST 'Quantum Tuning Forks' Demonstrate Direct Coupling of Vibrating Ions

Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have for the first time coaxed two atoms in separate locations to take turns jiggling back and forth while swapping the smallest measurable units of energy. The technique directly links the motions of two physically separated atoms and might simplify information processing in future quantum computers and simulations.

chip mesh
NIST physicists used this apparatus to coax two beryllium ions (electrically charged atoms) into swapping the smallest measurable units of energy back and forth, a technique that may simplify information processing in a quantum computer. The ions are trapped about 40 micrometers apart above the square gold chip in the center. The chip is surrounded by a copper enclosure and gold wire mesh to prevent buildup of static charge.
Credit: Y. Colombe/NIST
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Described in a recent Nature paper,* the NIST experiments enticed two beryllium ions to take turns vibrating in an electromagnetic trap, exchanging units of energy, or quanta, that are a hallmark of quantum mechanics. As little as one quantum was traded back and forth in these exchanges, signifying that the ions are "coupled" or linked together. These ions also behave like objects in the larger, everyday world in that they are "harmonic oscillators" similar to pendulums and tuning forks, making repetitive, back-and-forth motions.

"First one ion is jiggling a little and the other is not moving at all; then the jiggling motion switches to the other ion. The smallest amount of energy you could possibly see is moving between the ions," explains first author Kenton Brown, a NIST post-doctoral researcher. "We can also tune the coupling, which affects how fast they exchange energy and to what degree. We can turn the interaction on and off."

The new experiments are similar to the same NIST research group's 2009 demonstration of entanglement—a quantum phenomenon linking properties of separated particles—in a mechanical system of two separated pairs of vibrating ions (see the June 3, 2009, announcement “NIST Physicists Demonstrate Quantum Entanglement in Mechanical System” at www.nist.gov/pml/div688/jost_060309.cfm). However, the new experiments coupled the oscillators' motions more directly than before and, therefore, may simplify information processing. In this case, the researchers observed quantum behavior but did not verify entanglement.

The new technique could be useful in a future quantum computer, which would use quantum systems such as ions to solve problems that are intractable today. Direct coupling of ions in separate locations could simplify logic operations and help correct processing errors. The technique is also a feature of proposals for quantum simulations, which may help explain the mechanisms of complex quantum systems such as high-temperature superconductors.

In addition, the demonstration also suggests that similar interactions could be used to connect different types of quantum systems, such as a trapped ion and a particle of light (photon), to transfer information in a future quantum network. For example, a trapped ion could act as a "quantum transformer" between a superconducting quantum bit (qubit) and a qubit made of photons.

For more details, read the NIST Feb. 23, 2011, news story, “Quantum Hot Potato: NIST Researchers Entice Two Atoms to Swap Smallest Energy Units” at http://www.nist.gov/pml/div688/quantum-022311.cfm. This NIST research was supported in part by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Office of Naval Research.

* K.R. Brown, C. Ospelkaus, Y. Colombe, A.C. Wilson, D. Leibfried & D.J. Wineland. Coupled quantized mechanical oscillators. Nature. Published online Feb. 23.

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

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Using Artificial, Cell-Like 'Honey Pots' To Entrap Deadly Viruses

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Weill Cornell Medical College have designed artificial "protocells" that can lure, entrap and inactivate a class of deadly human viruses—think decoys with teeth. The technique offers a new research tool that can be used to study in detail the mechanism by which viruses attack cells, and might even become the basis for a new class of antiviral drugs.

A new paper* details how the novel artificial cells achieved a near 100 percent success rate in deactivating experimental analogs of Nipah and Hendra viruses, two emerging henipaviruses that can cause fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in humans.

"We often call them honey pot protocells," says NIST materials scientist David LaVan, "The lure, the irresistibly sweet bait that you can use to capture something."

Henipaviruses, LaVan explains, belong to a broad class of human pathogens—other examples include parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, mumps and measles—called enveloped viruses because they are surrounded by a two-layer lipid membrane similar to that enclosing animal cells. A pair of proteins embedded in this membrane act in concert to infect host cells. One, the so-called "G" protein, acts as a spotter, recognizing and binding to a specific "receptor" protein on the surface of the target cell.

The G protein then signals the "F" protein, explains LaVan, though the exact mechanism isn't well understood. "The F protein cocks like a spring, and once it gets close enough, fires its harpoon, which penetrates the cell's bilayer and allows the virus to pull itself into the cell. Then the membranes fuse and the payload can get delivered into the cell and take over." It can only do it once, however.

The "honey pot" protocells have a core of nanoporous silica—inert but providing structural strength—wrapped in a lipid membrane like a normal cell. In this membrane the research team embedded bait, the protein Ephrin-B2, a known target of henipaviruses. To test it, they exposed the protocells to experimental analogs of the henipaviruses developed at Weill Cornell. The analogs are nearly identical to henipaviruses on the outside, but instead of henipaviral RNA, they bear the genome of a nonpathogenic virus that is engineered to express a fluorescent protein upon infection. This enables counting and visualizing infected cells.

In controlled experiments, the team demonstrated that the protocells are amazingly effective decoys, essentially clearing a test solution of active viruses, as measured by using the fluorescent protein to determine how many normal cells are infected by the remaining viruses.

The immediate benefit, LaVan says, is a powerful research tool for studying how enveloped viruses work. "This is a nice system to study this sort of choreography between a virus and a cell, which has been very hard to study. A normal cell will have tens of thousands of membrane proteins. You might be studying this one, but maybe it's one of the others that are really influencing your experiment. You reduce this essentially impossibly complicated natural cell to a very pure system, so you now can vary the parameters and try to figure out how you can trick the viruses."

In the long run, say the researchers, the honey pot protocells could become a whole new class of antiviral drugs. Viruses, they point out, are notorious for rapidly evolving to become resistant to drugs, but because the honey pots use the virus's basic infection mechanism, any virus that evolved to avoid them likely would be less effective at infecting normal cells as well.

* M. Porotto, F. Yi, A. Moscona and D.A. LaVan. Synthetic protocells interact with viral nanomachinery and inactivate pathogenic human virus. PLoS ONE published online on March 1, 2011. http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0016874.

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

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Etched Quantum Dots Shape Up as Single Photon Emitters, NIST Tests Show

Like snowflakes or fingerprints, no two quantum dots are identical. But a new etching method for shaping and positioning these semiconductor nanocrystals might change that. What's more, tests at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) confirm that etched quantum dots emit single particles of light (photons), boosting prospects for powering new types of devices for quantum communications.

quantum dots
Colorized micrograph of quantum dots made using electron beam lithography and etching. This type of quantum dot can be shaped and positioned more reliably than dots made with conventional crystal growth methods.
Credit: Verma/NIST
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The conventional way to build quantum dots—at NIST and elsewhere—is to grow them like crystals in a solution, but this somewhat haphazard process results in irregular shapes. The new, more precise process was developed by NIST postdoctoral researcher Varun Verma when he was a student at the University of Illinois. Verma uses electron beam lithography and etching to carve quantum dots inside a semiconductor sandwich (called a quantum well) that confines particles in two dimensions. Lithography controls the dot's size and position, while sandwich thickness and composition—as well as dot size—can be used to tune the color of the dot's light emissions.

Some quantum dots are capable of emitting individual, isolated photons on demand, a crucial trait for quantum information systems that encode information by manipulating single photons.  In new work reported in Optics Express,* NIST tests demonstrated that the lithographed and etched quantum dots do indeed work as sources of single photons. The tests were performed on dots made of indium gallium arsenide. Dots of various diameters were patterned in specific positions in square arrays. Using a laser to excite individual dots and a photon detector to analyze emissions, NIST researchers found that dots 35 nanometers (nm) wide, for instance, emitted nearly all light at a wavelength of 888.6 nm. The timing pattern indicated that the light was emitted as a train of single photons.  

NIST researchers now plan to construct reflective cavities around individual etched dots to guide their light emissions. If each dot can emit most photons perpendicular to the chip surface, more light can be collected to make a more efficient single photon source. Vertical emission has been demonstrated with crystal-grown quantum dots, but these dots can't be positioned or distributed reliably in cavities. Etched dots offer not only precise positioning but also the possibility of making identical dots, which could be used to generate special states of light such as two or more photons that are entangled, a quantum phenomenon that links their properties even at a distance.

The quantum dots tested in the experiments were made at NIST. A final step was carried out at the University of Illinois, where a crystal layer was grown over the dots to form clean interfaces.

* V.B. Verma, M.J. Stevens, K.L. Silverman, N.L. Dias, A. Garg, J.J. Coleman and R.P. Mirin. Photon antibunching from a single lithographically defined InGaAs/GaAs quantum dot. Optics Express. Vol. 19, No. 5, Feb. 28,  2011, p. 4182. Posted online Feb. 17, 2011.

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

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NIST Summer Institute for Middle School Science Teachers Accepting Applications

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is soliciting nominations of middle school science teachers from eligible U.S. public school districts or accredited private educational institutions to participate in the NIST Summer Institute for Middle School Science Teachers. The NIST Summer Institute provides hands-on activities, lectures, tours and visits with scientists and engineers in NIST laboratories.

teachers
Members of the 2010 class of the NIST Summer Institute for Middle School Science Teachers attending a presentation on cold neutron research at NIST. Eighteen teachers took part in the 2010 program.
Credit: NIST
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The Summer Institute will be held at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Md., from July 18 to 29, 2011.

The two-week workshop is designed to increase teachers' understanding of the subjects they teach through exposure to the cutting-edge measurement science research pursued at NIST. The workshop provides teachers with instructional materials and ideas to use in their teaching, experience in how scientific research is carried out, and an opportunity to develop an ongoing network with the scientists and engineers at NIST. NIST provides a $2,000 stipend for teachers attending the workshop and travel and lodging funds for those traveling more than 50 miles to the workshop.

U.S. public school districts or accredited private educational institutions that offer science courses such as earth science, physical science, chemistry, physics and/or biologyat the middle school level (Grades 6-8) are eligible to nominate no more than one teacher per school for the program. Applications are due by 3 p.m. Eastern Time, on Thursday, March 24, 2011.

NIST also is soliciting nominations from school districts or educational institutions of middle school science teachers who have successfully completed the NIST Summer Institute to participate in the NIST Research Experience for Teachers (NIST RET) program. The NIST RET will allow the selected teachers to participate in scientific research with NIST scientists and engineers at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Md., that will encourage the teachers to inspire their students to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Two selected teachers will work side by side with NIST research scientists during the summer of 2011 on projects that combine research with direct applications tailored to developing, maintaining, advancing and enabling the nation's measurement system. Each teacher selected from each successful applicant U.S. public school district or U.S. accredited private educational institution will receive $8,000 as a stipend; however housing and travel allowances are not provided. Applications for the NIST RET are due by 3 p.m. Eastern Time, Thursday, March 24, 2011.

Full details on program requirements, eligibility and the application process for both programs are available at Grants.gov. Search under CFDA (Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance) number 11.609 (Measurement and Engineering Research and Standards) and Funding Opportunity Number 2011-NIST-SUMMER-INSTITUTE-01 or 2011-NIST-RET-01. More information on the NIST Summer Institute for Middle School Science Teachers is available at http://www.nist.gov/iaao/teachlearn/. Due to uncertainties in the FY2011 federal budget, both programs are contingent on available funds.

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

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NIST Expert Software 'Lowers the Stress' on Materials Problems

Before you can build that improved turbojet engine, before you can create that longer-lasting battery, you have to ensure all the newfangled materials in it will behave the way you want—even under conditions as harsh as the upper atmosphere at supersonic speed, or the churning chemistry of an ion cell. Now computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have improved software* that can take much of the guesswork out of tough materials problems like these.

OOF software image
Once provided with a microscope's image of a composite material (inset), OOF software can help analyze the effects of stress on the material's internal structure. Using OOF, researchers can identify the different substances (blue and gray areas) that make up the material and compute their response to stress or other effects, providing clues about how the overall sample will behave.
Credit: Langer, NIST
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The software package, OOF (Object-Oriented Finite element analysis) is a specialized tool to help materials designers understand how stress and other factors act on a material with a complex internal structure, as is the case with many alloys and ceramics. As its starting point, OOF uses micrographs—images of a material taken by a microscope. At the simplest level, OOF is designed to answer questions like, “I know what this material looks like and what it's made of, but I wonder what would happen if I pull on it in different ways?” or “I have a picture of this stuff and I know that different parts expand more than others as temperature increases—I wonder where the stresses are greatest?”

OOF has been available in previous versions since 1998, but the new version (2.1) that the NIST team released on Feb. 16, 2011, adds a number of improvements. According to team member Stephen Langer, version 2.1 is the first dramatic extension of the original capabilities of the software.

“Version 2.1 greatly improves OOF’s ability to envision ‘non-linear’ behavior, such as large-scale deformation, which plays a significant role in many types of stress response,” says Langer. “It also allows users to analyze a material’s performance over time, not just under static conditions as was the case previously.”

Jet turbine blades, for example, can spin more efficiently with a layer of ceramic material sprayed onto their surfaces, but the ceramic layers are brittle. Knowing how these ceramic layers will respond as the metal blades heat up and expand over time is one of the many problems OOF 2.1 is designed to help solve.

“We’ve also included templates programmers can use to plug in their own details and formulas describing a particular substance,” Langer says. “We’re trying to make it easy for users to test anything—we’re not concentrating on any particular type of material.”

Later this year, the team expects to enable users to analyze three-dimensional micrographs of a material, rather than the 2-D “slices” that can be analyzed at this point.

* OOF is available for free download at http://www.ctcms.nist.gov/oof/oof2/. The package runs on Unix™ like systems, including Linux, OS X and Linux-like environments within Windows.

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

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The Buzz on BEES: New Web App Simplifies Use of NIST's Economically Green Building Products Tool

A powerful scientific tool for selecting cost-effective and environmentally preferable building products is now available as a free, web-based application. Developed and maintained by the National Institute Standards and Technology (NIST), BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) Online is based on consensus standards and designed to be practical, flexible and transparent.

bees onlineThe web-based version allows easier access for users and will enable new building products to be added to the database as the information becomes available.

BEES originally was developed in 1997 to bring stringent science and economics to green building product selection. “NIST wanted to reduce the environmental footprint of building products in a cost-effective way and brought science-based metrics and tools to designers and specifiers,” explains Barbara Lippiatt, lead economist for the project.

BEES translates science-based, technical data on building products into decision-enabling results that can be easily understood and applied by the building community. The earlier versions of BEES, a software package made available for free download by NIST, have an estimated user base of 30,000, including designers, builders, product manufacturers and students in more than 80 countries.

BEES Online measures the environmental performance of 230 building products based on the approach called life-cycle assessment specified in the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 14040 series of standards “to evaluate environmental performance from cradle-to-grave,” says Lippiatt. The building products range from a variety of concretes to exterior wall components, roof coverings and multiple floor-covering types.

All stages in the life of a product are analyzed: raw material acquisition, manufacture, transportation, installation, use, and recycling and waste management. Users can define methods to weigh the impacts, which range from global warming, smog, indoor air quality, human health and fossil fuel depletion, using predefined weights chosen by BEES stakeholders or the Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board or using their own methods.

Economic performance is measured using the ASTM standard life-cycle cost method, which covers the costs of initial investment, replacement, operation, maintenance and repair, and disposal. Environmental and economic performance is combined into an overall performance measure using other ASTM standards.

Environmental and economic performance are both measured over a 50-year period. Users can choose to vary the weights for evaluating environmental and economic performance.

BEES is used to evaluate the performance of building products and can be used to help assess buildings. BEES stakeholder weights are used in the third version of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-certification program for sustainable commercial and residential buildings, and BEES is a valuable tool for use in certifications.

NIST’s goal for building performance research is evolving to look at whole buildings rather than components.

BEES Online is available at http://www.nist.gov/el/economics/BEESSoftware.cfm.

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

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NIST and Willow Garage Launch First Robot 'Perception Challenge'

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is teaming up with Willow Garage, a Silicon Valley robotics research and design firm, to launch an international “perception challenge” to drive improvements in sensing and perception technologies for next-generation robots.

robot's eye view
This "robot's eye view" shows how some common household objects appear through the vision system being used in the Perception Challenge. The objects are fuzzy because the cameras have limited resolution. However, the images do provide information on depth (distance of every point on an object). The checkered patterns help to define and verify objects in space.
Credit: Courtesy Willow Garage
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“Perception is the key bottleneck to robotics. This competition will progressively advance solutions to perception problems, enabling ever wider applications for next-generation adaptive, sensing robots” says Willow Garage senior scientist Gary Bradski.

The competition will debut at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) 2011, to be held in Shanghai, China, on May 9-13, 2011. It will join three other competitions: updated versions of two other robotics competitions previously developed by NIST—the Virtual Manufacturing Challenge and the Micro-Robot Challenge—and the Modular and Reconfigurable Robot Challenge, a collaborative effort by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Pennsylvania.

The new competition will measure the performance of current algorithms that process and act on data gathered with cameras and other types of sensing devices, explains NIST computer scientist Tsai Hong. “There are hundreds—maybe even thousands—of algorithms that already have been devised to help robots identify objects and determine their location and orientation,” she says. “But we have no means for comparing and evaluating these perceptual tools and determining whether an existing algorithm will be useful for new types of robots.”

Willow Garage is putting up cash awards for excellent performers. The prize money grows exponentially with performance reflecting the increasing difficulty of each new increment in capability. The top prize is up to $7,000, awarded for successful completion of all tasks within the allotted time.

All contestants will receive a common set of about 35 objects for training and tweaking their algorithms. During the competition, teams will be evaluated on how well their solutions identify and determine the positions of these 35 objects plus an additional set of 15 objects for validation. NIST also will inform contestants of the metrics and methods they are developing for the competition.

Robust perception is a core enabling technology for next-generation robotics being pursued for a variety of applications. Many of these applications will require operating in unstructured and cluttered environments. For anticipated uses ranging from advanced manufacturing to in-home assistance for the elderly, to search-and-rescue operations at disaster sites, robots must be able to identify objects reliably and determine their position accurately.

The practical goals of this and future perception challenges are to determine what solutions already exist for particular robot-performed jobs, and to push the entire field to develop more dynamic and more powerful perception systems critical for next-generation robotics. NIST, a pioneer in developing metrics for evaluating and comparing robots and other automated technologies, has designed a variety of competitions intended to focus research and stimulate innovation in technology areas critical to improving the capabilities of robots.*

Techniques and metrics demonstrated in these competitions provide foundations for new standards and test methods for measuring perception system performance. As is true for the other competitions, the perception challenge will grow in difficulty with each passing year.

Willow Garage of Menlo Park, Calif., will provide a common system for testing competitors’ perception algorithms. Visual information and other environmental data will be gathered and communicated by off-the-shelf sensing technologies, and will be evaluated on Willow Garage's Personal Robot 2 (PR2) platform.

The deadline for entering is April 15, 2011, and final submissions are due May 1, 2011.

For more information on the perception challenge and instructions for entering, go to: http://opencv.willowgarage.com/wiki/SolutionsInPerceptionChallenge.

* For example, see: http://www.nist.gov/el/isd/ks/response_robot_test_methods.cfm and http://www.nist.gov/pml/semiconductor/robots_042710.cfm.

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

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Energy Usage Data Standard for U.S. Smart Grid Passes Key Advisory Panel Vote

The governing board of the public-private Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) has voted in favor of a new standard important for two-way data communications between utilities and their customers, bringing the next-generation "smart" electrical power grid a step closer to reality.

The board voted on a foundational standard, an "energy usage data model," for the information used to communicate between utilities and the customer, and the way in which that information is organized. This standard is one of a number considered critical in creating an energy-efficient, modern power grid with seamlessly interoperable parts.

The data standard was developed by the North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB) at the request of the SGIP and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). By enabling utilities and customer equipment to exchange detailed information about electricity usage in a consistent format, the standard will make it easier for consumers to track their electricity usage and help them better manage their energy consumption and costs. It will be included in NAESB's filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission next month.

The recommended standard is also expected to create opportunities for innovation. With utilities now installing "smart" electric meters in millions of homes and businesses, established companies and start-ups are developing new products and services tailored to the energy-use behaviors and objectives of consumers. Smart-meter technology will enable real-time (or near real-time) communication of energy use, consumption, quality and source, among other information. The standard is "Internet-friendly," and its applications will include enabling customers to view and understand their energy usage and cost using local access devices and over the Internet.

The SGIP, a consensus-based group of public and private organizations, was created in 2009 by NIST to support the agency in its role to coordinate the development of Smart Grid standards. While the SGIP does not develop or write these standards directly, it works with existing standards organizations to coordinate and accelerate the development of standards that respond to needs critical to achieving a nationwide Smart Grid. This vote by the SGIP governing board signifies that its leadership has agreed to recommend the standard as relevant and needed.

For more details, see the Feb. 17, 2011, NIST news announcement "Smart Grid Panel Agrees on Data-Exchange Standards for Electricity Usage" at www.nist.gov/smartgrid/smartgrid-021711.cfm.

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

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NIST Seeks Comments on Security Control Catalog for Federal Information Systems and Organizations

Computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are requesting comments from interested parties on their biennial update of the catalog of security controls for the federal government. The security control catalog provides a comprehensive set of management, operational and technical safeguards—protective measures—that can be used by federal agencies to help protect federal information systems. The deadline for comment submission is April 29, 2011.

The publication being updated is Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations (NIST Special Publication 800-53). SP 800-53 is one of the key Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) publications that federal agencies and their contractors have relied on for the past five years to help achieve more secure information systems.

SP 800-53 is also one of the five foundational publications included in the Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative—a federal cyber security partnership made up of the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community and NIST—to develop a unified information security and risk management framework for the federal government. For the first time since the document's original publication in 2005 and its major updates in 2006 and 2009, NIST is seeking public input prior to developing its updated cyber security guidance.

"To keep pace with the growing threat brought about by an increasing number of cyber attacks against federal information systems, NIST is committed to producing a comprehensive catalog of cutting-edge safeguards and countermeasures that are necessary to help protect the core missions and business functions of the federal government," says Joint Task Force Leader and NIST Fellow Ron Ross.

The 2011 initiative will include an update of current security controls, control enhancements and supplemental guidance as well as new tailoring and supplementation guidance that form key elements of the control selection process. Key focus areas for the update for which input is requested include, but are not limited to:

  • insider threats;
  • software application security (including web applications);
  • social networking, mobiles devices, and cloud computing;
  • cross domain solutions;
  • advanced persistent threats;
  • supply chain security;
  • industrial/process control systems; and
  • privacy.

 

Suggestions should be sent to sec-cert@nist.gov by April 29, 2011. The current version of SP 800-53 Revision 3 can be downloaded from http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-53-Rev3/sp800-53-rev3-final_updated-errata_05-01-2010.pdf.

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

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NIST, Food Marketing Institute Co-Host Webinar on Ensuring Accurate Net Weights in Retail

A reliable and trustworthy system of weights and measures is vital for economic activity. Maintaining that system requires constant vigilance, and that's where the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Weights and Measures Division (WMD) comes in. While the division routinely hosts meetings and online classes to help state regulators enforce compliance, NIST is now making an effort to reach out to industry and retailers so that they can proactively identify and address problems in their measurement procedures before the regulators show up. Proactive compliance will save industry money in fines and reduce pressure on state weights and measures enforcement resources while ensuring fairness in commerce.

As part of this effort, on Jan. 20, 2011, WMD co-hosted a webinar with the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) on "Tare Verification—Ensuring Accurate Net Weights in Retail Stores." The webinar provided an overview to senior level retail management on the requirements for selling on the basis of net weight as outlined in the weights and measures compendium, NIST Handbook 133, Checking the Net Contents of Packaged Goods. More than 100 attendees representing over 80 different retail companies participated.

Tare is the weight of packaging materials. All products sold by weight must be sold by net weight so retailers must deduct the "tare" on any package they offer for sale to ensure consumers are not overcharged. Retailers acquainted and reacquainted themselves with the legal requirements for net quantity of packages and use of tare, the role and importance of state and local weights and measures programs, and the business case for, and value and benefits of ensuring accurate net weights.

NIST WMD hosted a follow up webinar on Feb. 24, 2011, to present detailed recommendations for ensuring accurate tare to retail personnel responsible for the day-to-day operations within their organizations. This "nuts and bolts" approach included real-world examples of common problems and how to avoid them using good quantity control processes, routine system checks, and examples of retailer best practices.

WMD is tasked with securing uniformity in weights and measures laws and practices, and conducts training as part of its approach to accomplishing this mission.

FMI represents over 1,500 food retailers and wholesalers with a combined sales volume of $680 billion (three-quarters of all food retail stores in the United States). FMI develops and promotes policies, programs and forums supporting its members, their customers and supplier partners, and other industry stakeholders.

The archived Feb. 24 webinar will appear on the WMD Web site and on the NIST YouTube channel.

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

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New Publication Fundamentally Changes Federal Information Security Risk Management

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published the final version of a special publication that can help organizations to more effectively integrate information security risk planning into their mission-critical functions and overall goals.

Managing Information Security Risk: Organization, Mission, and Information System View (NIST Special Publication 800-39) provides the groundwork for a three-tiered, risk-management approach that "fundamentally changes how we manage information security risk at the federal level," says Ron Ross, NIST Fellow and one of the principal authors of the publication.

For decades, organizations have managed risk at the information system level that resulted in a very narrow perspective that constrained risk-based decisions by senior management, Ross explains. SP 800-39 calls for a holistic approach in which senior leaders determine what needs to be protected based on the organization's core missions and business functions. For example, managers of a power plant tied to the distribution grid need to ensure that its computer security keeps hackers from interfering with the plant's power generation or getting into the power grid to wreak greater havoc.

The publication is the fourth in the series of risk management and information security guidelines being developed by the Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative, a joint partnership among the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, NIST and the Committee on National Security Systems.

The multi-tiered risk management approach described in SP 800-39 progresses from organization to missions to information systems. The goal is to ensure that strategic considerations drive investment and operational decisions with regard to managing risk to organizational operations (including mission, function, image and reputation), organizational assets, individuals, other organizations (collaborating or partnering with federal agencies and contractors) and the nation.

This type of risk-based, decision making is critical as organizations address advanced persistent threats of sophisticated cyber attacks that have the potential to degrade or debilitate information systems supporting the federal government's critical applications and operations.

"SP 800-39 is about building more secure information systems which will ultimately allow senior leaders and executives to better understand the mission and business risk brought into their enterprises by the ever-increasing use of, and dependence on, information technology and network connectivity," Ross says.

The Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative partnership is under the leadership of the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretary of Commerce. Its goal is to develop a unified information security and risk management framework for the federal government to address the challenges of protecting federal information, information systems and the nation's critical information infrastructure.

SP 800-39, Managing Information Security Risk: Organization, Mission, and Information System View, has been developed in support of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). It can be downloaded from http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-39/SP800-39-final.pdf.

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

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Manufacturing Innovations 2011: Seizing Tomorrow’s Opportunities Today

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) will host Manufacturing Innovations 2011 from May 14—18, 2011, at the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Fla. This annual national event helps U.S. manufacturers to profit, grow and position themselves for the future by providing access to emerging technologies, partnerships, methodologies and ultimately new business opportunities.

Year after year, more than 700 manufacturers, industry experts and MEP field staff use the experience and knowledge they have gained to strengthen and improve their organizations, making the U.S. manufacturing base more competitive.

In addition to over 100 technical sessions, there will be multiple networking opportunities for all participants, including a chance for one-on-one matchmaking sessions. These individual meetings are available for small- to medium-sized manufacturers to connect with larger manufacturers and federal agency procurement officials to find new markets and sales opportunities.

For additional information and to register for this year's event, please visit http://2011conference.mepevents.com.

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

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