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Tech Beat - March 15, 2011

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: March 15, 2011
Date Modified: March 15, 2011 
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NIST’s Microscopic Drum Could Link Electromagnetic, Mechanical Motion at Quantum Level

Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated an electromechanical circuit in which microwaves communicate with a vibrating mechanical component 1,000 times more vigorously than ever achieved before in similar experiments. The microscopic apparatus is a new tool for processing information and potentially could control the motion of a relatively large object at the smallest possible, or quantum, scale.

aluminum drum
Colorized micrograph of NIST's aluminum drum, which is 15 micrometers in diameter and 100 nanometers thick. The drum is used in quantum information experiments and ultraprecise measurements of mechanical motion.
Credit: A. Sanders/NIST
View hi-resolution image

Described in the March 10 issue of Nature,* the NIST experiments created strong interactions between microwave radiation at a frequency of 7.5 billion beats per second (7,500 megahertz) and a “micro drum” vibrating at radio frequencies of about 11 million beats per second. Compared to previously reported experiments combining microscopic machines and electromagnetic radiation, the rate of energy exchange in the NIST device—the “coupling” that reflects the strength of the connection—is much stronger, the mechanical vibrations last longer, and the apparatus is much easier to make.

Similar in appearance to an Irish percussion instrument called a bodhrán, the NIST drum is a round aluminum membrane 100 nanometers thick and 15 micrometers wide, lightweight and flexible enough to vibrate freely yet larger and heavier than the nanowires typically used in similar experiments.

“The drum is so much larger than nanowires physically that you can make this coupling strength go through the roof,” says first author John Teufel, a NIST research affiliate who designed the drum. “The drum hits a perfect compromise where it’s still microscale but you can couple to it strongly.”

The experiment is a step toward entanglement—a curious quantum state linking the properties of objects—between the microwave photons and the drum motion, Teufel says. The apparatus has the high coupling strength and low energy losses needed to generate entanglement, he says. Further experiments will address whether the mechanical drumbeats obey the rules of quantum mechanics, which govern the behavior of light and atoms. That would mark a key achievement in NIST’s effort to develop components for superconducting quantum computers and quantum simulations, while also working toward the widely sought scientific goal of making the most precise measurements possible of mechanical motion.

The drum also has possible practical applications such as measuring length and force with sensitivities at levels of attometers (billionths of a billionth of a meter) and attonewtons (billionths of a billionth of a newton), respectively.

For more details, see NIST’s March 9th announcement, “NIST Electromechanical Circuit Sets Record Beating Microscopic ’Drum’” at www.nist.gov/pml/quantum/drum-030911.cfm.

* J.D. Teufel, D. Li, M.S. Allman, K. Cicak, A.J. Sirois, J.D. Whittaker and R.W. Simmonds. Circuit cavity electromechanics in the strong coupling regime. Nature. March 10, 2011.

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

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High-Tech Concrete Technology Has a Famous Past

In the business of concrete making, what’s old—even ancient—is new again.

11EL006_concrete_LR
X-ray microtomograph (left) shows pores (blue) that remain within lightweight aggregates (LWAs) after water has migrated from the pre-wetted materials during the first day of hydration. In the two-dimensional image (right), the emptied pores are superimposed over the original microstructure (hydrating cement paste is white, sand is light grey, and LWA is dark grey), illustrating the detailed pore structure of LWA particles.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

Almost 1,900 years ago, the Romans built what continues to be the world’s largest unreinforced solid concrete dome in the world—the Pantheon. The secret, probably unknown to the Emperor Hadrian’s engineers at the time, was that the lightweight concrete used to build the dome had set and hardened from the inside out. This internal curing process enhanced the material’s strength, durability, resistance to cracking, and other properties so that the Pantheon continues to be used for special events to this day.

But it is only within the last decade or so that internally cured concrete has begun to have an impact on modern world infrastructure. Increasingly, internally cured concrete is being used in the construction of bridge decks, pavements, parking structures, water tanks, and railway yards, according to a review* of the current status of the new (or old) concrete technology just published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The virtues of internally cured concrete stem from substituting light-weight, pre-wetted absorbent materials for some of the sand and/or coarse aggregates (stones) that are mixed with cement to make conventional concrete. Dispersed throughout the mixture, the water-filled lightweight aggregates serve as reservoirs that release water on an as-needed basis to nearby hydrating cement particles.

According to one study cited in the review, bridge decks made with internally cured, high-performance concrete were estimated to have a service life of 63 years, as compared with 22 years for conventional concrete and 40 years for high-performance concrete without internal curing.

“As with many new technologies, the path from research to practice has been a slow one, but as of 2010, hundreds of thousands of cubic meters” of the lighter and more durable material have been successfully used in U.S. construction, write the report’s co-authors, NIST chemical engineer Dale Bentz and Jason Weiss, Purdue University civil engineering professor.

Compared with conventional varieties, internally cured concretes increase the cost of the concrete for a project by 10 to 12 percent, Bentz and Weiss estimate on the basis of bridge-building projects in New York and Indiana. The increased front-end cost, they write, must be evaluated against the reduced risk of cracking, better protection against salt damage, and other improved properties that “should contribute to a more durable structure that has a longer life and lower life-cycle costs,” they write. “Further, this could have substantial benefits in a reduced disruption to the traveling public, generally producing a more sustainable solution.”

The 82-page report summarizes the current practice and theory of internal curing, reviews project experiences and material performance in the field, and describes opportunities for research that could lead to enhancements in the material.

* D.P. Bentz and W.J. Weiss. Internal Curing: A 2010 State-of-the-Art Review (NISTIR 7765). Feb. 2011. Available at: www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=907729.
Edited on March 18, 2011, to clarify the cost impact statement in paragraph seven.

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

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First Demonstration of 'Spin-Orbit Coupling' in Ultracold Atomic Gases

Physicists at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) have for the first time caused a gas of atoms to exhibit an important quantum phenomenon known as spin-orbit coupling. Their technique opens new possibilities for studying and better understanding fundamental physics and has potential applications to quantum computing, next-generation “spintronics” devices and even “atomtronic” devices built from ultracold atoms.

rubidium
In an ultracold gas of nearly 200,000 rubidium-87 atoms (shown as the large humps) the atoms can occupy one of two energy levels (represented as red and blue); lasers then link together these levels as a function of the atoms’ motion. At first atoms in the red and blue energy states occupy the same region (Phase Mixed), then at higher laser strengths, they separate into different regions (Phase Separated).
Credit: Ian Spielman, JQI/NIST
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The JQI is a collaboration of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland-College Park.

One of the most important phenomena in quantum physics, spin-orbit coupling describes the interplay that can occur between a particle’s internal properties and its external properties. In atoms, it usually describes interactions that only occur within an atom: how an electron’s orbit around an atom’s core (nucleus) affects the orientation of the electron’s internal bar-magnet-like “spin.” In semiconductor materials such as gallium arsenide, spin-orbit coupling is an interaction between an electron’s spin and its linear motion in a material.

In the researchers’ demonstration of spin-orbit coupling, two lasers allow an atom’s motion to flip it between a pair of energy states. The new work, published in Nature,* demonstrates this effect for the first time in bosons, which make up one of the two major classes of particles. The same technique could be applied to fermions, the other major class of particles, according to the researchers. The special properties of fermions would make them ideal for studying new kinds of interactions between two particles—for example, those leading to novel “p-wave” superconductivity, which may enable a long-sought form of quantum computing known as topological quantum computation.

In an unexpected development, the team also discovered that the lasers modified how the atoms interacted with each other and caused atoms in one energy state to separate in space from atoms in the other energy state. This promises to lead to useful experimental techniques.

“Spin-orbit coupling is often a bad thing,” said JQI’s Ian Spielman, senior author of the paper. “Researchers make ‘spintronic’ devices out of gallium arsenide, and if you’ve prepared a spin in some desired orientation, the last thing you’d want it to do is to flip to some other spin when it’s moving.”

“But from the point of view of fundamental physics, spin-orbit coupling is really interesting,” he said. “It’s what drives these new kinds of materials called ‘topological insulators.’”

One of the hottest topics in physics right now, topological insulators are special materials in which location is everything: the ability of particles to flow depends on where they are located within the material. They may lead to useful devices. While researchers have been making higher and higher quality versions of this special class of material in solids, spin-orbit coupling in trapped ultracold gases of atoms could help realize topological insulators in their purest, most pristine form, as gases are free of impurity atoms and the other complexities of solid materials.

For more details, see NIST’s March 2, 2011, announcement, “JQI Physicists Demonstrate Coveted ’Spin-Orbit Coupling’ for the First Time in Ultracold Atomic Gases” at www.nist.gov/pml/div684/spinorbit-030211.cfm

* Y.-J. Lin, K. Jiménez-García and I.B. Spielman. Spin-orbit-coupled Bose-Einstein condensates. Nature. Posted online March 2, 2011.

Media Contact: Ben Stein, inquiries@nist.gov, (301) 975-3097

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New NIST Testing Device May Help to 'Seal the Deal' for Building Owners

Just as a chain is as strong as its weakest link, a building is as secure against the environment as its most degraded joint sealants, about 50 percent of which fail in less than 10 years after installation.

11EL004_sealant_testing_device_LR
Mounted on the roof of a building on NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus, this NIST-developed device is designed to induce temperature-caused strains on sealant specimens while monitoring loads and displacements. Affixed to a rigid base, the top segments of PVC pipe expand and contract with changes in temperature. Sensors, load cells, and specimens--sandwiched between aluminum blocks--are suspended from the top crosspiece, which moves, and are attached to the same rigid base.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

The upshot for U.S. homeowners is that moisture damage due to failed sealants is responsible for much of the $65 billion to $80 billion they collectively shell out for house repairs annually.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are assembling a toolkit of measurement devices and scientific data that will help manufacturers of sealants systematically improve the protective performance of their products. Their latest contribution, described in the current issue of the Review of Scientific Instruments,* is an outdoor testing system that tracks real weather conditions—by the minute—and measures the squeezing and stretching that occur in sealants as the building moves with temperature changes.

The NIST-developed testing devices could supplant current methods, which essentially entail exposing sealants to the elements for extended periods with no movement and then visually inspecting the materials for cracks and other signs of degradation. Using materials that can be purchased at the local hardware store—such as wood, PVC pipe and toilet flanges—and combining them with arrays of load and environmental sensors, NIST research chemist Christopher White and his colleagues built a state-of-the-art testing system representative of real-world conditions.

In construction, sealants are used to close gaps between building materials—usually unlike materials, such as steel and glass or wood and concrete. Different materials expand and contract differently in response to changes in temperature, relative humidity and other conditions. Because of these differences between adjacent materials, sealants are regularly stretched, compressed and, in effect, pulled in different directions.

All that motion, White says, can cause the material equivalent of fatigue, tearing and adhesion loss, allowing the water to breach the sealant defense.

“When you apply a sealant to a building joint—such as between window glass and steel in the building frame—you are trying to seal displacements that occur because the materials expand and contract at different rates,” White says.

“These new and very inexpensive testing devices,” he explains, “induce movements that are very similar to what a sealant would see in the actual application, in a building.”

Designs of the experimental testing devices have been shared with a consortium of U.S. sealant manufacturers who have already adopted this new technology. Additionally, these designs are incorporated in a new ASTM draft standard soon to be put to vote.

* C. C. White, K. T. Tan, E. P. O’Brien, D. L. Hunston, J. W. Chin and R. S. Williams. Design, fabrication, and implementation of thermally driven outdoor testing devices for building joint sealants. Rev. Sci. Instrum. 82, 025112 (2011); doi:10.1063/1.3543817

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

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New Tool Debuts for Measuring Indoor Air Pollutants

A promising new approach for checking the accuracy of measurements of hazardous indoor air pollutants may soon be ready for prime time, report researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Virginia Tech.* The measurement tool, a reference sample for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), would be a boon to testers of indoor air quality and to manufacturers of paints, rugs, cleaners and other building products.

11EL002_voc_test_researcher_LR
At NIST’s small chamber test facility, researchers are assessing the performance of a prototype reference material for testing emissions of VOCs from building products.
Credit: NIST
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The researchers put their innovation—thin squares of plastic saturated with vapors of a common solvent—through the paces at four testing laboratories. The prototype test material, made at Virginia Tech, yielded measurement results more accurate than those previously achieved in more costly and time-consuming interlaboratory studies using less standardized materials.

The researchers suggest that their method might be used to produce a range of reference materials to validate measurements of VOCs emitted from building materials and products. VOCs are used in paints, adhesives, furniture and many other indoor products. Indoor levels of some VOCs average two to five times higher than outdoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

VOC emissions from building materials and products have been linked to occupant illness, reduced worker productivity, and increased requirements for ventilation/air cleaning, leading to increased energy consumption. As a result, low VOC emitting products are being used more widely in buildings to help achieve a healthy and sustainable indoor environment.

Several programs for testing VOC emissions from building products exist, and manufacturers often test their products to determine that emissions are below limits set in regulations or voluntary standards. However, results often vary significantly.

Past evaluations of test performance have been based on how much measurements reported by individual laboratories differ from the average value for the entire set of laboratories. “These kinds of inter-laboratory comparisons can take months to conduct,” explains NIST environmental engineer Cynthia Howard-Reed, lead author of the new report, “and, unfortunately, the results are relative because there is no true reference value for determining just how accurate an emission measurement really is.”

11EL003_voc_test_chamber_LR
Inside the test chamber, the thin-film sample (measuring 6 centimeters on a side), which has been suffused with vapors of a common VOC, releases gas emissions at a rate similar to a real building material that can be independently determined using a fundamental model.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

That’s the gap the researchers are trying to fill. They aim to produce VOC reference materials—standardized test samples that produce known results when analyzed. These benchmark references are commonly used in industry to check the accuracy of important measurement instruments.

In the initial trial, they prepared two batches of their sample material—thin films of polymethyl pentane, a plastic used in gas-permeable packaging, saturated with toluene, a common VOC found in paint and other products. A mathematical model developed by the research team is used to accurately predict rates of emission from the sample over time. The preliminary multi-laboratory tests showed that the prototype reference material is uniform in composition and sufficiently stable and that rates of VOC emissions within and between production batches are consistent.

The researchers conclude that their prototype could reduce inter-laboratory variability in results to less than 10 percent—much better than current methods.

The pilot study also identified several opportunities for improvement, which will be incorporated before an international pilot is conducted later this year. With further progress, the project will be expanded by 2013 to include more types of VOC references that will be produced in larger batches for broader distribution.

* C. Howard-Reed , Z. Liu, J. Benning , S. Cox, D. Samarov, D. Leber, A.T. Hodgson, S. Mason, D. Won and J.C. Little. Diffusion-controlled reference material for volatile organic compound emissions testing: Pilot inter-laboratory study. Building and Environment 46 (2011) 1504-1511.

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

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NIST Releases Final Report on Charleston Sofa Store Fire

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released its final report on its study of the June 18, 2007, fire at the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, S.C., that trapped and killed nine firefighters, the highest number of firefighter deaths in a single event since 9/11. The final report is strengthened by clarifications and supplemental text based on comments provided by organizations and individuals in response to the draft report of the study, released for public comment on Oct. 28, 2010.

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NIST researcher photographing the remains of the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, S.C., on June 19, 2007, the day after the fire that killed nine firefighters.
Credit: NIST Engineering Lab
View hi-resolution image

The revisions did not alter the study team's main finding: the major factors contributing to the rapid spread of the fire at the Sofa Super Store were large open spaces with furniture providing high-fuel loads, the inward rush of air following the breaking of windows, and a lack of sprinklers.

Based on its findings, the study team made 11 recommendations for enhancing building, occupant and firefighter safety nationwide. In particular, the team urged state and local communities to adopt and strictly adhere to current national model building and fire safety codes. These codes are used as models for building and fire regulations promulgated and enforced by U.S. state and local jurisdictions. Those jurisdictions have the option of incorporating some or all of the code's provisions but often adopt most provisions.

If today's model codes had been in place and rigorously followed in Charleston in 2007, the study authors said, the conditions that led to the rapid fire spread in the Sofa Super Store probably would have been prevented.

Specifically, the NIST report calls for national model building and fire codes to require sprinklers for all new commercial retail furniture stores regardless of size, and for existing retail furniture stores with any single display area of greater than 190 square meters (2,000 square feet). Other recommendations include adopting model codes that cover high fuel load situations (such as a furniture store), ensuring proper fire inspections and building plan examinations, and encouraging research for a better understanding of fire situations such as venting of smoke from burning buildings and the spread of fire on furniture.

Two of the recommendations in the draft report were slightly modified to increase their effectiveness. The recommendation "that all state and local jurisdictions ensure that fire inspectors and building plan examiners are professionally qualified to a national standard" was improved by listing three nationally accepted certification examinations as examples of "how professional qualification may be demonstrated." Another recommendation has been enhanced by urging state and local jurisdictions to "provide education to firefighters on the science of fire behavior in vented and non-vented structures and how the addition of air can impact the burning characteristics of the fuel."

NIST is working with various public and private groups toward implementing changes to practices, standards, and building and fire codes based on the findings from this study.

The complete text of the final report, Volumes I and II,* may be downloaded as Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) files. For a detailed summary of the Sofa Super Store study, its findings and recommendations, and links to supporting materials such as graphics and video segments from computer simulations of the fire, go to "NIST Study on Charleston Furniture Store Fire Calls for National Safety Improvements" at www.nist.gov/el/fire_research/charleston_102810.cfm.

* Volume I: http://www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=908200
Volume II: http://www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=908201.

Media Contact: Michael Newman, mnewman@nist.gov, 301-975-3025

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Standards Education Vital for Global Business Needs, Says Asia-Pacific Economic Group

In just a few months, millions of young adults will graduate from college and step into productive careers in the global economy. Meanwhile, those already involved in standardization, particularly in the engineering and technology sectors, and increasingly those with policy, legal, and business backgrounds, are working in a new environment where standards play a crucial role in international trade and competitiveness. But according to the attendees of a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Subcommittee on Standards and Conformance, comparatively few new graduates will begin their careers with a working knowledge of the standardization infrastructure that underpins and impacts more than 80 percent of worldwide-commodity trade. At the same time, a large fraction of new participants in standards relies heavily on on-the-job training to engage in the process.

“Standards education at the university level and in the professional environment is vital because standards and conformance play a critical role in the economy, impacting over 13 trillion dollars in commodity trade on an annual basis,” said S. Joe Bhatia, president and CEO of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in his keynote address to the APEC audience.

“Put simply, effective utilization of standards and conformance promotes technological interoperability and drives the global competitiveness of businesses. A new graduate or professional who is familiar with the standards relevant to their industry and how the standards system works is a strategic asset to their employer.”

“To advance our objectives in standards education, we need to share best practices on our wide range of approaches, both at the university and the workplace levels, and exchange information so that the teaching of standards incorporates the wide variety of policy, legal, and business environments in our region,” said Patrick Gallagher, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), who addressed the meeting participants during a luncheon keynote address. “Achieving some convergence on how we approach standards education will be beneficial in our close work together in the future as our economies become more interdependent.”

Held in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28, 2011, “Opportunities and Challenges for Education on Standardization in Universities” was a joint meeting of the APEC Subcommittee’s Project Advisory Group on Education and ANSI’s Committee on Education. In total, more than 100 leaders from government agencies, industry, and prominent universities from APEC economies were in attendance to discuss strategies for more effective standards education in the Asia-Pacific region.

Read more at “Key Asia-Pacific Officials, Experts Discuss Critical Importance of Standards Education,” (March 4, 2011, at www.nist.gov/director/sco/standards-education-030411.cfm.)

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

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Two New SCAP Documents Help Improve Automating Computer Security Management

It’s increasingly difficult to keep up with all the vulnerabilities present in today’s highly complex operating systems and applications. Attackers constantly search for and exploit these vulnerabilities to commit identity fraud, intellectual property theft and other attacks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released two updated publications that help organizations to find and manage vulnerabilities more effectively, by standardizing the way vulnerabilities are identified, prioritized and reported.

Computer security departments work behind the scenes at government agencies and other organizations to keep computers and networks secure. A valuable tool for them is security automation software that uses NIST’s Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP). Software based on SCAP can be used to automatically check individual computers to see if they have any known vulnerabilities and if they have the appropriate security configuration settings and patches in place. Security problems can be identified quickly and accurately, allowing them to be resolved before hackers can exploit them.

The first publication, The Technical Specifications for the Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) Version 1.1 (NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-126 Revision 1) refines the protocol’s requirements from the SCAP 1.0 version. SCAP itself is a suite of specifications for standardizing the format and nomenclature by which security software communicates to assess software flaws, security configurations and software inventories.

SP 800-126 Rev. 1 tightens the requirements of the individual specifications in the suite to support SCAP’s functionality and ensure interoperability between SCAP tools. It also adds a new specification—the Open Checklist Interactive Language (OCIL)—that allows security experts to gather information that is not accessible by automated means. For example, OCIL could be used to ask users about their recent security awareness training or to prompt a system administrator to review security settings only available through a proprietary graphical user interface. Additionally, SCAP 1.1 calls for the use of the 5.8 version of the Open Vulnerability and Assessment Language (OVAL).

NIST and others provide publicly accessible repositories of security information and standard security configurations in SCAP formats, which can be downloaded and used by any tool that complies with the SCAP protocol. For example, the NIST-run National Vulnerability Database (NVD) provides a unique identifier for each reported software vulnerability, an analysis of its potential damage and a severity score. The NVD has grown from 6,000 listings in 2002 to about 46,000 in early 2011. It is updated daily.

The second document, Guide to Using Vulnerability Naming Schemes (Special Publication 800-51 Revision 1), provides recommendations for naming schemes used in SCAP. Before these schemes were standardized, different organizations referred to vulnerabilities in different ways, which created confusion. These naming schemes “enable better synthesis of information about software vulnerabilities and misconfigurations,” explained co-author David Waltermire, which minimizes confusion and can lead to faster security fixes. The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) scheme identifies software flaws; the Common Configuration Enumeration (CCE) scheme classifies configuration issues.

SP 800-51 Rev.1 provides an introduction to both naming schemes and makes recommendations for using them. It also suggests how software and service vendors should use the vulnerability names and naming schemes in their products and service offerings.

These new publications can be downloaded from the NIST website. The Technical Specifications for the Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) Version 1.1 (NIST Special Publication 800-126 Revision 1) can be found at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-126-rev1/SP800-126r1.pdf. The Guide to Using Vulnerability Naming Schemes (Special Publication 800-51 Revision 1) can be found at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-51-rev1/SP800-51rev1.pdf.

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

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NIST Advisory Committee Issues 2010 Annual Report

The Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the agency’s primary private-sector advisory group, has sent its 2010 annual report to Congress.

The report highlights NIST’s unique and important role in the development and delivery of measurement services, which directly impact U.S. industry as well as federal agencies and state weights and measures offices. It also recognizes NIST’s major contributions in forensic science and emphasizes the significant leadership role that NIST can play in strengthening the scientific underpinnings for forensic science. The 2010 report encourages NIST to continue improving its strategic planning efforts and augment its methods for assessing the effectiveness of its programs and organization.

The VCAT was established by Congress in 1988 to review and make recommendations on NIST’s policies, organization, budget and programs to support the agency in its mission to promote and support U.S. technological innovation and industrial competitiveness. For the full text of the VCAT report, see www.nist.gov/director/vcat/upload/report10.pdf (requires PDF viewer such as Acrobat Reader).

The next NIST VCAT meeting will be held on June 7-8, 2011, in Gaithersburg, Md. VCAT meetings are open to the public. For more information, see www.nist.gov/director/vcat/.

Media Contact: Ben Stein, inquiries@nist.gov, (301) 975-3097

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Conference on Safeguarding Health Information Security, May 10-11

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is co-hosting a conference to explore the current health information technology security landscape and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule. The conference on “Safeguarding Health Information: Building Assurance through HIPAA Security,” hosted in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR), will be held on May 10 and 11, 2011, in Washington, D.C., at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

The conference will provide a forum to discuss the present state of health information security, and practical strategies, tips and techniques for implementing the HIPAA Security Rule. The rule specifies federal standards to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information by requiring HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates to implement and maintain administrative, physical and technical safeguards. The HIPAA Security Rule applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and to any health care provider who transmits health information in electronic form in connection with a transaction for which the Secretary of HHS has adopted standards under HIPAA.

In addition to keynote addresses and plenary sessions each morning, the conference will provide parallel breakout sessions highlighting specific areas of health information security management and technical assurance. Sessions will cover current topics, including updates on HHS health information privacy and security initiatives, OCR’s enforcement of health information privacy and security activities, integrating security safeguards into health IT and security automation, insider threat trends and safeguards and more.

NIST provides ongoing expertise in risk management, security and standards for federal agencies and has been involved in health information technology research since 1994. NIST is responsible for accelerating the development and harmonization of standards and developing conformance test tools for health information technology.

OCR enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information; the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information; the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety; and the Breach Notification regulations requiring HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates to notify individuals when their health information is breached.

The meeting is expecting to draw hundreds of HIPAA security rule implementers; security, privacy and compliance officers; assessment teams and audit staff. Registration instructions, current agenda and conference logistics are available at www.nist.gov/itl/csd/hipaasec.cfm.

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

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NIST Holds Third Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop, April 7-8

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will host the Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop III on April 7-8, 2011, at its Gaithersburg, Md., campus. Featured speakers include U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher.

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. Kundra has called upon NIST to help accelerate the federal government’s adoption of secure cloud computing practices by leading efforts to develop standards and guidelines in collaboration with standards bodies, the private sector, other government agencies and other stakeholders.

Panel sessions during the forum will feature international cloud computing experts from industry, government, associations and academia. Friday morning’s panel topic –“Cloud Innovation: Math and Science”—will explore innovative uses of the cloud and how it can be leveraged in the scientific process. Other topics are:

  • “Cloud Computing—Adopters’ Long-term View,”
  • “Can You Ever Really Trust the Cloud?” and
  • “Cloud Computing Standards Panel—Chicken or Egg?”

Working groups that were formed during the NIST Cloud Computing Workshop and Forum in November 2010 will provide progress reports. These working groups cover a range of cloud computing issues.

For more information on the Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop III, and to register, see www.nist.gov/itl/cloud/cloudworkshopiii.cfm.

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

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NIST to Cosponsor Conference in France on Nanoelectronics Metrology

Registration is now open for the eighth international Frontiers of Characterization and Metrology for Nanoelectronics conference, cosponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which will take place May 23-26, 2011, at the MINATEC campus in Grenoble, France. Experts from industry, government and academia will examine the latest advances in characterization and metrology that will help shape the future of nanoelectronics.

The first conference in the series to be held outside the United States, it will feature presentations from experts such as Michel Brillouet, Deputy Director of CEA-Leti (the Electronics and Information Technologies Laboratory of the French atomic energy commission); Rudi Cartuyvels, General Manager of IMEC; and Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VSLI Research, Inc. The conference also will offer the opportunity to tour MINATEC, a research campus founded in 2006 as a partnership between CEA-Leti and the Grenoble Institute of Technology (INPG) with the goal of becoming a leading center for excellence in micro- and nanotechnology. The full conference program is available at www.nist.gov/pml/semiconductor/conference/2011program.cfm.

The registration deadline is May 1, 2011. Visit http://fcmn2011.insight-outside.fr/ to register online.

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

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Dodson Receives ‘Federal 100’ Award for Cybersecurity Work

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Donna Dodson has received the 2011 Federal 100 Award. Presented by Federal Computer Week, the award honors the top professionals in the federal information technology community.

A select panel of government and industry leaders chooses the Federal 100 winners from nominations submitted by the public and private sectors.

Dodson was named for her contributions to advancements in cybersecurity, in particular for her outstanding contributions to numerous interagency initiatives. In addition to leading the NIST Computer Security Division, Dodson is also the Deputy Chief Cybersecurity Advisor at NIST. In this position, she coordinates closely with federal agencies, industry, academia and other stakeholders to help set NIST priorities in computer security research.

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

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