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Tech Beat - April 3, 2012

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: April 3, 2012
Date Modified: April 3, 2012 
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Novel Filter Material Could Cut Natural Gas Refining Costs

Measurements taken by a team including National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientists show that a newly devised material has the ability to separate closely related components of natural gas from one another, a task that currently demands a good deal of energy to accomplish. The results, published March 30, 2012, in the journal Science, might improve the efficiency of the distillation process.

MOF filter
Iron projecting into the pore of the tubelike metal-organic framework (center, looking down its roughly nanometer-wide opening) attracts the light hydrocarbon molecules that surround it to varying degrees. These varied attraction levels could make the framework more efficient at hydrocarbon separation than current refinery processes.
Credit: Queen/NIST
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The material is a new type of metal-organic framework (MOF), a class of materials whose high surface area and tunable properties make them promising for applications as varied as gas storage, catalysis and drug delivery. This particular iron-based MOF, which the research team refers to as Fe-MOF-74, was built in the lab of Jeffrey Long, a professor of chemistry at the University of California Berkeley, and analyzed by the team at NIST and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s Bragg Institute.

Natural gas taken straight from the ground consists of a complex mixture of molecules called hydrocarbons, only some of which are needed for use in any specific product such as fuel or plastic. Separating the lighter types of hydrocarbon from one another—propane and ethylene, for example—is difficult because their weights are so similar. Currently, the most effective separation method involves chilling light hydrocarbons down to the point where they all liquefy, sometimes as low as 100 degrees below zero Celsius, and waiting until the heavier liquids settle below the lighter ones.

“A good percentage of the energy needed for separation goes to the cooling process,” says Wendy Queen, a postdoctoral fellow at the NIST Center for Neutron Research. "A material that can selectively adsorb light hydrocarbons could offer significant energy savings, making separation more economical.”

Through a microscope, Fe-MOF-74 looks like a collection of narrow tubes packed together like drinking straws in a box. Each tube is made of organic materials and six long strips of iron, which run lengthwise along the tube. The team’s analysis shows that different light hydrocarbons have varied levels of attraction to the tubes’ iron, a finding that can be exploited for separation. By passing a mixed-hydrocarbon gas through a series of filters made of the tubes, the hydrocarbon with the strongest affinity can be removed in the first filter layer, the next strongest in the second layer, and so forth.

“It works well at 45 degrees Celsius, which is closer to the temperature of hydrocarbons at some points in the distillation process,” Queen says. “The upshot is that if we can bring the MOF to market as a filtration device, the energy-intensive cooling step potentially can be eliminated. We are now trying out metals other than iron in the MOF in case we can find one that works even better.”

* E.D. Bloch, W.L. Queen, R.Krishna, J.M. Zadrozny, C.M. Brown and J.R. Long. Hydrocarbon separations in a metal-organic framework with open Iron(II) coordination sites. Science, March 30, 2012. DOI:\10.1126\science.1217544

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

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Nanoscale Magnetic Media Diagnostics by Rippling Spin Waves

Memory devices based on magnetism are one of the core technologies of the computing industry, and engineers are working to develop new forms of magnetic memory that are faster, smaller, and more energy efficient than today’s flash and SDRAM memory. They now have a new tool developed by a team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the University of Maryland Nanocenter and the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden—a method to detect defects in magnetic structures as small as a tenth of a micrometer even if the region in question is buried inside a multilayer electronic device.*

spin waves
Trapped beneath the magnetic tip of a microscale cantilever, spin waves can be used to non-destructively measure the properties of magnetic materials and search for nanoscale defects, especially in multilayer magnetic systems like a typical hard drive, where defects could be buried beneath the surface.
Credit: McMichael/NIST
View hi-resolution image

The technique demonstrated at the NIST Center for Nanoscale Technology (CNST) builds on work by researchers at the Ohio State University.** The idea is to trap and image oscillating perturbations of a magnetic field—“spin waves”—in a thin film. Trapped spin waves provide scientists with a powerful new tool to nondestructively measure the properties of magnetic materials and search for nanoscale defects that could or have caused memory failures, especially in multilayer magnetic systems like a typical hard drive, where defects could be buried beneath the surface.

According to NIST researcher Robert McMichael, when left alone, the material’s magnetization is like the surface of a pond on a windless day. The pond is comprised of smaller magnetic moments that come with the quantum mechanical “spin” of electrons. Tap the surface of the pond with a piece of driftwood, or microwaves in this case, and the surface will begin to ripple with spin waves as the microwave energy jostles the spins, which, in turn, jostle their neighbors.

“The trick we play is to tune the microwaves to a frequency just outside the band where the spin waves can propagate—except right under our magnetic probe tip,” says McMichael. “It’s like the pond is frozen except for a little melted spot that we can move around to check magnetic properties at different spots in the sample.”

The trapped spin waves are disturbed by defects in the material, and this effect allows the defects to be characterized on 100 nm length scales.

Previous work had shown this same effect in magnetic spins that were oriented perpendicular to the magnetic film surface, meaning that the individual spins coupled strongly with their neighbors, which limited the resolution. This new work adds the extra feature that the magnetic spins are aligned in plane with one another and are not as tightly coupled. This setup is not only more representative of how many magnetic devices would be structured, but also allows for tighter focusing and better resolution.

* H-J. Chia, F. Guo, L.M. Belova and R. D. McMichael. Nanoscale spin wave localization using ferromagnetic resonance force microscopy. Physical Review Letters. 108, 087206 (2012). http://prl.aps.org/pdf/PRL/v108/i8/e087206.
** See Lee et al. Nanoscale scanning probe ferromagnetic resonance imaging using localized modes. Nature. 466, 12. Aug. 12, 2010. doi:10.1038/nature09279.

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

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April Workshop Focuses on Cybersecurity for Cyber-Physical Systems and Industrial Controls

Securing computers against unlawful and malicious attacks is always important, but it’s especially vital when the computers in question control major physical systems—manufacturing plants, transportation systems, power grids. Cybersecurity for cyber-physical systems is the topic of a workshop on April 23 and 24 at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Gaithersburg, Md.

Cyber-physical systems are complex hybrids of something physical, the equipment in an advanced factory producing semiconductors, for example, and the networked computers that control the equipment. By designing the equipment and computers as a single system—a cyber-physical system—levels of performance and agility can be achieved that far exceed those in conventional designs. They sometimes are called SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems or industrial control systems (ICS).

A notorious example of a cyber-attack on a cyber-physical system is the Stuxnet worm, which reportedly was designed to infiltrate specific computerized industrial control systems and insidiously, subtly alter the operations of the system to subvert its operations. When a cyber-attack targets a cyber-physical system, it could have an impact on health, safety or finances.

Cyber-physical systems are everywhere. Most people in the United States come in contact with them daily—driving a car, traveling on roads with stoplights, or working in a manufacturing facility. “Cars built in the last 20 years all have computers,” explains workshop organizer Tanya Brewer. Cars were first outfitted with computers for safety reasons such as improved breaking. Now automobiles have added features such as drowsiness warnings and automated parallel parking—all controlled by computers. And, there have been media reports that some car computers have been hacked, says Brewer.

More examples include transportation systems, including trains and planes, pipelines, medical devices and the developing electric Smart Grid.

The Cybersecurity for Cyber-Physical Systems workshop is designed for an audience of engineers and IT security specialists who are interested in the cyber side of these systems. On the first day of the workshop, speakers from the automotive and health care industries will discuss the challenges they are facing while trying to deploy these systems with built-in cybersecurity, and the solutions they are using. One presentation will focus on a multiuse, cyber-physical test-bed being designed for experiments on a variety of systems.

The second day of the workshop is devoted to cybersecurity for the Smart Grid, the next-generation of the electric power grid that is designed for individual homes to interact with the power grid using computers. One presenter will speak about how false data could be injected nefariously into the Smart Grid and how these attacks could be mitigated.

This workshop is part of a series of meetings and other activities NIST is carrying out to develop a coordinated program for the broad class of cyber-physical systems and to address industry-wide needs for interoperability standards, platform technologies and solutions to major technical barriers.

For more information on the Cybersecurity for Cyber-Physical Systems workshop at NIST, see: www.nist.gov/itl/csd/cyberphysical-workshop.cfm.

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

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April Workshop at RPI Is Opportunity to Help Design the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

The first of a planned series of regional workshops to design a proposed $1 billion federal initiative, the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), will be held on April 25, 2012, at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

EMPAC building
The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Credit: Copyright Peter Aaron/Esto, courtesy EMPAC

The kick-off meeting, Designing for Impact I: Workshop on Building the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation,” is being organized by the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office (AMNPO). The AMNPO is a new, interagency collaboration involving the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce, as well as the National Science Foundation, and is hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Conceived to address strategic gaps in the U.S. innovation system, the NNMI is envisioned as a network of up to 15 regional hubs—Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs)—to connect research discoveries and budding ideas for tomorrow’s technologies and products with current U.S. manufacturers as well as with start-ups in the making. The network was proposed as a public-private collaboration in the President’s FY 2013 budget.

Workshop participants, including representatives from industry, academia, state and local governments, economic development organizations and other stakeholders, will learn about the principles and concepts behind the NNMI and participate in interactive sessions designed to solicit ideas on how to best structure the network and the IMIs. As envisioned, each IMI will serve as a regional hub of manufacturing excellence. These regional collaborations will bring together industry, universities and community colleges, federal agencies and states to accelerate innovation by investing in industrially relevant manufacturing technologies with broad applications and to support education and training of an advanced manufacturing workforce.

The April 25 workshop will be held at RPI’s Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, NY. Advance online registration is required. The registration form is at http://events.energetics.com/AMNPOimpact, and additional information is available at http://manufacturing.gov/amp/event_042512.html. Space is limited and registration will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Online registration will continue until 5 p.m. Eastern time, April 20, 2012.

For more information, see the website or contact amnpo@nist.gov.

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

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Online Tool Helps You Assess Your Intellectual Property Awareness

A new online tool can help small companies and entrepreneurs evaluate their awareness of intellectual property (IP)—trade secrets, company data and more—and learn how to protect it. The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) teamed up to create the IP Awareness Assessment, available at no charge at www.uspto.gov/inventors/assessment/.

Intellectual property is a key concern of small businesses owners, who can secure significant competitive advantages by exercising the rights they hold to their innovations. However, many individuals are often unaware of their rights and miss the opportunities they can provide.

“Understanding and protecting IP is an important step along the path of bringing innovations to the marketplace,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. “We hope this tool will help companies and individuals better navigate the process and become more competitive.”

The full assessment comprises questions on five IP protection categories—utility patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and design patents. Five general IP categories are also covered: IP strategies and best practices, using technology of others, licensing technology to others, international IP rights and IP asset tracking. The questions presented in each category have been designed to discover the participant’s overall IP awareness.

“This Administration is committed to supporting innovative business tools, which help drive U.S. technological leadership worldwide and support a 21st century economy that is built to last,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. “The IP Awareness Assessment Tool will help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality and bring them to market faster, thereby creating jobs more quickly, too.”

Media Contact: Jennifer Huergo, jennifer.huergo@nist.gov, 301-975-6343

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McFadden Named 2012 SIAM Fellow

Mathematician Geoffrey McFadden of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Applied and Computational Mathematics Division has been named a fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). He is being recognized, according to the society, “For advances in mathematics applied to fluid dynamics, solidification, and the interaction of the two, using sharp and diffuse interface theories.”

McFadden is also a NIST fellow, and a fellow of the American Physical Society. His research targets the complex, and often critical, phenomenon of materials near the point where they change state, such as crystal growth or the solidification of metal alloys.

The SIAM 2012 Fellows will be honored at the society’s annual meeting to be held in Minneapolis, Minn. in July, 2012. More details are available on the SIAM website at http://fellows.siam.org/index.php?sort=year&value=2012.

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

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Wu Elected SPIE Fellow

H. Felix Wu, a mechanical engineer and research manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been named a fellow of SPIE, the international professional society for optics and photonics. The SPIE said Wu is being recognized “for achievements in high-performance fibers, polymers, composite materials, manufacturing, civil infrastructure, structural health monitoring, and engineering mechanics.”

As a senior program manager for the NIST Advanced Technology Program and later the Technology Innovation Program, Wu has managed a broad range of research in areas such as automotive manufacturing, offshore oil and natural gas exploration and production, civil infrastructure modernization and fault detection, nanotechnology, polymers and construction. He is an expert in the fields of advanced materials and structural health monitoring (SHM) technologies such as fiber-reinforced polymer composites, damage tolerance and fracture, environmental durability, and biomaterials and biomedical devices.

Wu was an adjunct professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and is a fellow of the Ohio Academy of Science.

Formerly the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, SPIE is an international society devoted to optics and photonics. Its fellows program recognizes members who have made significant scientific and technical contributions in the multidisciplinary fields of optics, photonics and imaging. More information is available at www.SPIE.org.

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

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