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Tech Beat - June 12, 2012

Tech Beat Archives

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: June 12, 2012
Date Modified: June 12, 2012 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

NIST Effort Could Improve High-Tech Medical Scanners

A powerful color-based imaging technique is making the jump from remote sensing to the operating room—and a team of scientists* at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have taken steps to ensure it performs as well when discerning oxygen-depleted tissues and cancer cells in the body as it does with oil spills in the ocean.

Microarrayer machines (A) now can mix colors and deposit them on microscope slides, which can be used to calibrate hyperspectral imagers (HSI) for use in medical applications. The finished slides can be custom-colored (B) to calibrate HSIs to find specific types of tumors or disease tissue. Close up, they resemble dot-matrix printwork (C).
Credit: Clarke/NIST
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The technique, called hyperspectral imaging (HSI), has frequently been used in satellites because of its superior ability to identify objects by color. While many other visual surveying methods can scan only for a single color, HSI is able to distinguish the full color spectrum in each pixel, which allows it to perceive the unique color "signatures" of individual objects. Well-calibrated HSI sensors have been able to discern problems from diseases in coral reefs to pollution in the atmosphere as determined by the distinct spectral signature at a location.

"Because diseased tissues and cells also have distinct spectra, scientists have been trying to use HSI for medical applications as well," says NIST physicist Jeeseong Hwang. "But any time you tell a machine to scan for something, you need to be sure it is actually looking for what you want, and you have to make sure that the image analysis algorithm extracts the correct color information out of a complex multicolor data set. We decided to create a way to calibrate an HSI device and to test its algorithm as well." 

Matthew Clarke, a former National Research Council-supported postdoctoral fellow in Hwang's group who is currently working in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., wrote new software for a device called a microarrayer, so named because it is capable of laying down hundreds of tiny sample droplets in specific places on a microscope slide's surface. Normally a microarrayer creates DNA arrays for genetic research, but the team remade it into an artistic tool, programming it to select chemicals of different hues and lay them down on the slide's surface.

The results, which look a bit like dot-matrix printing, can be used to calibrate medical HSI devices and image analysis algorithms. When combined with HSI in a medical imaging application, this effort could allow a surgeon to look for cells with a specific chemical makeup, as determined by the cells' color.

"Scientists and engineers can create a custom slide with the exact colors representing the chemical makeup they want the HSI devices to detect," Hwang says. "It could be a good way to make sure the HSI devices for medical imaging perform correctly so that surgeons are able to see all of a tumor or diseased tissue when operating on a patient."

This project is part of a larger effort to evaluate and validate optical medical imaging devices, led by the NIST team members, David Allen, Maritoni Litorja, Antonio Possolo, Eric Shirley and Jeeseong Hwang. Hwang adds that the special issue** of Biomedical Optics Express in which the team's findings appear is the output of a recent NIST-supported international workshop on the topic.

*M.L. Clarke, J.Y. Lee, D.V. Samarov, D.W. Allen, M. Litorja, R. Nossal and J. Hwang. Designing microarray phantoms for hyperspectral imaging validation. Biomedical Optics Express, Vol. 3(6), pp. 1291-1299 (June 2012), doi: 10.1364/BOE.3.001300.
** See www.opticsinfobase.org/boe/virtual_issue.cfm?vid=168.

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

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NIST Launches New Website to Educate Industry About Alternatives to Mercury Thermometers

As part of a larger effort to reduce the amount of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, in the environment, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has launched a new website to help industry scientists and engineers decide the best temperature measurement alternative for their purposes. The website also includes information about myths pertaining to mercury and temperature measurement and how to safely package and recycle mercury-containing products.

NIST stopped providing calibration services for mercury thermometers on March 1, 2011. This was motivated in part by NIST’s work with the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate as many sources of mercury in the environment as possible.

According to Greg Strouse, leader of NIST’s temperature, pressure and vacuum programs, mercury thermometers are neither a superior nor a standard method for measuring temperature.

“We haven’t used mercury thermometers as a calibration standard since 1927 when the platinum resistance thermometer standard was adopted,” says Strouse. “Our goal with this new website is to show that there is a temperature-sensing technology that will satisfy their needs as well as, or better than, a mercury thermometer, all without the added liability of containing a neurotoxin that is hugely expensive to clean up if released into the environment.”

According to NIST researcher Dawn Cross, industrial scientists commonly object to replacing their mercury thermometers because they have grown accustomed to getting the same answer from their mercury thermometers over the years, even if it is less accurate than can be provided by modern digital thermometers.

“Some people who are used to using mercury thermometers think that they define temperature, and this simply isn’t true,” Cross says. “Graduations on a piece of glass filled with a fluid can never give as accurate a reading as a digital thermometer, based on how the conductivity of metals change as a function of temperature, something we know and can characterize very, very well.”

Cross points out that other thermometers based on the principle of thermal expansion of a fluid, such as alcohol, are not hopelessly inaccurate. In fact, they are as accurate as mercury thermometers and are suitable for some applications that don’t require stringent temperature control. For example, alcohol thermometers might be suitable for measuring the temperature of gasoline and other fuels, but they would be unsuitable for monitoring the temperature of vaccines, the viability of which relies on strict control of their temperature.

Visit the website at www.nist.gov/pml/mercury.cfm for more information about how NIST can help your industry find an accurate, nontoxic and environmentally benign alternative to mercury thermometers.

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

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New Quantum Computing Algorithm Could Simulate Giant Particle Accelerators

A trio of theorists, including one from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have described how a future quantum computer could be used to simulate complex, high-energy collisions of subatomic particles. Given a working quantum computer—still under development—the algorithm could solve important physics problems well beyond the reach of even the most powerful conventional supercomputers.

High-energy particle collisions represent one of the most important frontiers of modern physics, but the interactions involved are so complex they often cannot be calculated from existing models. It's an experimental science, and one that requires big experiments like the multibillion euro Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Modeling such collisions would not be beyond a quantum computer, however. Also the focus of intense research, such machines will take advantage of quantum mechanics—the laws that govern the interaction of subatomic particles. These laws allow quantum switches to exist in both on and off states simultaneously, so they will be able to consider all possible solutions to a problem at once.

"We have this theoretical model of the quantum computer, and one of the big questions is, what physical processes that occur in nature can that model represent efficiently?" said NIST theorist Stephen Jordan. "Maybe particle collisions, maybe the early universe after the Big Bang? Can we use a quantum computer to simulate them and tell us what to expect?"

Questions like these involve tracking the interaction of many different elements, a situation that rapidly becomes too complicated for today's most powerful computers.

The team developed an algorithm—a series of instructions that can be run repeatedly—that could run on any functioning quantum computer, regardless of the specific technology that will eventually be used to build it. The algorithm would simulate all the possible interactions between two elementary particles colliding with each other, something that currently requires years of effort and a large accelerator to study.

A substantial amount of the work on the algorithm was done at the California Institute of Technology, while Jordan was a postdoctoral fellow. His co-authors are fellow postdoc Keith S.M. Lee (now a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh) and Caltech's John Preskill, the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics.

"We believe this work could apply to the entire standard model of physics," Jordan says. "It could allow quantum computers to serve as a sort of wind tunnel for testing ideas that often require accelerators today."

For more details, see the NIST May 31 news story, "Quantum Computers Will Be Able to Simulate Particle Collisions" at www.nist.gov/itl/math/collisions-053112.cfm.

* S.P. Jordan, K.S.M. Lee and J. Preskill. Quantum algorithms for quantum field theories. Science, June 1, 2012, DOI 10.1126/science.1217069.

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

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July 9 Ohio Workshop Seeks Ideas on Design of National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and partner organizations of the federal interagency Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office (AMNPO) are sponsoring the second in a series of regional public workshops to gather ideas and suggestions on the design of the proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). The workshop will be held on July 9, 2012, at the Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland.

"Designing for Impact II: Workshop on Building the NNMI" is a partnership between AMNPO and local Cleveland organizations that include NASA's Glenn Research Center, Cuyahoga Community College and Case Western Reserve University. Confirmed workshop speakers include Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Patrick Gallagher, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Invited speakers include congressional, state and local leaders.

AMNPO is charged with coordinating federal resources and programs to enhance technology transfer to U.S. manufacturers. The office is hosted by NIST. Core partner agencies also include the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA and the National Science Foundation.

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

It is envisioned that each institute 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.

Workshop participants 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 institutes.

Facilitated interactive discussions will focus on four areas key to the success of the institutes:

  • Technologies with Broad Impact,
  • Institute Structure and Governance,
  • Strategies for Sustainable Institute Operations, and
  • Education and Workforce Development.

This event builds upon the first AMNPO regional workshop on designing and building the innovation network, held in Troy, N.Y., on April 25, 2012. In addition, the Ohio workshop will explore manufacturing-related interests and needs specific to the region.

The July 9 workshop will be held at Corporate College East, which is part of Cuyahoga Community College. For more details on the workshop and to sign up for the event, visit http://manufacturing.gov/amp/event_070912.html.

Advance sign-up is required. The deadline is July 2. A fee is charged to cover food and beverage expenses. Space is limited, and event sign-up will be on a first-come, first-served basis with no more than four representatives from the same organization.

For more information on the NNMI, visit http://manufacturing.gov/amp/nnmi.html

For more information about NASA's programs, visit www.nasa.gov.

NASA contacts for this event:
David E. Steitz, Headquarters, Washington

Lori Rachul, Glenn Research Center, Cleveland

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

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Thirty-Nine Organizations Seek Silver Anniversary Baldrige Award

2012, the 25th anniversary year of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, will see 39 organizations vying for the honor. Applicants for the Baldrige Award, the nation's highest recognition for organizational performance excellence through innovation and improvement, include one manufacturer, three service companies, two small businesses, three educational organizations, 25 health care organizations and five nonprofits or governmental organizations.

The Baldrige Award medallion
Credit: NIST
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The 2012 applicants will be evaluated rigorously by an independent board of 478 examiners in seven areas: leadership; strategic planning; operations focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; process management; and results. Examiners provide each applicant with 300 to 1,000 hours of review and a detailed report on the organization's strengths and opportunities for improvement. Late this summer, organizations that distinguish themselves in the initial screening will be visited by teams of examiners to verify information in the application and to clarify questions that come up during the review.

A new element has been added to the award process to enhance the selection process and strengthen the national Baldrige Enterprise bond* between the Alliance for Performance Excellence—a body made up of the 35-plus state, local, regional and sector-specific Baldrige-based programs serving nearly all 50 states—and the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Starting this year, an organization must meet one of the following criteria to apply for the national Baldrige Award:

  • Previously won the national Baldrige Award but not within the past five years;
  • Between 2007 and 2011, received the top award from an award program that is a member of the Alliance for Performance Excellence;
  • Between 2007 and 2011, applied for the national Baldrige Award and earned a high score in both organizational processes and results but did not receive a site visit;
  • Between 2007 and 2011, applied for the national Baldrige Award and received a site visit;
  • Has more than 25 percent of its workforce outside of the home state; or
  • Is an organization that does not have an available Alliance for Performance Excellence award program.

Through this modified process, organizations that are early in their Baldrige improvement journeys will be encouraged to first apply for an Alliance for Performance Excellence Baldrige-based program award to receive the benefits of a "local" review.

This year's Baldrige Award recipients are expected to be announced in late November 2012. The recipients will be honored in a ceremony to be held at the 25th Annual Quest for Excellence conference in April 2013 in Baltimore, Md.

Named after Malcolm Baldrige, the 26th Secretary of Commerce, the Baldrige Award was established by Congress in 1987. The award—managed by NIST in collaboration with the private sector—promotes excellence in organizational performance, recognizes the achievements and results of U.S. organizations, and publicizes successful performance strategies. The award is not given for specific products or services. Since 1988, 90 organizations have received Baldrige Awards.

Thousands of organizations use the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence to guide their operations, improve performance and get sustainable results. This proven improvement and innovation framework offers organizations an integrated approach to key management areas.

For more information, go to www.nist.gov/baldrige.

* See "New Business Plan, New Funding Help Baldrige Program Move Forward" in the April 13, 2012, NIST Tech Beat at www.nist.gov/baldrige/baldrige-041312.cfm.


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

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NIST Releases Final Version of Revised Bluetooth Security Guide

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued the final version of the Guide to Bluetooth Security (NIST Special Publication 800-121 Rev. 1). The publication is a revision of the original guide, which was released in September 2008.

A draft version of the revised document was released for public comment in October 2011. The final version reflects these comments, which recommended no significant changes other than minor technical corrections and rewordings to the draft text.

The Guide to Bluetooth Security describes the security capabilities of technologies based on Bluetooth, an open standard for short-range radio frequency communication, and gives recommendations to organizations on securing their devices effectively. Bluetooth technology has been integrated into many devices including cell phones, laptops, printers, automobiles, and medical devices enabling users to form ad hoc networks to transfer voice and data. Significant changes from the original SP 800-121 include an update to the vulnerability mitigation information for “Secure Simple Pairing”, which helps protect against eavesdropping, and the introduction of Bluetooth version 3.0 High Speed and Bluetooth version 4.0 Low Energy security mechanisms and recommendations. Version 3.0 provides data rate improvement over previous versions of Bluetooth, while 4.0 applies to smaller, resource-constrained devices like heart rate monitors and other wearable medical sensor networks.

The final version of SP 800-121 Rev. 1 is available at www.nist.gov/customcf/get_pdf.cfm?pub_id=911133.

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

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NIST Will Hold 'Big Data' Workshop June 13-14, 2012

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is hosting a workshop on the use of "big data"—a term referring to massive amounts of stored and streaming digital information—at its Gaithersburg, Md., campus's Green Auditorium, June 13-14, 2012.

The Big Data Workshop should interest everyone, from medical professionals to marketing firms, who must mine large data sets for specific information. Computers can sift through huge amounts of data to find relevant information, but both the programs used – called algorithms – and the underlying infrastructure on which they run, frequently have limitations that analysts would like to minimize.

"Over the years, companies have mined large data sets to, for example, identify trends in consumer shopping," says NIST computer scientist Mary Brady. "But more and more, it's being explored for quantitative use—to aid a surgeon in detecting abnormalities through real-time analysis of video captured during a surgical procedure, for instance. In this other type of situation, the accuracy of the analysis is very important."

NIST is holding the workshop to explore issues in processing and analyzing big data, and then discuss what can be done to address it from a measurement science and standards perspective. Key national priority topics will be explored, including examples from science, health, disaster management, security and finance.

The workshop, sponsored by NIST and the University of Maryland – Baltimore County, is free and open to the public, but attendees must register online. For additional information, including the workshop agenda, please visit www.nist.gov/itl/ssd/is/big-data.cfm.

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

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