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Tech Beat - July 11, 2012

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: July 11, 2012
Date Modified: July 11, 2012 
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Live Fire Tests with FDNY Will Guide Improvements in Fire Department Tactics

In the name of science, but with aim of saving lives, preventing injuries and reducing property losses, members of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) spent much of the first two weeks in July setting fire to 20 abandoned townhouses on Governors Island, about a kilometer from the southern tip of Manhattan.

fire tests
The New York City Fire Department, NIST and Underwriters Laboratories set fire to 20 abandoned townhouses on Governors Island, New York, in a series of experiments to test the conventional wisdom on, and new tactics for, controlling fires and rescuing occupants inside burning homes.
Credit: FDNY Photo
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In a series of “live burn” experiments, conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL), New York firefighters challenged the conventional wisdom on, and tested new tactics for, controlling fires and rescuing occupants inside burning homes.

“We studied these fires from start to finish,” explains NIST fire protection engineer Dan Madrzykowski , who led the NIST research contingent at Governors Island. “We turned these row houses into laboratories for real-life experiments that will provide guidance for improving fire-fighting tactics.”

An abandoned Coast Guard barracks built in the 1980s served as the proving ground for so-called positive pressure techniques and other potentially useful ventilation-control and exterior fire suppression methods. The row houses were among structures scheduled for demolition as part of efforts to transform the former Coast Guard regional headquarters into a park and for other civic uses. The townhouses—wood-framed with brick exteriors—were supplied with the same package of sofas, chairs, beds, and other furnishings for the experiments. Each townhouse also was outfitted with about 100 sensors to measure temperatures, heat flows, concentrations of toxic gases and other variables. Cameras were installed inside each row house, as well as in front and back, to monitor and record conditions.

The primary motivation for the live burn experiments are the changing dynamics of fires. The contents of American homes have changed significantly in the past few years. Plastics and other synthetic materials have replaced the natural materials that once made up the bulk of furniture items. In addition, modern living spaces tend to be more open, less compartmentalized.

As a result, interior house fires tend to burn faster and hotter today. The average time to flashover—the extremely perilous phenomenon that occurs when heat builds up in a burning structure’s contents and components to the point that they burst into flames simultaneously—has dropped dramatically since the 1980s.

The experiments evaluated individual and combinations of methods for strategically ventilating and isolating fires to prevent flashover—or at least delay it. In contrast, kicking a door open or breaking a window without knowledge of conditions inside could create a portal for air that can literally fan the flames.

“Fire consumes all the oxygen in a building, and when we ventilate the building, oxygen-induced flashover can occur,” explains Robert Maynes, FDNY deputy assistant chief. “That impacts the safety of our firefighters.”

Information gathered and lessons learned during Governors Island tests will be shared with fire departments throughout the nation. In addition, NIST will use the data to improve the accuracy and improve the capabilities of its widely used fire modeling software.

“These on-the-ground fire tests—in collaboration with FDNY and Underwriters Laboratories—provide a great opportunity for NIST to gather data at full-scale. The data will strengthen the scientific underpinnings of modern fire-fighting tactics and technologies, improve their effectiveness, enhance fire fighter safety, and lead to better building codes and standards,” said Shyam Sunder, the director of NIST’s Engineering Laboratory.

To view FDNY’s video on the Governors Island Ventilation and Suppression Exercise, go to: www.nyc.gov/html/fdny/html/events/2012/070312a.shtml#vid

For an overview of the NIST Enhanced Effectiveness of Fire Fighting Tactics Project, go to: www.nist.gov/el/fire_research/firetech/project_tactics.cfm.

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

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NIST Issues Guidance for Pediatric Electronic Health Records

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a guide to help improve the design of electronic health records for pediatric patients so that the design focus is on the users—the doctors, nurses and other clinicians who treat children.

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NIST has released a guide to help improve the design of electronic health records for pediatric patients.
Credit: ©Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

While hospitals and medical practices are accelerating their adoption of electronic health records, these records systems often are not ideal for supporting children's health care needs. Young patients' physiology is different from adults—and varies widely over the course of their growing years. Tasks that are routine in larger bodies can be complex in smaller ones, and pediatric patients typically cannot communicate as fully as adults.

These and other challenges can create additional physical and mental demands on the professionals who treat children, and affect the way they interact with an electronic health record. This makes the selection and arrangement of information displays, definition of "normal" ranges and thresholds for alerts in pediatric electronic health records more challenging to design and implement than those created for adults.

The new NIST guide was developed with the help of experts in pediatrics, human factor engineering, usability and informatics (which brings together information science, computer science and health care). The guide was peer-reviewed by both human factors experts and clinicians as well as other professionals in leading pediatric health care organizations in the United States and Canada.

The document offers technical guidance to help the designers of pediatric electronic health records create systems that can be used as intended, efficiently and effectively. Its recommendations include adopting a user-centered design approach that is informed by scientific knowledge of how people think, act, and coordinate to accomplish their goals. It also focuses on critical user interactions—those that can potentially lead to errors, workarounds, or adverse events that can harm patients.

A Human Factors Guide to Enhance EHR Usability of Critical User Interactions when Supporting Pediatric Patient Care (NISTIR 7865) is available at www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=911520.

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

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Prices are Down, Value is Up: The Newly Expanded ACerS-NIST Database

One of the most influential collections of materials data at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is now not only bigger than ever but also—thanks to a 68 percent price drop—more affordable than ever. Under a new agreement with its partner, the American Ceramic Society (ACerS), NIST is now offering single-user licenses to the ACerS-NIST Phase Equilibria Diagrams database for $950, down from $2,995.

ceramic phase diagram
Typical phase equilibria diagram developed at NIST, this one for a combination of titanium dioxide and barium oxide. Discovery of ceramics processed in the narrow region indicated by the cross-hatched section in yellow was essential for operation of the first cell phones.
Credit: NIST
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Many of the high-tech materials that make modern technology possible are inorganic compounds—carefully formulated and processed combinations of two or more starting materials. Both the formulation and the processing conditions—temperature especially—are critical to the difference between an ordinary ceramic and one that is, say, a high-temperature superconductor. Phase equilibria diagrams tell you which is which. Painstakingly developed from masses of data and models, the diagrams tell the engineer what sorts of compounds and crystal structures will result from mixing a set of starting materials in given ratios at a given temperature.

Often, these conditions fall within very narrow limits. Phase diagram data were essential, for example, in the development of a durable material now used worldwide in more than 500 million catalytic converters to control emissions from cars and trucks. They are an essential tool for designing new materials for an astonishing breadth of modern technology, including batteries, lasers, optoelectronics, sensors, fuel cells, semiconductors, protective coatings, telecommunications devices and industrial chemical catalysts. Phase diagrams are not only vital to understanding the behavior of ceramics and metal alloys; they are also essential for manufacturing the materials reproducibly, effectively and economically.

The Phase Equilibria Diagrams database dates to a 1933 collaboration between researchers at NIST and ACerS who put together the first compilation of 178 phase diagrams. Over the years, the collaboration continued and the database expanded, eventually moving from printed collections to a computerized database. The newly released version (3.4) has approximately 24,800 diagrams, including 892 new entries with approximately 1,400 new diagrams.

As a result of a new agreement with ACerS, NIST is now able to offer the ACerS-NIST Phase Equilibria Diagrams database on CDROM (NIST Standard Reference Database 31) at dramatic price reductions.

A free demonstration CDROM, which includes a comprehensive cumulative index for the entire database, is available upon request or can be downloaded, along with ordering and pricing information, from the NIST website at www.nist.gov/srd/nist31.cfm.

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

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NIST Updates Guidelines for Mobile Device Security

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a proposed update to its guidelines for securing mobile devices—such as smart phones and tablets—that are used by the federal government. NIST is asking for public comment on the draft document.

hand laptop newspaper
NIST has released for public comment a proposed update to its guidelines for securing mobile devices.
Credit: ©Dimitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock

Mobile devices allow workers, including government employees, to work in multiple locations and to improve their efficiency. But the same features that make these devices desirable make them a security challenge. Mobile devices can easily be lost or stolen, and users may be tempted to download nonsecure apps that might conceal "malware" that could be used to steal confidential data. Since security is minimal for mobile devices, a thief can retrieve sensitive data directly from the device, or use the phone or tablet to access an organization's computer network remotely.

The revised guidelines recommend using a software technology that centralizes device management at the organization level to secure both agency-issued and personally owned devices that are used for government business. Centralized programs manage the configuration and security of mobile devices and provide secure access to an organization's computer network. They are typically used to manage the smart phones that many agencies issue to staff. The new NIST guidelines offer recommendations for selecting, implementing, and using centralized management technologies for securing mobile devices.

"Mobile devices need to support multiple security objectives: confidentiality, integrity and availability, so they need to be secured against a variety of threats," explains co-author and NIST guest researcher Karen Scarfone. This publication provides specific recommendations for securing mobile devices and is intended to supplement federal government security controls specified in NIST's fundamental IT security document, Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations (Special Publication 800-53).

The draft guidelines also recommend developing system threat models for mobile devices and those resources accessed through them, instituting a mobile device security policy, implementing and testing a prototype of the mobile device solution before putting it into production, securing each organization-issued mobile device before allowing a user to access it, and maintaining mobile device security regularly.

Originally published as Guidelines on Cell Phone and PDA Security, the revision has been updated for today's technology. The guidelines do not cover laptops because the security controls available for laptops today are quite different than those available for smart phones and tablets. Basic cell phones are not covered because of the limited security options available and threats they face.

NIST requests comments on Guidelines for Managing and Securing Mobile Devices in the Enterprise (SP 800-124 Revision 1). The document can be found at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/800-124r1/draft_sp800-124-rev1.pdf. Comments should be sent to 800-124comments@nist.gov by Friday, Aug. 17, 2012, with the subject "SP 800-124 Comments."

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

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NIST Releases Test Framework for Upgrading Smart Electrical Meters

Next-generation "smart" electrical meters for residential and commercial buildings will have computerized operating systems just as laptops or mobile devices do. On July 10, 2012, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published its first-ever draft guidelines* to help utility companies test their procedures for upgrading meters securely from a remote location.

smart meter
NIST has published its first draft guidelines to help utility companies test their procedures for upgrading "smart" electric meters securely from a remote location.
Credit: ©Leah Kat/Shutterstock

The draft publication offers a generic set of testing criteria to help any utility determine whether its method of upgrading meters conforms with the security and functionality requirements in the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Standard for Smart Grid Upgradeability. NIST and the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel identified the need for meter upgradeability requirements as a high priority calling for immediate attention, and NEMA led the effort to develop a standard set of these requirements on a rapid schedule.

Smart meters, like other components of "smart power grids," will permit two-way exchange of data with other grid-connected devices, relaying information such as power prices, outage alerts and grid errors. Power companies likely will have different means of making sure the firmware—operating software stored on updatable memory chips—remain up to date, so the draft guidelines offer a test framework that includes test procedures, detailed steps for conducting the test, reviewing results, and producing records to assess and report on these results.

"Companies will be able to tailor these generic test criteria to their own systems," says Marianne Swanson, senior sdvisor for Information Security at NIST. "To make it an effective framework, we made sure that it contains consistent, repeatable tests they can run, producing documentation that contains adequate, accurate information regardless of the individual system."

Swanson emphasizes that the use of the testing framework is strictly voluntary, and says that NIST will work to enhance this framework as comments on the draft come back.

"We will be working with the Department of Energy, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and also Electrosoft Services Inc., to utilize an existing upgrade management system that ORNL developed, and that now NIST can test," she says. "We will be using the comments as well as lessons learned during the test implementation to update the guidelines. We will also be sharing all this information with ANSI, which would like to use the NEMA standard and these guidelines as seed documents for a for a future NEMA-published ANSI standard."

Swanson adds that while the official comment period for the guidelines will run only for 30 days, the team anticipates that the development of the testing framework will continue up until publication of the document's final version in April 2013. Interested parties can contact NIST in the interim with further recommendations.

Copies of Advanced Metering Infrastructure Smart Meter Upgradeability Test Framework (NISTIR 7823), are available at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/nistir-7823/draft_nistir-7823.pdf. Comments on the draft are due Aug. 9, 2012, and should be emailed with "NISTIR 7823" in the subject line to michaela.iorga@nist.gov.

* The Federal Register notice is available at www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-07-10/pdf/2012-16727.pdf 

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

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NIST Releases Second Draft of Federal ID Credential Security Standard for Comment

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released the second-round draft version of its updated security standard for identity credentials in the Personal Identity Verification cards (PIV cards) that all federal employees and contractors must use. NIST is requesting comments from the public on the document, which is intended to be the last draft before the final version is published.

piv badge
NIST has released the second-round draft version of its updated security standard for identity credentials in PIV cards.
Credit: Talbott/NIST
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The document is the next step toward updating Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 201, which was published in February 2005. Among its requirements are that all PIV cards contain an integrated circuit chip for storing electronic information, a personal identification number and protected biometric data—a printed photograph and two electronically stored fingerprints.

According to NIST computer security researcher Hildegard Ferraiolo, the update was anticipated from the start. "The original FIPS 201 indicates the standard should be reviewed after five years to see if changes need to be made," says Ferraiolo. "After implementing the standard, federal departments and agencies learned a number of lessons that, combined with technological changes over the years, made an update worthwhile."

Ferraiolo says the update will not require anyone to replace their current PIV card, but will make the new cards, based on the revised specification, more flexible and effective. Among the numerous improvements in the revised draft are the abilities to:

  • Update a card's credentials remotely without the need to appear in person at the issuer site, a change that should create significant cost savings.
  • Create additional credential(s) for use on mobile devices such as smart phones.
  • Offer additional capabilities, such as secure messaging and on-card fingerprint comparison, to provide more flexibility in selecting the appropriate level of security for federal applications that use the PIV card for authentication.

Comments on the revised draft of FIPS 201 will be incorporated and targeted to be published as the final version, to be entitled FIPS 201-2. The document, Personal Identity Verification of Federal Employees and Contractors, is available at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsFIPS.html.

NIST also is requesting comments on a related FIPS support publication, the Biometric Data Specification for Personal Identity Verification (NIST Special Publication 800-76-2). The draft update to SP 800-76-2 amends the 2007 biometric data specifications to include new card options: Agencies will be able to use iris recognition as a biometric, on-card fingerprint comparison instead of a 6-digit personal identification number for card activation. The draft also extends and refines the biometric sensor and performance specifications for improved security. The draft revision of SP 800-76-2 is available at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsFIPS.html.

Comments on both documents should be submitted by email to piv_comments@nist.gov, and must be received by August 10, 2012.

NIST also is holding a free public workshop to discuss the revised draft on July 25, 2012. Online registration is required at www.nist.gov/itl/csd/ct/fips201-2_workshop_2012.cfm; the workshop will be webcast as well.

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

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JILA Named 'Physics Historic Site' on its 50th Anniversary

JILA, a Colorado laboratory known around the world for creating new states of matter and novel laser designs and applications, turns 50 this year and will receive a gratifying anniversary present—designation as an American Physical Society (APS) historic site.

old armory JILA
The State Armory Building in Boulder, Colorado, was the first home of JILA, the internationally recognized research establishment celebrating it's 50th anniversary this year.
Credit: JILA
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JILA is a collaborative research institution of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder. JILA will celebrate its 50th anniversary later this week with events that include a formal ceremony on July 13, when the APS designation will be officially announced.

The APS citation honors JILA’s achievements in such fields as astrophysics; atomic, molecular and optical physics; biophysics; chemical physics; nanoscience; and precision measurement science.

Established in 1962 as the “Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics,” JILA was among the first institutions created as a continuing collaboration between a major government agency and a major university. In the 60s, JILA focused on measurements and analysis to support the burgeoning U.S. space program, but its mission evolved to include much of the frontiers of physics. Today, JILA performs wide-ranging research in lasers, atomic physics, chemical physics, geophysics, semiconductor technology, astrophysics and gravitational and optical physics. As a reflection of this broader mandate, in 1995 JILA dropped its old formal name and became what it was always known as internationally: JILA.

Among their advances, JILA scientists have created the first Bose-Einstein and fermionic condensates; performed laser measurements that led to a more accurate value for the speed of light and the redefinition of the meter; and developed frequency combs, laser-based tools for precisely measuring colors of light, with applications in atomic clocks, astronomy and biomedicine.

JILA joins 22 other APS historic sites, including the original NIST headquarters campus in Washington, D.C. The APS Historic Sites Initiative is described at www.aps.org/programs/outreach/history/historicsites/index.cfm.

Renowned scientists expected to attend this week’s anniversary celebration include JILA fellows and Nobel laureates Eric Cornell, John (Jan) Hall and Carl Wieman; founding JILA chair Lewis Branscomb, former director of the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) and chief scientist at IBM Corp.; and Neal Lane, former presidential science adviser and director of the National Science Foundation.

NIST Director Patrick Gallagher, who is also Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, will speak at the July 13 ceremony. Public lectures on JILA history and science are scheduled for June 12. Topics will include personal recollections of Katharine Burr Blodgett, a prominent early American physicist, presented by her niece, Katharine Gebbie, who was JILA’s first female fellow and is now director of NIST’s Physical Measurement Laboratory.

Read the University of Colorado Boulder news story, “Renowned CU-Boulder/NIST institute celebrates 50 years of scientific advances; named an ‘historic physics site’” at www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2012/07/03/renowned-cu-bouldernist-institute-celebrates-50-years-scientific-advances.

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

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New NIST-led Consortium Aims to Improve Process for Making ‘Soft Materials’

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is launching a new consortium that will take the measure of a growing and increasingly important class of materials—so-called soft materials. Soft materials is a huge field that ranges from products as commonplace as detergents, paints and chocolate bars to some as sophisticated as flexible electronic displays and solar cells, therapeutic drugs and plastics with tailor-made properties.

nSoft logo
Credit: NIST
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The kick-off meeting for the nSoft Consortium will be held August 14, 2012, at the NIST main campus in Gaithersburg, Md. The new collaborative effort focuses on manufacturers of soft materials, including plastics, proteins, foods and composites. Member organizations will be able to leverage the capabilities and facilities of the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) and the expertise of NIST’s Material Measurement Laboratory, as well as the University of Delaware Center for Neutron Science.

Two key objectives of the effort are optimizing properties of selected soft materials and maximizing production yields. Beams of neutrons, which are uncharged particles in the nucleus of atoms, provide an unparalleled portal into the workings of materials. The NCNR’s specialized neutron-based equipment and measurement methods not only afford glimpses into the interior of soft materials, but they also can probe the movements of their molecular components.

“Over the last few decades, university, government, and a relative handful of industrial researchers have demonstrated the power of neutron probes in solving high-impact materials problems,” explains Ronald Jones, the NIST polymer scientist who is the director of nSoft. “We want to make measurement solutions based on neutrons more accessible to materials manufacturers and to help them develop internal expertise for exploiting these tools to address their own particular needs.”

Related to liquids and to rigid solids, but distinct from both, soft materials encompass polymers, glasses, complex fluids, gels, foams, proteins, DNA, membranes, and many other natural and synthetic materials. Unifying characteristics are their complexity, a tendency to self-assemble, and the somewhat feeble bonds between their components. Because of these halfhearted internal linkages, soft materials are sensitive to changes in pressure and temperature.

Advances in nanotechnology create opportunities for new types of soft materials optimized for particular uses. Many of these customized materials are based on processing methods that result in internal molecular arrangements far from the material’s preferred state of equilibrium. According to a 2009 National Research Council report, manufacturing plants that make some types of these out-of-equilibrium materials may only operate at 50 to 60 percent of their design capacity.

“Small variations in processing parameters can drastically change material properties,” Jones says. “The need to precisely and accurately measure the response of soft materials to processing parameters increases as materials become more complex by design.”

On the basis of a planning workshop held last year and other outreach efforts, NIST expects industry interest in nSoft to be high. Academic and government research organizations also are welcome to join.

For more details on the meeting and to register, go to www.nist.gov/nsoft/kickoff.cfm. To learn more about nSoft, go to www.nist.gov/nsoft/.

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

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