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Tech Beat - September 18, 2012

Tech Beat Archives

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: September 18, 2012
Date Modified: September 18, 2012 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

New NCNR Guide Hall Opens, Expands NIST Resources for Neutron Research

With the opening of the new guide hall addition at the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), neutron scientists will have nearly twice as much space to pursue their research, and will be within three months of having greatly expanded research capabilities as well.

new guide hall
This photo of the NIST Center for Neutron Research’s guide hall expansion area shows two new beamlines enclosed in protective shielding (blue structures directly under left end of yellow crane) as well as two others whose shielding is not yet completed (to the right of the enclosed beamlines). A fifth beamline, not visible, is under construction. Many new instruments will occupy the expansion’s remaining area, allowing 500 more researchers per year to conduct research.
Credit: Qiu/NCNR
View hi-resolution image

The new guide hall, which adds an additional 16,000 square feet of space to the 20,000 square feet of the original building, will provide room for new instrumentation that will increase the NCNR’s measurement capacity by more than 25 percent. The expansion will enable the facility to serve an additional 500 researchers each year. Its five new beamlines will provide “cold” neutrons for instruments that will give scientists the ability to perform neutron research that was either previously unavailable at the NCNR or possible only in limited ways.

Four of these beamlines will be ready by Oct. 1, 2012, for the installation of new instruments, several of which will come online by the end of 2012. One of these will be ready for use shortly after opening day—a new reflectometer called MAGIK. This device is designed to explore thin films having nanopatterned surfaces made of magnetic materials that can be used in data storage. The reflectometer will enable researchers to investigate the different layers of these films and the roughness of their surfaces, key factors in their performance. (An older reflectometer with more limited capability also will come back online at this time with twice its previous performance.)

According to the NCNR’s Richard Ibberson, the new guide hall will also help optimize the NCNR’s use of space. “As old and new devices are installed in coming weeks, we will be able to put sensitive devices like our neutron spin echo instrument in more isolated places where they will not be disturbed by nearby magnetic fields, for example,” he says. “We’ll be able to do more research more effectively.”

The NCNR, a major national user facility, provides intense beams of neutrons used in a variety of measurement techniques, which provide otherwise unavailable information on the structure and dynamics of materials important in engineering, biology, materials science, chemistry and physics. More than 2,300 researchers from industry, academia and government participate in research at the facility each year.

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

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Home Sweet Lab: Computerized House to Generate as Much Energy as It Uses

In a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 12, 2012, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) unveiled a new laboratory designed to demonstrate that a typical-looking suburban home for a family of four can generate as much energy as it uses in a year. Following an initial year-long experiment, the facility will be used to improve test methods for energy-efficient technologies and develop cost-effective design standards for energy-efficient homes that could reduce overall energy consumption and harmful pollution, and save families money on their monthly utility bills.

The unique facility looks and behaves like an actual house, and has been built to U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum standards—the highest standard for sustainable structures. The two-story, four-bedroom, three-bath Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility incorporates energy-efficient construction and appliances, as well as energy-generating technologies such as solar water heating and solar photovoltaic systems.

“Results from this lab will show if net-zero home design and technologies are ready for a neighborhood near you,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. “It will also allow development of new design standards and test methods for emerging energy-efficient technologies and, we hope, speed their adoption.”

Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which included green technologies among its priorities, the facility was built almost entirely with U.S.-made materials and equipment. Through its Building America effort, the Department of Energy (DOE) provided architectural design, training and management support for this project. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency Kathleen Hogan represented DOE during the ribbon-cutting.

For the first year of its operation, the lab will be used to demonstrate net-zero energy usage. NIST researchers will use computer software and mechanical controls to simulate the activities of a family of four living in an energy-efficient home. No actual humans will be allowed to enter the house during this time so that researchers can monitor how the house performs, but lights will turn on and off at specified times, hot water and appliances will run—and small devices will emit heat and humidity just as people would.

A solar photovoltaic system will generate electricity to power lights and appliances when weather permits, and excess energy will be sent back to the local utility grid by means of a smart electric meter. The house will draw energy from the grid on days it cannot generate enough on its own, but over the course of a year it will produce enough to make up for that purchased energy, for a net-zero energy usage.

During the ceremony, Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council, announced that the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility has earned a LEED Platinum rating.

NIST researchers plan to make data from the net-zero experiment available online so that researchers and the public can follow its progress. Visit http://www.nist.gov/el/nzertf/ for images, video and more details on the new laboratory.

* Text edited slightly on Sept. 18, 2012, for use in NIST Tech Beat.

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

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New NIST Screening Method Identifies 1,200 Candidate Refrigerants to Combat Global Warming

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new computational method for identifying candidate refrigerant fluids with low "global warming potential" (GWP)—the tendency to trap heat in the atmosphere for many decades—as well as other desirable performance and safety features.

refrigerant compounds
To help industry find refrigerant fluids with low global warming potential (GWP), NIST researchers screened 56,203 compounds and identified 1,234 candidates for further study.
Credit: Kazakov/NIST
View hi-resolution image

The NIST effort is the most extensive systematic search for a new class of refrigerants that meet the latest concerns about climate change. The new method was used to identify about 1,200 promising, low-GWP chemicals* for further study among some 56,000 that were considered. Only about 60 of these have boiling points low enough to be suitable for common refrigeration equipment, an indication of how difficult it is to identify usable fluids.

The ongoing NIST project is a response to U.S. industry interest in a new generation of alternative refrigerants that already are required for use in the European Union.

The refrigerants now used in cars and homes are mainly hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). They were adopted a generation ago in the effort to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which deplete the stratospheric ozone layer. An example is R-134a (1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane), which replaced ozone-depleting chemicals in automobile air conditioners and home refrigerators. R-134a now is being phased out in Europe because HFCs remain in the atmosphere for many years, yielding a high GWP. A compound's GWP is defined as the warming potential of one kilogram of the gas relative to one kilogram of carbon dioxide. R-134a has a GWP of 1,430, much higher than the GWP of 150 or less now mandated for automotive use in Europe.

Promising low-GWP chemicals include fluorinated olefins, which react rapidly with atmospheric compounds and thus will not persist for long periods.

"What industry is trying to do is be prepared, because moving from a GWP in the thousands or tens of thousands to a GWP of 150 is an enormous challenge, both economically and technologically," says NIST chemist Michael Frenkel. "We decided to leverage the tools NIST has been developing for the last 15 years to look into the whole slew of available chemicals."

The affected industry is huge: The U.S. air conditioning, heating and refrigeration equipment manufacturing industry ships about $30 billion in goods annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

NIST has extensive experience evaluating alternative refrigerants, having previously helped the refrigeration industry find replacements for CFCs.**

The new NIST method estimates GWP by combining calculations of a compound's radiative efficiency (a measure of how well it absorbs infrared radiation) and atmospheric lifetime, both derived from molecular structure. Additional filtering is based on low toxicity and flammability, adequate stability, and critical temperature (where the compound's liquid and gas properties converge) in a desirable range. The method was applied to 56,203 compounds and identified 1,234 candidates for further study. The method, which was validated against available literature data, is accurate and fast enough for virtual screening applications. The approach is similar to the large-scale virtual screening and computational design methods for discovering new pharmaceuticals.

The screening is the initial stage of a larger study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The next step will be to further narrow down the candidates to a couple dozen suitable for detailed investigation in refrigeration cycle modeling.

* A. Kazakov, M.O. McLinden and M. Frenkel. Computational design of new refrigerant fluids based on environmental, safety, and thermodynamic characteristics. Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research. Article ASAP, Publication Date (Web): September 4, 2012. DOI: 10.1021/ie3016126
**See 2007 NIST Tech Beat article, "NIST Releases Major Update of Popular REFPROP Database," at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/techbeat/tb2007_0412.htm#refprop.

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

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New NIST Publication Provides Guidance for Computer Security Risk Assessments

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a final version of its risk assessment guidelines that can provide senior leaders and executives with the information they need to understand and make decisions about their organization's current information security risks and information technology infrastructures.

"Risk assessments are an important tool for managers," explains Ron Ross, NIST fellow and one of the authors of Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments. "With the increasing breadth and depth of cyber attacks on federal information systems and the U.S. critical infrastructure, risk assessments provide important information to guide and inform the selection of appropriate defensive measures so organizations can respond effectively to cyber-related risks."

Information technology risks include risk to the organization's operations (including, for example, missions and reputation), its critical assets such as data and physical property, and individuals who are part of or served by the organization. In some cases, these risks extend to the nation as a whole. Risk assessments are part of an organization's total risk management process.

In March 2011, NIST released Managing Information Security Risk: Organization, Missions and Information System View (NIST Special Publication 800-39)*, which describes the process for managing information security risk for federal agencies and contractors. That process includes framing risk, assessing risk, responding to risk and monitoring risk over time.

The new publication, Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments, focuses exclusively on risk assessment—the second step in the information security risk management process. The guidance covers the four elements of a classic risk assessment: threats, vulnerabilities, impact to missions and business operations, and the likelihood of threat exploitation of vulnerabilities in information systems and their physical environment to cause harm or adverse consequences.

"As the size and complexity of our collective IT infrastructure grows, we cannot protect everything we own or manage to the highest degree," says Ross. "Risk assessments show us where we are most at risk. It provides a way to decide where managers should focus their attention."

The risk assessment guidance is designed to meet the needs of a variety of organizations, large and small, including financial institutions, health care providers, software developers, manufacturing companies, military planners and operators, and law enforcement groups.

The Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments (SP 800-30, Revision 1) completes the original series of five key computer security documents envisioned by the Joint Task Force—a partnership of NIST, the Department of Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Committee on National Security Systems—to create a unified information security framework for the federal government. SP 800-39 is also in this series.

The guide is available at www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=912091.

* SP 800-39 is available at www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=908030.

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

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October Workshop to Consider Future of Information and Communication Technology Supply Chain Risk Management

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will host a workshop at its Gaithersburg, Md., headquarters October 15 and 16, 2012, to discuss ways NIST can focus its work to help federal departments and agencies manage the risks associated with information and communication technology (ICT) supply chains.

The ICT supply chain is a globally distributed, interconnected set of organizations, people, processes, products and services that extends across the entire system development life cycle from research and development, to production, delivery, operations and disposal.

It is considered at “risk” because of both the increasing sophistication of information and communications technologies and the growing speed and scale of a complex, distributed global supply chain. Increased understanding of, and visibility and traceability throughout, the supply chain, will help government users better manage the risks of compromise enabled by counterfeit materials, malicious software or untrustworthy products.

The ICT supply chain security discipline is in an early stage of development with diverse perspectives on foundational ICT supply chain definitions and scope, disparate bodies of knowledge, and fragmented standards and best practice efforts. The field still needs to identify the available and needed tools, technology and research related to the ICT supply chain risk and to better understand their benefits, limitations and gaps.

This NIST workshop will bring together a varied group of stakeholders and thought leaders from industry, academia and government to explore and discuss several of the key technical aspects of the ICT supply chain.

The two-day-long workshop will present panels of government and industry experts. Objectives are to:

  • Discuss the fundamental underpinnings of ICT supply chain risk management (terms, definitions, characterizations);
  • Identify and evaluate current and needed commercially reasonable practices and related standards (need, scope and development approach);
  • Identify current and needed tools, technology and techniques useful in securing the ICT supply chain; and
  • Identify current and needed research and resources.

To register for the October 15-16 conference, see www.fbcinc.com/nist_supplychain.

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

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Jacob Taylor, NIST Physicist, Receives Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for Public Service

On September 13, 2012, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) physicist Jacob Taylor received a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies) for his advanced scientific research, which has potential for advances in health care, communications, computing, and technology. Presented the award by Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, Taylor was one of just nine winners chosen from nearly 400 nominees for awards honoring excellence in public service.

Jacob Taylor
Jacob Taylor of NIST is one of nine winners of the 2012 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal.
image: Sam Kittner/Kittner.com
high-res version

A fellow at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), Taylor has already developed a number of original theories on the cutting-edge of theoretical physics. One such idea is a way to allow magnetic resonance imaging to more effectively be utilized on the molecular level. This holds the promise of providing more detailed health information, better diagnoses, more targeted medical treatments, and more rapid discoveries of new drugs.

Taylor also has a pending patent on a process that would increase the quantity of data that could be sent through the Internet while using less energy, and his theory on computing has the potential to advance scientists much closer to the goal of achieving quantum computing – an extraordinary development in the field of physics that would allow for unprecedented increases to calculation speed.

Taylor receives Service to America Award with acting Secretary Blank
Taylor receiving the Service to America Medal from Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank
image: Sam Kittner/Kittner.com
high-res version

Taylor's contributions have already been examined by scientists worldwide working on computing technology. In addition to his research, Taylor he has also found time to publish more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and is a valuable mentor for graduate students looking to follow his path. It is this dedication and creativity that has made him stand out to his colleagues and others in his field.

The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals pay tribute to members of America's dedicated federal workforce like Jake Taylor, highlighting those who have made significant contributions to the United States. Selected by a committee that includes leaders from government, business, media, academia, and civil society, honorees are chosen based on their commitment and innovation, as well as the impact of their work on addressing the needs of the country.

The JQI is a collaborative venture of NIST and the University of Maryland, College Park.

For further information the award and a video interview with Taylor, see http://servicetoamericamedals.org/honorees/view_profile.php?profile=302.

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

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