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Tech Beat - January 8, 2013

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: January 8, 2013
Date Modified: January 8, 2013 
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JILA Physicists Achieve Elusive 'Evaporative Cooling' of Molecules

Achieving a goal considered nearly impossible, JILA physicists have chilled a gas of molecules to very low temperatures by adapting the familiar process by which a hot cup of coffee cools.

evaporative cooling illustration
JILA researchers developed a new magnetic trap and a new technique to achieve "evaporative cooling" of hydroxyl molecules (one hydrogen atom bonded to one oxygen atom). A microwave pulse at a specific frequency converts hot molecules inside the trap to a slightly different energy state. A small electric field is pulsed on briefly to destabilize and eject these converted molecules from the trap. As the microwave frequency is slowly altered, molecules distributed inside the trap (which has a varied magnetic field strength) are progressively converted and removed from the top of the trap, where molecules are hotter, to the bottom, where molecules are cooler.
Credit: Baxley and Ye Group/JILA
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Evaporative cooling has long been used to cool atoms, at JILA and elsewhere, to extraordinarily low temperatures. The process was used at JILA in 1995 to create a then-new state of matter, the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) of rubidium atoms. The latest demonstration, reported in the Dec. 20, 2012, issue of Nature,* marks the first time evaporative cooling has been achieved with molecules—two different atoms bonded together.

JILA researchers cooled about 1 million hydroxyl radicals, each composed of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom (OH), from about 50 milliKelvin (mK) to 5 mK, five-thousandths of a degree above absolute zero. The 70-millisecond process also made the cloud 1,000 times denser and cooler. With just a tad more cooling to below 1 mK, the new method may enable advances in ultracold chemistry, quantum simulators to mimic poorly understood physical systems, and perhaps even a BEC made of highly reactive molecules.

The same JILA group previously used magnetic fields and lasers to chill molecules made of potassium and rubidium atoms to temperatures below 1 microKelvin.** But the new work demonstrates a more widely usable method for cooling molecules that is potentially applicable to a wide range of chemically interesting species.

"OH is a hugely important species for atmospheric and combustion dynamics," says JILA/NIST Fellow Jun Ye, the group leader. "It is one of the most prominently studied molecules in physical chemistry. Now with OH molecules entering the ultracold regime, in addition to potassium-rubidium molecules, a new era in physical chemistry will be upon us in the near future."

JILA is a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder. The results are the first to be published from the first experiments conducted in JILA's new X-Wing, which opened earlier this year. JILA theorist John Bohn collaborated with Ye's group.

In evaporative cooling, particles with greater-than-average energy depart, leaving a cooler and denser system behind. Unlike coffee, however, the trapped hydroxyl molecules have to be tightly controlled and manipulated for the process to work. If too many particles react rather than just bounce off each other, they overheat the system. Until now, this was widely seen as a barrier to evaporative cooling of molecules. Molecules are more complicated than atoms in their energy structures and physical motions, making them far more difficult to control.

To achieve their landmark result, Ye's group developed a new type of trap that uses structured magnetic fields to contain the hydroxyl molecules, coupled with finely tuned electromagnetic pulses that tweak the molecules' energy states to make them either more or less susceptible to the trap. The system allows scientists not only to control the release of the hotter, more energetic molecules from the collection, but also to choose which locations within the trap are affected, and which molecular energies to cull. The result is an extremely fine level of control over the cooling system, gradually ejecting molecules that are physically deeper and relatively cooler than before.

JILA scientists say it appears feasible to cool OH molecules to even colder temperatures, perhaps to a point where all the molecules behave alike, forming the equivalent of a giant "super molecule." This would enable scientists to finally learn some of the elusive basics of how molecules interact and develop novel ways to control chemical reactions, potentially benefitting atmospheric and combustion science, among other fields.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and NIST.

* B.K. Stuhl, M.T. Hummon, M. Yeo, G. Quéméner, J.L. Bohn and J. Ye. Evaporative cooling of the dipolar hydroxyl radical. Nature. Dec. 20, 2012.
** See 2008 NIST news release, "JILA Scientists Create First Dense Gas of Ultracold 'Polar' Molecules," at www.nist.gov/pml/div689/ultracold_polar_molecules.cfm.

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

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'Standard Quantum Limit' Smashed, Could Mean Better Fiber-Optic Comms

fiber opticsCommunicating with light may soon get a lot easier, hints recent research* from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland's Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), where scientists have potentially found a way to overcome a longstanding barrier to cleaner signals.

The findings, which demonstrate for the first time an error rate far below the "standard quantum limit" for a wide range of light levels, could increase the efficiency of fiber-optic systems by reducing both the power needed to send a signal and the number of errors the receiver makes.

Light waves traveling through a fiber-optic cable often carry digital information encoded as differences in phase between one wave and another. The crests of two waves that are "in phase" pass a point at the same time, while if the two waves are 180 degrees out of phase, one crest passes while the other's trough does. Receivers can be designed to detect more than just two phase angles—0, 90, 180 and 270 degrees, for example—and the more phases they can detect, the more information can be packed into a signal, increasing the rate of data transmission.

However, a constant problem is that phase states slightly overlap one another, meaning that there is a chance a state with 180-degree phase will be mistaken for a 0, 90 or 270-degree phase state. To minimize these errors, engineers must use more optical signal power—which amps up the cost as well. A potential solution would be an improved receiver that does a better job distinguishing among the different phase states. But designers have struggled for decades to get past a barrier they call the standard quantum limit, which is the best performance an ideal conventional receiver could ever attain.

The research team, though, found a clever way to get past the standard quantum limit using off-the-shelf technology to construct a receiver in an innovative way. Their solution is to make several measurements instead of a single one, and set them up so that each measures a portion of the input light's phase state successively. The key to this "staged" approach is that the receiver makes a partial measurement of the input phase state, and then uses the information obtained from this first partial measurement to adapt itself before making the next one. None of the individual partial measurements is perfect, but the adaptive technology allows a dramatically better final result.

"With a receiver implementing only a few adaptive measurements, we've managed to achieve error rates four times lower than the standard quantum limit," says Francisco Elohim Becerra, a NIST/JQI postdoctoral fellow who is acknowledged by his co-authors as having done the brunt of the work and originated the design.

While the innovation may not make its way into a fiber-optic system near you for some time, Becerra's coauthor Alan Migdall says better phase measurement could lead to more efficient technologies that harness quantum effects, as well as improved data encryption systems.

* F.E. Becerra, J. Fan, G. Baumgartner, J. Goldhar, J.T. Kosloski and A. Migdall. Experimental demonstration of a receiver beating the standard quantum limit for multiple nonorthogonal state discrimination. Nature Photonics, Jan. 6, 2013, doi:10.1038/nphoton.2012.316.

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

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For Newly Discovered 'Quantum Spin Liquid', the Beauty Is in Its Simplicity

A research team including scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has confirmed long-standing suspicions among physicists that electrons in a crystalline structure called a kagome (kah-go-may) lattice can form a "spin liquid," a novel quantum state of matter in which the electrons' magnetic orientation remains in a constant state of change.*

Herbertsmithite crystals illustration
This image depicts magnetic effects within Herbertsmithite crystals, where green regions represent higher scattering of neutrons from NIST's Multi-Angle Crystal Spectrometer (MACS). Scans of typical highly-ordered magnetic materials show only isolated spots of green, while disordered materials show uniform color over the entire sample. The in-between nature of this data shows some order within the disorder, implying the unusual magnetic effects within a spin liquid.
Credit: NIST
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The research shows that a spin liquid state exists in Herbertsmithite—a mineral whose atoms form a kagome lattice, named for a simple weaving pattern of repeating triangles well-known in Japan. Kagome lattices are one of the simplest structures believed to possess a spin liquid state, and the new findings, revealed by neutron scattering, indeed show striking evidence for a fundamental prediction of spin liquid physics.

Generally, magnetism results from the magnetic moment, also called spin, of electrons within atoms. Rather than aligning in a stable, repetitive up-down pattern as they do in most magnetic solids at low temperatures, the electrons in a spin liquid are frustrated by mutual interactions from settling into a permanent alignment, so the electron spins constantly change direction, even at temperatures close to absolute zero.

Named after a mineralogist, Herbertsmithite was proposed to be a quantum spin liquid by Daniel Nocera and Young Lee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2007. Herbertsmithite has a peculiar crystal structure in which its copper atoms lie at the corners of triangles with interactions that favor having the up-down alignment pattern of electronic spins on each corner. However, while electrons on two of the corners of a triangle can align, one up and one down, their alignment produces a quandary for the electron on the third corner, which cannot align with both.

"The electronic spin on the third copper atom essentially doesn't know what to do with itself," says Collin Broholm, a physicist at NIST and Johns Hopkins University, who was also part of the team that previously characterized a different material with a spin-liquid-like state.** "The locations of copper atoms in Herbertsmithite suggest the material might not be able to order itself magnetically, which is interesting because it is so unusual. But testing the hypothesis of a quantum spin liquid required the right instrument and very pure crystals of Herbertsmithite, and until recently, we had neither."

The MIT group provided the crystals after managing to grow them artificially in their lab, a painstaking process that took years. To determine the behaviors of the electronic spins in the crystals' copper atoms, the team used the Multi-Axis Crystal Spectrometer (MACS) at the NIST Center for Neutron Research. MACS, which scatters a beam of neutrons off a sample of material, showed that Herbertsmithite scattered neutrons in a highly unusual way: Instead of all the scattered neutrons possessing identical energies at a given momentum, as they do with most magnetic materials, the neutrons had a wide spectrum of energies. This is hard evidence that Herbertsmithite indeed has spin-liquid properties.

The apparent simplicity of Herbertsmithite belies the complexity of the spin liquid state that it apparently supports, Broholm says, which could make it useful someday.

"The structural simplicity of Herbertsmithite is valuable if we are to put the quantum spin liquid to use—as proposed for information processing, for example," he says. "Complex chemistry usually brings disorder, but this material is relatively simple, so it realizes the quantum spin liquid with higher fidelity."

The research was funded in part by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

* T.-H. Han, J.S. Helton, S. Chu, D.G. Nocera, J.A. Rodriguez-Rivera, C. Broholm and Y.S. Lee. Fractionalized excitations in the spin liquid state of a kagome lattice antiferromagnet. Nature, 492, Dec. 20, 2012, doi: 10.1038/nature11659.
** See the May 15, 2012, story "NIST Contributes to Discovery of Novel Quantum Spin-Liquid" at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20120515.cfm#spin.

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

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Organizations Can Now Apply for the 2013 Baldrige Quality Award

With the launch of the 2013 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) application process, the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program is ready to help U.S. organizations usher in a quality New Year filled with innovation, improvement and visionary leadership.

Baldrige medallion
Baldrige medallion.
Credit: NIST
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Organizations in three business sectors—manufacturing, small business and service—along with those in health care, education and nonprofit (including government agencies)—can now apply for this year’s Baldrige Award—the nation's highest Presidential honor for performance excellence.

According to Sister Mary Jean Ryan, FSM, president/CEO of SSM Health Care, the first Baldrige Award winner in the health care sector, “For us, Baldrige has provided the best consulting services we’ve ever received. … Over the four years that we applied, we received more than 200 pages of feedback from highly trained, experienced, and professional examiners, who spent literally hundreds of hours with our application and on-site visits. … To sum up, Baldrige is the best way to get better faster.”

All applicants receive a rigorous, objective evaluation of their entire organization and performance management system by the MBNQA Board of Examiners, a team of experts from all sectors of the U.S. economy. These experts provide a report outlining the organization’s strengths and opportunities for improvement, with actionable feedback that can guide the organization on its path to performance excellence.

Applying for a Baldrige Award is a two-step process that begins with submitting an Eligibility Certification form, a registration fee, and certain required documents. The deadline for submission of all Step 1 materials is Feb. 19, 2013, if an organization includes a nomination of one of its senior members for the Baldrige Board of Examiners, or April 2, 2013, if it does not. Full eligibility requirements are available at www.nist.gov/baldrige/enter/eligible.cfm.

In Step 2, eligible candidates for the Baldrige Award provide the information that the Baldrige Examiners will need to conduct an evaluation of the organization. To make it easier for applicants, all instructions and content related to applying for the 2013 Baldrige Award are located on Web pages, which may be accessed from the “How to Apply” page at www.nist.gov/baldrige/enter/how_to_apply.cfm. Help also may be obtained via the toll-free Award Process Hotline at (877) 237-9064, option 3.

The Baldrige program has revised its Criteria for Performance Excellence. The Criteria serve both as the standard for selecting the annual recipients of the Baldrige Award and the road map for organizations—even if they do not apply for the award—seeking improved strategy and operations through pursuing performance excellence.

The 2013-2014 Criteria reflect the validated management practices of the current business environment, with special attention to innovation and risk management, use of social media, operational effectiveness, and work systems as a strategic concept.

The 2013-2014 Criteria for Performance Excellence for businesses and nonprofit organizations are available www.nist.gov/baldrige/publications/criteria.cfm. Companion criteria for organizations in the health care and education sectors will be available shortly.

Named after Malcolm Baldrige, the 26th Secretary of Commerce, the Baldrige Award was established by Congress in 1987 to enhance the competitiveness and performance of U.S. organizations. The award is not given for specific products or services. Since 1988, 93 organizations have received Baldrige Awards.

The Baldrige program is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in conjunction with the private sector.

For more information on the Baldrige Award and the Baldrige Program, or assistance with the award application process, mail baldrige@nist.gov or call (301) 975-2036.

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

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NIST Patent Could Give 'Lab on a Chip' Technology Long Shelf Life

Having blood drawn and analyzed to diagnose disease is a process that can take a few days, but what if your doctor could perform this analysis in moments, right before your eyes? That’s the promise of “lab on a chip” technology, and researchers are working on a variety of fronts to remove technical roadblocks. A new idea recently patented* by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) addresses the issue of sensor shelf life, showing how some such chips might be made to last for months or more until needed.

polymerized membrane
A recent NIST patent shows that nanopores, which may one day help doctors perform quick analysis of blood samples, are not harmed by the polymerization process that could help nanopores operate in biochips. Polymerization hardens and stabilizes the membrane surrounding the nanopores, both of which are beneficial effects.
Credit: Robertson/NIST
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NIST’s John Kasianowicz has spent decades trying to create technologies that will enable doctors to perform fast, real-time chemical analysis, and one promising approach involves building arrays of tiny pores, each small enough that only one protein or DNA molecule at a time can pass through and be identified. As our bodies respond to infection or other disease states, our cells release different proteins, and measuring the concentrations of these chemicals in a blood sample can provide a quick snapshot of our health. A membrane peppered with large numbers of these “nanopores” might give doctors a way to take that snapshot easily, if it could be mounted on a biochip compatible with electronics and computer technologies.

“But these chips need to have a long shelf life,” says Kasianowicz. “As it stands, we make nanopore membranes from fatty lipids that aren’t robust—the membranes only last a week or so. We wanted to extend that lifetime substantially.”

Kasianowicz’s and Devanand Shemoy’s (NRL) teams explored the possibility of turning the lipids into polymers, the sorts of molecular chains used in plastics. Polymerizing the lipids made them tougher, but the question was whether doing so would somehow render the nanopores ineffective at trapping and identifying the blood serum proteins, because the process either squeezes or stretches the tiny membrane holes dramatically. Tests at NIST showed the nanopores performed just as well as before, meaning polymerized membranes could work on a biochip.

“Conceivably, chips made with polymerized membranes could last a year, perhaps much longer,” Kasianowicz says. “The nanopores still allow molecules to flow through for characterization.”

The NIST team patented the concept, which shows specifically that the nanopore will still function in a polymerized environment. Kasianowicz says the next step will be to demonstrate that the polymerized membranes will last when they have been attached to a chip, something their results have not yet shown.

“We’re optimistic though—based on observations we’ve made in previous research, it should work in principle,” he says. “We hope this is the next step toward allowing medical professionals to judge health conditions based on immediate blood analysis, which should be more accurate than using day-old samples.”

For a potential application the patent's technology, one that could be realized in the future once certain technical issues are addressed, see the Oct. 2, 2012, story “NIST, Columbia Engineering Collaborate on Inexpensive DNA Sequencing Method” at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20121002.cfm#dna.

* D.K. Shenoy, A. Singh, W.R. Barger and J.J. Kasianowicz. Method of stabilization of nanoscale pores for device applications. U.S. Patent 8,294,007. Oct. 23. 2012.

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

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Summer Research Opportunities for Undergraduates at NIST

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is accepting applications for its Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program at its Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Colo., campuses.

Sam Evans
During the summer of 2012, SURF participant and MIT student Sam Evans studied the magnetic susceptibility of certain nanoparticles at low temperature.
Credit: NIST
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The SURF program encourages the pursuit of graduate degrees in science and engineering by exposing undergraduate students to cutting-edge research and providing them the opportunity to work with internationally known NIST scientists. Applications are submitted on behalf of qualified students by their schools. Colleges and universities in the United States and its territories with degree-granting programs in nanoscale science, engineering, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, biology, materials science, neutron research, and/or physics are eligible to nominate students.

NIST expects to fund stipends for approximately 90 students in Gaithersburg and about 18 students in Boulder, working in laboratories that focus on information technology, physical measurement, material measurement, nanoscale science, engineering or neutron research.

In 2012, research projects spanned a variety of scientific disciplines and included measurements of vitamin A in northern fur seals, developing new thermometers based on ultrasonic transducers, creating environmentally friendly flame retardant coatings, controlling greenhouse gases, characterizing nanoparticles, and developing gesture recognition software for a 3D visualization lab, among many others.

Visit http://www07.grants.gov/search/search.do?&mode=VIEW&oppId=212453 to see the Gaithersburg program announcement and to download information on eligibility, limits on submissions, and the application.

For the Boulder program, visit http://www07.grants.gov/search/search.do?oppId=210853&mode=VIEW.

Applications are due Feb. 15, 2013 (by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time for electronic applications; 5 p.m. Eastern Time for paper Gaithersburg applications, and 5 p.m. Mountain Time for paper Boulder applications), and must be submitted by eligible colleges and universities, not by individual students.

More information on the Gaithersburg program can be found at www.nist.gov/surfgaithersburg/index.cfm, and for the Boulder program at www.nist.gov/surfboulder/.

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

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The Year in Patents

NIST scientists and engineers have been recognized as inventors in a variety of research areas, including the biosciences, building and fire research, materials science and manufacturing. This past year, NIST was awarded nine patents for original technologies and methods.

Nanoswitch figure
Silver nanoswitch (U.S. Pat. 8,101,942): When the voltage between a gold conductor (top) and silver conductor (bottom) exceeds a critical point, silver ions rapidly assemble like a lightning strike to bridge the gap through a organic molecule monolayer.
Credit: NIST
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The following patents were awarded in 2012:

  • Harvesting of Processed Carbon Nanotubes, U.S. Patent 8,251,225, invented by John Marino and Gary Giulian*. A method of harvesting carbon nanotubes (CNTs) that separates them from their metallic catalysts, removes their amorphous carbon shells and shortens them. This method is more robust and scalable, while being much less destructive to the CNTs, than the existing harvesting techniques used to collect pure populations of the tubes for large-scale applications.
  • Fabrication Method of Topographically Modulated Microstructures Using Pattern Homogenization with UV Light, U.S. Patent 8,236,480, invented by Laurie Locascio, Francisco Javier Atencia-Fernandez, Susan Barnes* and Jack Douglas. A method for microfabrication of a microfluidic device with submillimeter three-dimensional relief structures that requires a single photolithographic step and allows for microstructures over large areas (centimeters) with topographic modulation of features smaller than 100 micrometers. The method generates topography that is useful in a broad range of microfluidic applications.
  • Recirculating Temperature Wave Focusing Chromatography, U.S. Patent 8,226,825, invented by David Ross. A new way to separate mixtures for analysis that leads to higher resolution measurements and lower detection limits.
  • Method and Device for Generating Diffusive Gradients in a Microfluidic Chamber, U.S. Patent 8,216,526, invented by Laurie Locascio and Francisco Javier Atencia-Fernandez. A system for performing centrifugal analysis on different components of a small sample volume of working fluid that can also be used to evaluate how bacteria or other microorganisms react or respond to chemicals in the absence of convective flow. 
  • Novel, Anti-Bacterial Monomers, Oligomers and Polymers for Dental and Biomedical Applications, U.S. Patent 8,217,081, invented by Joseph Antonucci. Bio-affecting compositions that may be used with dental resins of various types to reduce, limit or eliminate the propagation of bacteria where the resins typically shrink away from the tooth, thereby reducing tooth decay.
  • Dielectric Resonator Thermometer and a Method of Using the Same, U.S. Patent 8,123,399, invented by Michael Moldover, Dean Ripple and Gregory Strouse. A temperature measuring method based on a dielectric sensor that is considered a cost-effective industrial thermometer with improved stability, resistance to mechanical shock, and greater certainty in temperature measurements than commonly used platinum resistance thermometers.
  • Process and Apparatus for the Measurement of Thermal Radiation Using Regular Glass Optics and Short-Wave Infrared Detectors, U.S. Patent 8,119,987, invented by George Eppeldauer* and Howard Yoon. An infrared measurement apparatus and method to detect and view ambient-temperature objects using shortwave infrared detectors without the need for cryogenic cooling of quantum detector materials and/or thermal detectors such as thermopiles, pyroelectrics or bolometers.
  • Method for NRB-Free Nonlinear Vibrational Spectroscopy and Microscopy, U.S. Patent 8,120,772, invented by Marcus Cicerone and Young Jong Lee*. A method for increasing sensitivity and signal-to-noise ratio in broadband coherent microscopy used widely for noninvasive, chemical imaging of biological and polymeric samples.
  • Self-Assembled Monolayer Based Silver Switches, U.S. Patent 8,101,942, invented by Jeremy Beebe* and James Kushmerick. A two-state switching device based on two electrodes separated by a self-assembled monolayer. The device is easy to fabricate, smaller than currently available devices, and could be incorporated into a variety of device geometries.

NIST encourages patent protection on its inventions when a patent would increase the potential for current or future commercialization or use of the technology, have a positive impact on a new field of science or technology and/or the visibility and vitality of NIST, or further the goals of collaborative agreements.

Although patents are issued in the name of the inventor, the rights to inventions resulting from government work belong to the government. NIST's Office of Technology Partnerships is responsible for negotiating the licensing of patented NIST technology. To learn, visit http://www.nist.gov/tpo/Licensing.cfm.

* Not a member of the NIST staff.

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

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NIST Workshop Seeks Manufacturers' Ideas on Using Multipurpose Robots

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) wants to help turn manufacturing robots into dexterous, nimble-fingered machines—affordable mechanical helpers that can easily handle different types of objects and flexibly assist human workers at even small U.S. factories.

At a January 24, 2013, workshop in Chicago, Ill., NIST researchers and their partners from industry will be asking manufacturers to identify where in assembly and other production-related operations dexterous robots would provide the biggest boost to their capabilities and process efficiency. Sponsored by the Robotics Industry Association, the NIST Workshop on Dexterous Manipulation for Manufacturing Applications will be held in conjunction with Automate 2013, a biennial conference and trade show focusing on process automation.

Three sessions will feature presentations by industry leaders on dexterous grasping, robot arm technology, and flexible manufacturing. Each session will conclude with an open-format panel discussion on needs and opportunities for dexterous manipulation in next-generation manufacturing systems, especially for low-volume production runs.

Today’s manufacturing robots are largely limited to performing repetitive, and sometimes, dangerous, tasks such as spot welding or picking and placing heavy parts. Typically, they require expensive, customized tooling, and for safety reasons, are situated in cordoned-off workspaces.

When the dimensions or shape of an assembly part are altered, tool changers are used to swap out a robot’s grippers or other so-called end-effector devices that are customized for specialized tasks. This high degree of specialization greatly increases product changeover time and cost.

A goal of researchers at universities and companies around the world is to develop robot grippers with flexibility and sensitivity approaching that of the human hand. If effective, reliable, and affordable, such dexterous end-effectors would transform how and where robots are used in manufacturing, opening the way to new ways of making things in both large and small batches.

The number of promising, but still experimental designs of robots and associated tooling that can nimbly wield parts of various shapes and sizes is growing, says engineer Joseph Falco, who leads the NIST Project Dexterous Manipulation for Part Grasping and Assembly. “This is a good time for all types of manufacturers to take note of these developments and to think about how they might make the best use of these emerging technologies and capabilities in their operations,” Falco explains.

A goal of the NIST project is to develop a prototype measurement system to gauge the performance of still-experimental universal robotic grasping tools with novel geometries and articulation, including hand-like designs hands. Information gathered at the workshop will help guide work toward this goal and others that Falco and his team are pursuing. Workshop input will be summarized in a future publication.

For workshop information, go to: www.nist.gov/el/isd/dexmanworkshop.cfm. The Automate 2013 website is www.automate2013.com.

For information on the NIST Project Dexterous Manipulation for Automation Systems, go to: http://www.nist.gov/el/isd/ms/rssm.cfm.

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

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Boeing Company Executive Joins NIST Advisory Committee

John J. Tracy, chief technology officer of The Boeing Company and senior vice president of Engineering, Operations and Technology, has joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT). Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher selected Tracy to serve a three-year term on the agency's primary private-sector policy advisory group.

John J. Tracy
John J. Tracy, chief technology officer of The Boeing Company and senior vice president of Engineering, Operations and Technology has joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology for a three-year term.
Credit: Boeing
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In addition to serving on Boeing's Executive Council, Tracy oversees the development and implementation of its enterprise technology investment strategy and provides strategic direction to several functions and business organizations comprising more than 100,000 employees.

Previously Tracy was vice president of Engineering and Mission Assurance for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. Prior to this assignment, Tracy was vice president of Structural Technologies, Prototyping, and Quality for the Boeing Phantom Works advanced R&D unit.

Tracy has also served as the general manager of Engineering for Boeing Military Aircraft and Missiles, director of the Space and Communications Advanced Engineering organization, director of Operations Management, and director of Structures Technology for Southern California Phantom Works. He joined McDonnell Douglas as a stress analyst in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 1981, after serving as a high school science teacher in Los Angeles, Calif.

Tracy is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the past chair of the ASME 6,000-member Aerospace Division. He also is a F\fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the Royal Aeronautical Society, and has served as an editorial board member for the AIAA Journal, the Journal of Thin-Walled Structures, and the Journal of Computer Modeling and Simulation in Engineering. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Illinois Institute of Technology and on the engineering advisory board for several leading universities.

Tracy received a bachelor's degree in physics in 1976 from California State University-Dominguez Hills, followed by a master's degree in physics in 1981 from California State University-Los Angeles and a Ph.D. in engineering from the University of California-Irvine in 1987. He has authored more than 30 publications in the areas of composite structural mechanics, launch vehicle structures, smart structures, and aging aircraft.

The VCAT was established by Congress in 1988 to review and make recommendations on NIST's policies, organization, budget and programs. The next VCAT meeting will be Feb. 6-7, 2013, in Gaithersburg, Md. For more information on VCAT and the meeting, visit www.nist.gov/director/vcat/.

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

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NIST Contributes to Top Science Stories of 2012

Two media lists of top science stories of 2012 highlight cosmology discoveries that relied on contributions from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Both discoveries were based on microwave data taken with the Atacama Cosmology Telescope in Chile, which has a camera made of superconducting sensors based on a NIST design and superconducting amplifiers and electronics made at NIST. Both discoveries may help scientists understand dark matter and dark energy, mysterious phenomena believed to be common in the universe.

Physicsworld's top 10 breakthroughs of the year* include the first detection of large-scale motion of galaxy clusters based on the long-predicted kinetic Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect—subtle distortions in the cosmic microwave background left over from the Big Bang that created the universe. Physicsworld noted: "The motions of distant galaxy clusters can tell us much about how the universe formed and also shed light on the mysterious dark matter and dark energy."

Discover magazine's 100 top stories of the year** includes, at number 64, the discovery of El Gordo, the largest galaxy cluster ever found, located some 7 billion light-years from Earth. The formation of galaxy clusters depends on amounts of of dark matter and dark energy, so this discovery also may help scientists understand these phenomena. Space.com*** cited an image of El Gordo (based on follow-up images taken with other telescopes) as #3 of the 100 best space photos of 2012.

* http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2012/dec/14/physics-world-reveals-its-top-10-breakthroughs-for-2012
** http://discovermagazine.com/2013/jan-feb
*** http://www.space.com/18642-100-best-space-photos-2012.html

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

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