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Tech Beat - June 11, 2013

Tech Beat Archives

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: June 11, 2013
Date Modified: June 11, 2013 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

First Observation of Spin Hall Effect in a Quantum Gas Is Step Toward 'Atomtronics'

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have reported* the first observation of the "spin Hall effect" in a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a cloud of ultracold atoms acting as a single quantum object. As one consequence, they made the atoms, which spin like a child's top, skew to one side or the other, by an amount dependent on the spin direction. Besides offering new insight into the quantum mechanical world, they say the phenomenon is a step toward applications in "atomtronics"—the use of ultracold atoms as circuit components.

This artist’s conception shows atoms in a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC) being pushed by laser light. When the atoms, which all have the same magnetic spin orientation (represented by their blue and yellow "poles"), are pushed toward the viewer, they drift to the right because of their spin -- a result of the spin Hall effect, which has been observed in a BEC for the first time.
Credit: Edwards/JQI
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The spin Hall effect is seen in electrons and other quantum particles when their motion depends on their magnetic orientation, or "spin." Previously, the spin Hall effect has been observed in electrons confined to a two-dimensional semiconductor strip, and in photons, but never before in a BEC.

A quantum circuit might use spins, described as "up" or "down," as signals, in a way analogous to how electric charge can represent ones and zeros in conventional computers. Quantum devices, however, can process information in ways that are difficult or impossible for conventional devices. Finding ways to manipulate spin is a major research effort among quantum scientists, and the team's results may help the spin Hall effect become a good tool for the job.

The team used several sets of lasers to trap rubidium atoms in a tiny cloud, about 10 micrometers on a side, inside a vacuum chamber and then cool the atoms to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero. Under these conditions, the atoms change from an ordinary gas to an exotic state of matter called a BEC, in which the atoms all behave identically. Then, the NIST team employed another laser to gently push the BEC, allowing them to observe the spin Hall effect at work. 

Spin is roughly analogous to the rotation of a top, and if the top is gently pushed straight forward, it will eventually tend to curve either to the right or left, depending on which way it is spinning. Similarly, subject to the spin Hall effect, a quantum object spinning one way will, when pushed, curve off to one side, while if it spins the other way, it will curve to the other. The BEC followed this sort of curved path after the laser pushed it. 

"This effect has been observed in solids before, but in solids there are other things happening that make it difficult to distinguish what the spin Hall effect is doing," says the research team's Matthew Beeler, who just completed a postdoctoral fellowship at NIST. "The good thing about seeing it in the BEC is that we've got a simple system whose properties we can explain in just two lines of equations. It means we can disentangle the spin Hall effect from the background and explore it more easily." 

Conceptually, the laser setup can be thought of as an atom spin transistor—an atomtronic device—that can manipulate spin "currents" just as a conventional electronic transistor manipulates electrical current.

Beeler says that it is unlikely to be a practical way to build a logic gate for a working quantum computer, though. For now, he says, their new window into the spin Hall effect is good for researchers, who have wanted an easier way to understand complex systems where the effect appears. It also might provide insight into how data can be represented and moved from place to place in atomtronic circuits.

*M.C. Beeler, R.A. Williams, K. Jiménez-García, L.J. LeBlanc, A.R. Perry and I.B. Spielman. The spin Hall effect in a quantum gas. Nature, published online June 5, 2013. DOI:10.1038/nature12185.

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

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NIST Researchers Offer Tool to Aid Standards Development, Implementation

The nice thing about standards, it's been said, is that there are so many to choose from.* Though this tongue-in-cheek chestnut might be an exaggeration, it is not grossly so. Thousands of public and private organizations around the world generate specifications for nearly all manner of products, processes and services.

zachman framework
A new analysis tool from NIST: How to parse a standard. Click image to see larger version.
Credit: NIST
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Now comes a serious effort by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers to develop a computer-aided method for analyzing, comparing and testing standards, from the conceptual stage all the way through to implementation and beyond to rounds of updating and revising.

"By applying our approach early, developers can identify possible holes in a standard's scope for a given use by a particular stakeholder, say a manufacturer, a buyer, or a regulator," explains Paul Witherell, lead author of a new paper** on the method. "During implementation, our approach can assist in identifying coverage gaps and overlaps between standards' scopes of coverage."

NIST researchers have adapted a problem-solving methodology—called the Zachman Framework—originally designed for developing comprehensive blueprints of organizations, depicting all strategic, operational and informational elements as well as the relationships among them. They also borrow precise terminology from the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Body, the U.S. group overseeing the development of standards enabling efficient exchanges of health information.

Dubbed FACTS, for Framework for Analysis, Comparison, and Testing of Standards, the NIST approach should be familiar to reporters. In matrix format—and in multiple levels of increasingly fine detail—standards are evaluated according to the five "w's" and one "h": who, what, when, where, why and how.

Starting at the top, with big-picture, enterprise-level views, each question is answered by relevant stakeholder groups. This scrutiny continues through the actors, materials, processes and products associated with a standard. It concludes when stakeholders answer the same questions about the application or implementation of interest.

Top row comparisons of the scopes of standards can help in selecting the right standard for a product, while comparisons at the lower levels can "help address the complexities of implementing multiple standards," according to the researchers.

In addition to analyzing existing and draft standards, FACTS also supports tests of standards to determine their fitness for an intended purpose. It also supports testing whether a particular product or process actually fulfills the requirements of a standard.

"FACTS is a first step towards formalizing the way in which standards are conceptualized, developed and tested," the researchers write in the paper introducing their approach.

 "We envision a Computer Aided Standards Development tool based on the FACTS methodology, similar to computer aided development tools in other domains such as software and engineering," explains Rachuri Sudarsan, manager of NIST's Sustainable Manufacturing Program.

The methodology is described in a new NIST publication, FACTS: A Framework for Analysis, Comparison, and Testing of Standards (NIST IR 7935), available at www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=911275.

*The one-liner has been variously attributed to computer scientists Andrew Tanenbaum and Grace Hopper.
**P. Witherell, S. Rachuri, A. Narayanan and J.H. Lee, FACTS: A Framework for Analysis, Comparison, and Testing of Standards (NIST IR 7935), May 2013. Downloadable from: www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=911275.

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

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NIST Publishes Draft Cloud Computing Security Document for Comment

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published a draft document on security for cloud computing as used in the federal government. The public comment period runs through July 12, 2013.

secure cloud architectures
The NIST Cloud Computing Security Reference Architecture provides a security overlay to the NIST Cloud Computing Reference Architecture published in 2011.
Credit: Talbott/NIST
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In 2010, the Federal Chief Information Officer tapped NIST to play a major role in accelerating the adoption of cloud computing in the federal government. Since then, NIST has held meetings, started working groups and developed the U.S. Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap and other related guidance.

The 2011 NIST Cloud Computing Reference Architecture* provided a template and vocabulary for federal cloud adopters to follow for a consistent implementation of cloud-based applications across the government.

This new addition, the NIST Cloud Computing Security Reference Architecture,** contributes a comprehensive security model that supplements the NIST Cloud Computing Reference Architecture.

"The document's objective is to demystify the process of selecting cloud-based services that best address an agency's requirements in the most secure and efficient manner," explains Michaela Iorga, NIST Cloud Computing Security Working Group chair.

Using this model and an associated set of security components derived from the capabilities identified by the Cloud Security Alliance in its Trusted Cloud Initiative Reference Architecture, the NIST Cloud Computing Security Reference Architecture introduces a cloud-adapted Risk Management Framework for applications and/or services migrated to the cloud.

The Risk Management Framework*** helps federal organizations create a computer security plan based on an organization's risk tolerance and how critical and sensitive the information is in its computer system. A suite of NIST standards and guidelines supports response strategies. For example, a security plan may call for increased monitoring of selected components of a system that are at a higher risk of being breached.

"The Risk Management Framework has to be adapted when applying the risk-based approach to applications or systems migrated to the cloud because the implementation, assessment, authorization and monitoring of selected security controls may fall under the responsibility of different cloud 'actors;' for example, consumer, service provider or broker," says Iorga.

The NIST Cloud Computing Security Reference Architecture provides a case study that walks readers through steps an agency follows using the cloud-adapted Risk Management Framework while deploying a typical application to the cloud—migrating existing email, calendar and document-sharing systems as a unified, cloud-based messaging system.

The NIST Cloud Computing Security Reference Architecture was written by the NIST Cloud Computing Public Security Working Group to meet requirements set out in one of the priority action plans identified in the U.S. Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap.

Deadline for comments is July 12, 2013. Please use the template for comments and mail to Michaela Iorga at Michaela.iorga@nist.gov with the subject line "Comments SP 500-299."

*NIST Cloud Computing Reference Architecture, NIST Special Publication 500-292, is available at www.nist.gov/customcf/get_pdf.cfm?pub_id=909505.
**NIST Cloud Computing Security Reference Architecture, NIST Special Publication 500-299, is available at collaborate.nist.gov/twiki-cloud-computing/pub/CloudComputing/CloudSecurity/NIST_Security_Reference_Architecture_2013.05.15_v1.0.pdf.
***Guide for Applying the Risk Management Framework to Federal Information Systems, NIST Special Publication 800-37, is available at csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-37-rev1/sp800-37-rev1-final.pdf.

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

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2013 Baldrige Award Process Kicks Off with New Applicants 

The countdown has begun for the 2013 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Volunteer examiners will soon tackle the difficult job of choosing America’s best examples of organizational performance excellence and innovation from among 22 accomplished and Baldrige-proven applicants—including two educational, 15 health care, and five nonprofit or governmental organizations.

baldrige examiner training
Performance excellence experts participate in a group exercise during their training for the 2013 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Examiners.
Credit: Scott/NIST
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The small but highly qualified group of candidates reflects the tough eligibility rule, now in its second year, which requires Baldrige Award applicants, with few exceptions, to have previously received their state's performance excellence award before seeking the national honor.

The high proportion of health care applicants in 2013 reflects the continued popularity and impact of Baldrige-driven performance excellence within that sector. At least one health care organization in the United States has received a Baldrige Award every year since 2002.

Working in teams over the summer, members of the volunteer board of examiners will evaluate applicant organizations against the seven categories of the 2013–2014 Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence: leadership; strategic planning; customer focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; operations focus; 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.

In late August, the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP)’s Panel of Judges will determine which organizations will receive site visits by examiner teams to verify information in the application and clarify questions that come up during the review. From those site-visited organizations, the 2013 Baldrige Award recipients will be selected in late November.

BPEP is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in cooperation with the private sector. The program raises awareness about the importance of performance excellence in driving the U.S. and global economy; provides organizational assessment tools and criteria; educates leaders in all types of organizations about the practices of national role models; and recognizes them with the Baldrige Award in six categories: manufacturing, service, small business, health care, education and nonprofit. BPEP also is a partner in the Baldrige Enterprise, which includes the private-sector Baldrige Foundation, the Alliance for Performance Excellence—a body made up of the 33-plus state, local, regional and sector-specific Baldrige-based programs serving nearly all 50 states; and ASQ, an international organization promoting quality.

Thousands of organizations worldwide use the Baldrige Criteria 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. The criteria are regularly updated to reflect the leading edge of validated management practice.

The Baldrige Award is not given for specific products or services. Since 1988, 93 organizations have received the award.

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

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

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Three New NIST Economics Briefs Explore Technology Topics

Three new Economic and Policy Analysis summaries* from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) explore technology's impact on economic growth, policy options for increasing industrial productivity, and the federal role in fostering the formation of technology clusters.

In Beyond the Business Cycle: The Need for a Technology-Based Growth Strategy, a summary of a larger paper, NIST senior economist Gregory Tassey discusses the central role of technology in long-term productivity and economic growth. He assesses the approaches that the United States and foreign governments are taking to encourage technology development and commercialization in an increasingly competitive global economy.

"An economy cannot attain long-term growth without substantial investment in 'productivity-enhancing assets,'" Tassey concludes. These assets include technology, and also, capital formation, education, and investment in technical infrastructure.

Making these investments efficiently requires, he says, a "public-private partnership strategy because, for example, even the largest R&D-intensive companies no longer have the total complement of internal research and production assets nor the market scope to capture the full benefits of investment in new technology platforms."

In a companion brief, Some Evidence of Technology's Impacts on Economic Growth, Tassey reviews several decades' worth of economics studies that have investigated the size and nature of technology's contributions to economic and productivity growth. Among the key findings highlighted in this review: technology is the single-most important driver of long-term growth, the development of new technologies drives both new products and services and overall productivity, technology-based industries provide higher-paying jobs than average, and government and industry roles in the development of technology are complementary—rather than substitutes, as is sometimes argued.

The third new report, by economist Gary Anderson, distills research on the federal government's role in encouraging the formation and growth of technology clusters—"regional concentrations of private and public R&D and production capabilities, including pools of skilled labor, research facilities, and partnership mechanisms for research and production scale-up."

Anderson concludes that "there is substantial evidence that clusters have a strong and positive impact on innovation and economic performance."

"Public-private partnerships, in general, and government/industry/university cooperation, in particular," he writes, "have demonstrated the capability of delivering these positive economic impacts." These cluster-oriented partnerships, Anderson adds, can "leverage the widely recognized federal role in supporting research, knowledge creation and human capital development."

"When these activities are clearly tied to industry's research needs, the potential for benefit is substantial," he writes.

The new NIST Economic and Policy Analysis Briefs are available from the Science and Technology Support page of the NIST Economic Analysis Office at www.nist.gov/director/planning/policy_studies.cfm.

* G. Anderson, Brief No. 13-1: The Federal Role in Cluster Formation, 2013
G. Tassey, Brief No. 13-2: Some Evidence of Technology's Impacts on Economic Growth, 2013.
G. Tassey, Brief No. 13-4: Beyond the Business Cycle: The Need for a Technology-Based Growth Strategy, 2013.

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

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