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Tech Beat - August 6, 2013

Tech Beat Archives

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: August 6, 2013
Date Modified: August 6, 2013 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

What’s the Matter? Q-Glasses Could Be a New Class of Solids

There may be more kinds of stuff than we thought. A team of researchers has reported possible evidence for a new category of solids, things that are neither pure glasses, crystals, nor even exotic quasicrystals. Something else.*

The odd microstructure of this aluminum-iron-silicon mixture is seen in this image. The round nodules are the q-glass, not crystalline but with a well-defined chemical composition. The spherical shape indicates that they grow from an initial seed. The nodules use up iron and silicon in the mixture until the surrounding concentration of aluminum gets high enough to start forming aluminum crystals, seen as long bright lines radiating from the nodules. (Color added for clarity.)
Credit: Bendersky/NIST
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"Very weird. Strangest material I ever saw," says materials physicist Lyle Levine of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The research team from NIST and Argonne National Laboratory has analyzed a solid alloy that they discovered in small discrete patches of a rapidly cooled mixture of aluminum, iron and silicon. The material appears to have none of the extended ordering of atoms found in crystals, which would make it a glass, except that it has a very defined composition and grows outward from "seeds"—things that glasses most assuredly do not do.

The solids catalog used to be pretty straightforward. Solid stuff was either a crystal or a glass. Crystals fill up space with atoms or molecules in specific, fairly rigid patterns. The positions of the atoms are fixed such that if you take any section of pure crystal and slide it up, down, in, out or sideways a given distance, it will fit perfectly in the new position. That's translational symmetry. You can also spin the crystal through certain angles and the atoms also will line up; that's rotational symmetry.

Glasses have neither symmetry. They're just a random arrangement of their components, as if you'd taken a liquid and suddenly frozen everything in place without giving the atoms a chance to get in order. Which, in fact, is how metallic glasses are made.

In the 1980s, Dan Shechtman, an Israeli then working at NIST as a guest researcher, shook up this paradigm by finding evidence for quasicrystals, a new category of solids in which the atomic composition is fixed, and the material has rotational symmetry, but weirdly not translational symmetry. There is no long-range order to the pattern of the atoms.

The new material, which the research team has provisionally dubbed a "q-glass," can be shown by X-ray diffraction to have neither rotational nor translational symmetry, just like a glass, says Levine, but regardless, the atomic arrangement apparently is not random. "As the nodule grows, every atom still knows where to go," he says.

For one thing, the q-glass seems to have a strict chemical composition, according to Levine. Seen under a microscope, it's clear that, like a crystal, the spherical q-glass regions grow outward from a seed during cooling and exclude atoms that don't fit. "It's rejecting atoms that aren't fitting into the structure, and if there's no structure, it's not going to be doing that," says Levine. "It's amazing. Everything you can think about this thing behaves like a crystal, except it isn't."

The team used a variety of sophisticated techniques at Argonne's Advanced Photon Source to rule out other possibilities. The material might, for example, be a mass of randomly arrayed crystals so small they don't show up individually under the X-ray probes. But if such crystals were there, they'd grow slowly as the stuff is annealed. That doesn't happen. "We went through the laundry list of possibilities and disproved them, one by one," says Levine.

One possibility, say the researchers, is "frustration"—two or more incompatible crystal orderings may start growing from the seeds and continually interfere with each other, destroying any long-range order. But, "one exciting possibility is that the q-glass is the first example of a 3-dimensionally ordered configuration of atoms that possesses neither translational nor rotational symmetry," says Levine. "Such structures have been theorized by mathematicians, but never before observed in nature." 

*G.G. Long, K.W. Chapman, P.J. Chupas, L.A. Bendersky, L.E. Levine, F. Mompiou, J.K. Stalick and J.W. Cahn. A highly ordered non-crystalline metallic phase. Phys. Rev. Letters 111, 015502 (2013). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.111.015502.
Note: Edited on Aug. 7, 2013, to correct the affiliations of the authors at the time of the research.

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

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Next Workshop on Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Framework is in Dallas, Sept. 11, 2013

Registration is now open for the fourth in a series of workshops to bring together representatives from government, industry and academia to establish a voluntary Cybersecurity Framework that will help reduce risks to critical infrastructure. The workshop will be held Sept. 11-13, 2013, at the University of Texas at Dallas, and will be the final public session before the preliminary framework is formally released later this year.

University of Dallas campus
The 4th Cybersecurity Framework Workshop will be held Sept. 11-13 at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Courtesy of UTDallas
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Executive Order 13636, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to work with stakeholders to develop a framework consisting of standards, guidelines and best practices to promote the protection of critical infrastructure. NIST will release a preliminary framework for public comment in October 2013, and the final framework in February 2014.

"The focus of the Dallas meeting will be on the first full draft that we plan to make available in August. That draft will reflect input from critical infrastructure stakeholders provided in previous workshops, and in Dallas, we want to make sure we provide a chance to get direct and extensive feedback on the draft," said Adam Sedgewick, senior information technology policy advisor at NIST.

The Dallas workshop will be preceded by an "Executive Order primer" on Tuesday, Sept. 10, for participants who are new to the framework development process and to ensure that there is a good understanding of how the framework can be adopted by organizations.

NIST has released an update of the framework's development, based on input received at the most recent workshop, held July 10-12, 2013, in San Diego, Calif., as well as at two prior sessions and an earlier "Request for Information." At the July working meeting, more than 350 representatives from critical infrastructure owners and operators, industry associations, standards developing organizations, and government reviewed a draft outline of the preliminary framework and discussed structure, informative references and implementation levels. Breakout sessions covered executive engagement, awareness, privacy and small business considerations, among other topics. Videos of the plenary sessions are available on NIST's website.

"We consider this a long-term process to enhance the cybersecurity of our critical infrastructure," said Sedgewick. "NIST will continue to work with all of our stakeholders to ensure the framework is a useful tool that is consistently updated to reflect changes in technology, risks, feedback from industry and other factors."

On July 25, 2013, Under Secretary of Commerce for Science and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to describe NIST's collaboration with the private sector to develop the framework.

All organizations and individuals are invited to contribute to the development of the Cybersecurity Framework by contacting NIST at cyberframework@nist.gov. Key links:

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

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NIST AMTech Program Announces Grants for Industry-led Consortia to Explore Issues Hampering Advanced Manufacturing in U.S.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced a competition for grants to support new or existing industry-driven consortia to develop research plans that address high-priority challenges impeding the growth of advanced manufacturing in the United States.

NIST's new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Program anticipates awarding $4 million in two-year planning grants in fiscal year 2013. Grants will range between about $250,000 and $500,000, subject to the availability of funds.

Nonprofit U.S. organizations as well as accredited institutions of higher education and state, tribal and local governments are eligible to apply for the program. Teaming and partnerships that include broad participation by companies of all sizes, universities and government agencies, driven by industry, are encouraged.

Funded by Congress this fiscal year, AMTech will spur consortia-planned and led research on long-term, pre-competitive industrial research needs. The program aims to eliminate barriers to advanced manufacturing and to promote domestic development of an underpinning technology infrastructure.

AMTech is designed to address an economically damaging weakness in the nation's so-called innovation ecosystem, an issue identified by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and other bodies.

According to the NSTC, there is a gap between R&D activities and the deployment of technological innovations in the domestic production of goods, which is contributing significantly, for example, to the growing trade deficit in high-value-added, advanced-technology products.

Once fully implemented, it is envisioned that AMTech will provide funding in two broad areas: planning awards and implementation awards. In FY 2013, NIST will fund planning awards only. In the future, AMTech may provide funding opportunities that help to support activities that advance the research agenda.

Full details of the solicitation, including eligibility requirements, selection criteria, legal requirements and the mechanism for submitting proposals are found in an announcement of Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) posted at Grants.gov under funding opportunity number 2013-NIST-AMTECH-01.

Applications will only be accepted through the Grants.gov website. The deadline for full applications is 11:59 p.m. Eastern time, Oct. 21, 2013.

NIST will host two webinars on the AMTech funding opportunity on August 15, 2013, and on August 20, 2013, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time. The events will offer guidance on the AMTech program and preparing proposals and will provide an opportunity to answer questions from the public about the program. Participation in the free event is not required to apply, but participants are required to register in advance. Registration forms are available at https://cc.readytalk.com/r/1otmxahw28w3&eom (Aug. 15) and https://cc.readytalk.com/r/v3rvxkfyvcat&eom  (Aug. 20). Further details are available at www.nist.gov/amo.

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

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NIST Announces Funding Opportunity to Support Alaska’s Manufacturers

Through its Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) intends to fund a six-month project in support of Alaska's efforts to diversify its manufacturing base. U.S.-based nonprofit institutions or organizations, including state and local governments, are eligible to apply for the $150,000 award.

The awardee will also receive technical assistance and advice from MEP to develop an understanding of the technical needs of small and mid-size manufacturers in Alaska. The project could lead to the creation of a new MEP center in the state to replace the existing center, whose agreement with NIST MEP expires Sept. 30, 2013. The center's board chose not to seek a new agreement.

"By carefully evaluating the needs of Alaska's manufacturers, we hope to develop an effective plan for helping them grow," said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher.

The effort is part of NIST's State Technology Extension Program (STEP), which was created to help states support their local manufacturing industries by enhancing the manufacturer's competitiveness through the application of science and technology. The award will help the state engage the manufacturing and service provider communities, as well as potential partners in organizing a more effective and efficient system for providing technical assistance services to manufacturers.

The project will explore the current needs limiting the growth of small and mid-sized manufacturers, as well as a potential business model and financial structure, partnerships, and metrics and measures for an Alaska MEP Center.

The full announcement of this program can be found at Grants.gov under Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) 2013-NIST-MEP-STEP-AK-01. NIST MEP will hold an information webinar for organizations considering applying to this opportunity. The exact date and time of the webinar will be posted on the MEP website at www.nist.gov/mep. Organizations wishing to participate in the webinar must sign up by contacting Diane Henderson at diane.henderson@nist.gov.

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

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13 Companies Receive 2013 NIST Small Business Innovation Research Awards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced more than $2.3 million in Phase I and Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards to 13 U.S. small businesses. SBIR awards provide funding to help develop technologies that could lead to commercial and public benefit.

“We congratulate the companies selected out of the numerous high-quality proposals we received,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. “The SBIR program provides a great way for federal research to benefit from small business innovation.”

NIST's competitive SBIR program seeks to stimulate technological innovation in the private sector, strengthen the role of small business in meeting federal research and development needs, increase private-sector commercialization of federal research and development, and foster technological innovation at minority and disadvantaged firms.

SBIR awards are funded through a three-phase process. In Phase I, small businesses can receive up to $90,000 to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed research and development. Phase I awardees compete for Phase II funding of up to $300,000 that enables them to continue their efforts. Phase III involves commercial applications of the newly developed technologies, with funding from outside of the SBIR program.

A complete list of the 2013 NIST SBIR awards is at http://www.nist.gov/tpo/sbir-072413.cfm.

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

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The National Cybersecurity Center Seeks Comments on Energy Industry Security Scenarios

The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology is inviting industry to help address two information technology challenges faced by the energy sector. The center would like feedback on two proposed “use cases” whose solution would provide centralized control of access to structures and systems and reduce security blind spots in their operations.

Power line towers
image copyright TebNad/Shutterstock

The NCCoE works with industry, academic and government experts to create open, standards-based, modular, end-to-end solutions to cybersecurity challenges that are broadly applicable across a sector. The solutions are customizable to the needs of individual businesses, and help them more easily comply with relevant standards and regulations. The work is organized around use cases that describe sector-specific challenges.

“These use cases represent sector-wide cybersecurity challenges that we will address through a collaborative effort between the NCCoE, the energy sector, and technology partners,” said Nate Lesser, deputy director of the NCCoE. “Before inviting participation from our technology partners, we are seeking public input on the use cases to ensure that the resulting solutions are as useful as possible.”

The first proposed use case is focused on energy companies’ need to control physical and logical access to their resources, including buildings, equipment, information technology and industrial control systems. This requires the ability to authenticate identity with a high degree of certainty and to enforce access controls consistently, uniformly and quickly—and across all resources.

The second use case solution would allow security analysts to see operational and information technologies as a cohesive whole, making it easier for them to detect issues that could disrupt services. Energy companies rely on two distinct types of IT systems. Business enterprise systems run their billing, personnel and other enterprises functions while operational systems, which rely heavily on so-called cyber-physical systems, allow them to generate, distribute and meter power. While standard IT security products are available to protect and monitor enterprise IT, those products are often an imperfect fit for operational technology and may need augmenting to avoid security blind spots.

Security analysts strive to ensure correct behavior in operational technology and identify the connections between IT data and unwanted operational behavior (i.e., disruptions to systems or services to consumers), and improve detection and remediation of those unwanted behaviors. But analysts can only correct what they can actually see. Without proper sensors in place, an analyst might never see an event, either as it happens or after the fact.

Successful solutions would provide blueprints for improving cybersecurity based on standards and best practices to help reduce the probability of attacks or anomalous system behaviors and make them easier to detect, mitigate and investigate after the fact. They would support energy companies’ business needs by reducing risks, system complexity and costs.

Copies of the two proposed use cases can be viewed at http://nccoe.nist.gov/?q=content/energy. Comments on the proposed use cases should be submitted to energy_nccoe@nist.gov by Aug. 12, 2013. The solicitation to participate in the solution development will be announced in the Federal Register.

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

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NIST Releases 2012 Department of Commerce Technology Transfer Report

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released the Department of Commerce’s (DOC) 2012 Technology Transfer Report. The annual report summarizes the technology transfer activities of its three federal laboratories: NIST, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

NOAA buoy
The Commerce Department's 2012 tech transfer report includes a NOAA patent on a system for measuring and transmitting comprehensive information about surface ocean waves in near real-time from a moored buoy.
Courtesy NOAA
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In response to a Presidential Memorandum on accelerating technology transfer, this report also summarizes the actions the DOC is taking to establish goals and measure performance, streamline administrative processes, and facilitate local and regional partnerships to accelerate technology transfer and support private-sector commercialization.

The many innovations emerging from DOC labs in 2012 include NIST scientists’ development of a computational method for identifying refrigerants with low potential for contributing to climate change. The new method was used to identify about 1,200 promising 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.

NOAA researchers successfully patented a system for measuring and transmitting comprehensive information about surface ocean waves in near real-time from a moored buoy. Such information is essential for marine weather analysis, forecasts and warnings, and useful for improving maritime safety. NOAA has already received requests for licensing the technology.

In addition to its activities in developing telecommunications standards, the ITS, in partnership with NIST, has entered into a number of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements with companies seeking to test technologies that could be used as part of a dedicated nationwide public safety communications network.

“With the reported doubling of the number of new invention disclosures, almost 3,000 collaborative research agreements, and a diverse set of robust downstream outcomes, this report illustrates that technology transfer continues to play an important role in the Department’s mission to promote job creation, economic growth, sustainable development, and improved standards of living for all Americans,” says Patrick Gallagher, NIST Director and Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology.


The Department of Commerce’s (DOC) 2012 Technology Transfer Report: www.nist.gov/tpo/publications/upload/DOC-FY2012-Annual-Tech-Transfer-DOC.pdf

The Presidential Memorandum: www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/28/presidential-memorandum-accelerating-technology-transfer-and-commerciali

The NIST computational method for identifying candidate refrigerants: www.nist.gov/mml/acmd/refrigerants-091812.cfm

The NOAA system for measuring and transmitting ocean wave data: http://techpartnerships.noaa.gov/PartneringwithNOAA/OpenOpportunities/TabId/299/ArtMID/1381/ArticleID/9801/License-Opportunity--Wave-Measurement-Device-for-Moored-Buoy.aspx

The public safety communications network: www.pscr.gov/

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

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