In This Issue...
31,558,149,764 Milliseconds in Review: NIST in 2013
Milestones on the way to quantum computing. A landmark study of how communities can better prepare for tornadoes. Publication of a draft cybersecurity framework for the nation. Evidence of a potentially new class of solids. New programs to promote and support innovation in manufacturing.
We look back at a few of the many and varied accomplishments and contributions of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last year in a Science & Technology Sampler: NIST Highlights from 2013.
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New NIST Tests Explore Safety of Nanotubes in Modern Plastics Over Time
Who cares about old plastic? Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) do, so that you won’t have to years down the road, when today’s plastic concoctions start to break down and disintegrate from weather exposure. Experiments* at NIST may help scientists devise better tests to make sure aging plastics won’t turn into environmental or health hazards as time goes by.
Tests like this are more important now than ever, because plastics aren’t what they used to be. Modern epoxies are frequently made stronger, lighter and more resilient with the addition of multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), a special form of carbon that under a microscope looks like rolls of chicken wire. MWCNTs already enhance plastics used in baseball bats, tennis rackets, bikes and airplanes, and though the tiny tubes appear to be long-lasting, no comprehensive set of tests exists to determine what happens to them over the long haul. So a NIST team took steps to change that.
“Some studies have been done about the effect of ultraviolet (UV) light, but not with a large number of analytical methods,” says NIST’s Elijah Petersen. “We wanted to begin developing a suite of tests for evaluating the performance of these nanocomposite materials, so that we can examine their potential risks, if any, during usage.”
The team needed a way to simulate the degrading effect of years of high temperature, humidity and sunlight, but without waiting that long for results. They created samples of epoxy with 3.5 percent MWCNTs—a fairly typical mixture quantity—and put them into a NIST-developed device called SPHERE (Simulated Photodegradation via High Energy Radiant Exposure), which pours out powerful UV light into a chamber kept at 50 degrees Celsius and 75 percent humidity. Keeping the samples there for 100 days “was the equivalent of four years in the Florida sun,” Petersen says.
After exposing the samples to this artificial Florida, the team ran a set of six different tests that analyzed changes ranging from mass to appearance to surface chemistry. One major discovery was that the UV light tended to destroy the epoxy, but on the surface remained a spaghetti-like network of nanotubes, which the group of tests indicated were less damaged by SPHERE exposure than the epoxy matrix.
So are these nancomposite materials stable forevermore? Petersen says the study did not answer every question, but that it should help researchers determine answers more effectively than was possible before by development and optimization of multiple analytical methods.
“We got a lot of new information from the test suite about how nanocomposites degrade,” says Petersen, “and the most encouraging thing is that the results of the different tests generally back one another up. We hope the test suite allows for better analysis of the stability of these new plastics, which are growing more common in everyday life.”
* E.J. Petersen, T. Lam, J.M. Gorham, K.C Scott, C.J. Long, D. Stanley, R. Sharma, J.A. Liddle, B. Pellegrin and T. Nguyen. Impact of UV irradiation on the surface Chemistry and structure of multiwall carbon nanotube epoxy nanocomposites. Carbon, Dec. 16, 2013, doi: 10.1016/j.carbon.2013.12.016.
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Welcome Guests: Added Molecules Allow Metal-Organic Frameworks to Conduct Electricity
Scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Sandia National Laboratories have added something new to a family of engineered, high-tech materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs): the ability to conduct electricity. This breakthrough—conductive MOFs—has the potential to make these already remarkable materials even more useful, particularly for detecting gases and toxic substances.
MOFs are three-dimensional crystalline materials with nanoscale pores made up of metal ions linked by various organic molecules. MOFs have huge surface areas, and scientists can easily control the size of their pores and how the pores interact with molecules by tinkering with their chemistries. These characteristics make them ideal for use as catalysts, membranes or sponges for gas storage or for drug delivery, among other applications.
Thousands of new MOF structures are discovered and characterized each year. While they come in a dizzying array of chemistries and structures, none of them conducts electricity well. The NIST/Sandia team developed a method to modify the electrical conductivity of MOF thin films and to control it over six orders of magnitude. Their findings will appear in the journal Science.*
"MOFs are typically extremely poor electrical conductors because their constituent building blocks, the organic linkers and the metal ions, don't really talk to each other in terms of electrical conduction," says NIST materials engineer Andrea Centrone. "Our work points to a way of controlling and increasing their conductivity."
The group accomplished this by "infiltrating an insulating MOF with redox-active, conjugated guest molecules."
In other words, they infused and bound electron-sharing molecules into MOF thin films to create a material that is stable in air and approximately a million times more conductive than the unaltered MOF.
"Based on several spectroscopic experiments, we believe that the guest molecules serve two important purposes: they create additional bridges between the metal ions—copper, in this case—and they accept electrical charge," says NIST chemist Veronika Szalai.
According to NIST physicist Paul Haney, who provided some modeling for the experimental data, the arrangement of the guest molecules in the MOF creates a unique conductivity mechanism while preserving the benefits of the porous MOF crystalline structure.
These porous and conductive MOFs may be the first in an entirely new class of materials that could be used for sensing, conformal electronics (electronics that can bend and conform to unusual shapes), and other as-yet-unknown applications.
"Our discovery gives chemists and engineers a whole new degree of freedom to tailor these materials for their technological applications," says Centrone. "I would not be surprised if solar cells could be made using this new class of materials."
* A.A. Talin, A. Centrone, A.C. Ford, M.E. Foster,V. Stavila, P. Haney, R.A. Kinney, V. Szalai, F. El Gabaly, H.P. Yoon, F. Léonard and M.D. Allendorf. Tunable electrical conductivity in metal-organic framework thin-film devices. Science Express. Posted online Dec. 5, 2013.
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JILA Team Develops 'Spinning Trap' to Measure Electron Roundness
JILA researchers have developed a method of spinning electric and magnetic fields around trapped molecular ions to measure whether the ions' tiny electrons are truly round—research with major implications for future scientific understanding of the universe.
As described in the Dec. 6, 2013, issue of Science,* the JILA team used their new spinning method to make their first measurement of the electron's roundness—technically, the electron's electric dipole moment (eEDM), a measure of the uniformity of the electron's charge between its poles. The JILA team's measurement is not yet as precise as eEDM measurements made by other groups. But the main purpose of the research at this time is to demonstrate a powerful new technique that may eventually provide the best eEDM measurements, and may also be useful in quantum information and simulation experiments.
JILA is a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder.
JILA/NIST Fellow Eric Cornell says his quest to measure the eEDM—5 years and counting—is as challenging as looking for a single virus particle on an object the size of Earth.
"Our paper presents a new method for getting to a better limit" on the electron's electric dipole moment, Cornell says. "Our hope is eventually to leapfrog over existing limits and get a still better result, but that will be at least a couple years out."
Decades ago, physicists believed the electron was perfectly round. In the 1980s, the idea of a slight asymmetry became acceptable, but any eEDM was thought to be too tiny to see. Some current theories predict that the eEDM might be only a bit smaller than the latest measurements indicate and might arise from exotic, as-yet-unknown particles.
Scientists are now trying to push the limits of eEDM measurements to either validate or disapprove some of the competing theories. The current experimental upper limit is much, much larger than the eEDM predicted by the Standard Model of physics. But extensions to this model such as supersymmetry predict a value close to the experimental limits. By making more precise measurements, scientists hope to test these new theories.
Scientists try to measure the speedy electron's properties by attaching it to a bigger object, like a molecule. The JILA team focused on electrons associated with hafnium fluoride ions, so-called polar molecules with a positive charge at one end and a negative charge at the other end. Polar molecules can be trapped and manipulated with electric fields to remain in target states for 100 milliseconds, long enough for a precision measurement. The electric field inside the molecules is used to amplify the potential signal of eEDM.
JILA's new method involves rotating electric and magnetic fields fast enough to trap the molecular ions but slowly enough for the ions to be aligned with the electric field. The ions rotate in individual micro-circles while scientists measure their properties. The EDM is the difference between two magnetic energy levels. The method was developed in a collaboration between Cornell and JILA/NIST Fellow Jun Ye, who has conducted groundbreaking research with polar molecules.**
The rotating field technique may be useful in quantum information experiments because a quantum bit could hold information for longer time periods in its electric and magnetic energy levels than in more commonly used quantum states. The ability to manipulate interactions of molecular ions might also simplify simulations of other spin-based quantum systems. In addition, the new technique might be used to investigate any variations over time in the fundamental "constants" of nature used in scientific calculations.
The research is supported by the National Science Foundation, NIST and the Marsico Foundation.
*H. Loh, K. Cossel, M. Grau, K.-K. Ni, E.R. Meyer, J.L. Bohn, J. Ye and E.A. Cornell. Precision spectroscopy of polarized molecules in an ion trap. Science. Dec. 6, 2013.
**See 2013 Tech Beat article, "Beyond Quantum Simulation: JILA Physicists Create 'Crystal' of Spin-swapping Ultracold Gas Molecules," at www.nist.gov/pml/div689/jila-091813.cfm, and links from that article to previous NIST news releases.
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NIST Programs for Undergraduates, Teachers, Precision Measurements Announced
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is advertising available grants in a pair of programs aimed at undergraduate students and middle school teachers, as well as the latest round of the agency's long-running Precision Measurement Grants program. All three were recently announced at the federal funding web site Grants.gov.
The NIST Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program provides an opportunity for undergraduate students to spend a summer working with the internationally recognized NIST research staff on projects in a wide variety of disciplines at either the main NIST laboratories in Gaithersburg, Md., or its laboratories in Boulder, Colo. Applications are made on behalf of the students by their academic institutions. Applications must be received by Feb. 14, 2014. Full details of the program, rules and the application process are available at Grants.gov under funding opportunity2014-NIST-SURF-01. See www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=248933.
The NIST Summer Institute for Middle School Science Teachers program is a two-week workshop at NIST's Gaithersburg, Md., campus combining lectures, tours and hands-on activities that educators can recreate in their own classrooms. The program aims to increase teachers' understanding of the subjects they teach, provide materials and resources to implement what they have learned at NIST in the classroom, enhance their enthusiasm for science, increase teachers' understanding of how scientific research is carried out and provide them with the opportunity to develop an ongoing network of scientists and engineers at NIST who will be available for consultation even after the NIST Summer Institute program has ended.
Public school districts or accredited private educational institutes in the United States and/or its territories that offer general science classes at grade levels 6-8 are eligible to nominate teachers to participate. Individual teachers do not apply directly, but through their schools or school districts. Applications must be received by March. 12, 2014. Full details of the program, rules and the application process are available at Grants.gov under funding opportunity 2014-NIST-SUMMER-INSTITUTE-0. See www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=249056.
Since 1970, NIST has sponsored its Precision Measurement Grants Program (PMGP). Awarded primarily to researchers at universities and colleges, the grants enable them to conduct significant research in the field of fundamental measurement or the determination of more precise values for fundamental constants of nature. NIST sponsors these research projects primarily to encourage basic, measurement-related research in universities and colleges and other research laboratories. The PMGP also is intended to make it possible for researchers to pursue new ideas in measurement science for which other sources of support may be difficult to find.
NIST anticipates funding two projects at most, depending on the availability of funding, for up to three years at $50,000 per year. Eligible proposers are accredited institutions of higher education; hospitals; nonprofit organizations; commercial organizations; state, local and Indian tribal governments; foreign governments; organizations under the jurisdiction of foreign governments; international organizations; and federal agencies with appropriate legal authority. Applications must be received by May 6, 2014. Full details of the program, rules and the application process are available at Grants.gov under funding opportunity 2014-NIST-PMGP-01. See www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=248854.
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2014 Cybersecurity Forum to Focus on Trusted Computing, Security Automation and Information Sharing
The 2014 Cybersecurity Innovation Forum, to be held January 28-30, 2014, at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Md., will focus on the existing threat landscape and provide presentations and keynotes on current and emerging practices, technologies and standards to protect the nation’s infrastructure, citizens and economic interests from cyberattack.
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Wineland Elected Fellow of National Academy of Inventors
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Fellow and Nobel laureate David Wineland has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), an organization founded in 2010 to recognize and encourage inventors working at universities and nonprofit research organizations.
The 143 NAI Fellows of 2013 include 26 presidents and senior leadership of research universities and nonprofit research institutes, five inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, two recipients of the National Medal of Science, and nine Nobel laureates. Election as an NAI fellow honors those who have “demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions and innovations that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.” The new fellows will be honored in a ceremony at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Va., in March 2014.
“Dave has been wildly creative, innovative and productive in his research for decades with obvious high impacts in many fields,” said Tom O’Brian, chief of the NIST Time and Frequency Division and Wineland’s supervisor. Wineland has contributed innovations in a range of fields including the use of lasers to cool ions (electrically charged atoms) for more precise measurements, the development of atomic clocks and experimental quantum computing. He holds a patent for a frequency stabilization technique in atomic/molecular beam devices such as atomic clocks.* In addition to the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics, Wineland’s many other honors include the 2007 National Medal of Science.
For more about the NAI see http://academyofinventors.com.
* US 4146848 A (granted 1979).
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