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Tech Beat - March 12, 2014

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: March 12, 2014
Date Modified: March 12, 2014 
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Magnetic Attraction: Physicists Pay Homage to the SQUID at 50

From humble beginnings in a series of accidental discoveries, SQUIDs have invaded and enhanced many areas of science and medicine, thanks, in part, to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

squid multiplexer
Micrograph of a SQUID amplifier, made at NIST in 2012, that is part of a circuit used to read signals from arrays of superconducting sensors. Small currents generated by the sensors are carried and amplified in the coils, which create magnetic fields detected by the SQUID (two small squares in the center of the image).
Credit: NIST
high resolution image

SQUIDs—short for superconducting quantum interference devices—are the world's most sensitive magnetometers and powerful signal amplifiers, with broad applications ranging from medicine and mining to cosmology and materials analysis.

Physicists from around the world celebrated last week* to mark the 50th anniversary of the first journal paper introducing the SQUID, published in February 1964.

Celebrants heard about the use of SQUIDS to measure brain activity in Finland, discover mineral deposits leading to a large silver mine in Australia, and detect faint light from the early moments of the universe from telescopes all over the world.

SQUIDs measure magnetic fields based on quantum properties created when a superconducting circuit loop, in which electricity flows without resistance, is interrupted with one or two short sections of resistive material. The current across the resistive section varies predictably, based on the strength of the external magnetic field, making the device an exquisitely sensitive detector of magnetic fields. Typically, SQUIDs need to be cooled to cryogenic temperatures below 4 kelvins (-269 degrees Celsius) with liquid helium.

The SQUID was invented at Ford Scientific Laboratories in the 1960s but was further developed at NIST (then called the National Bureau of Standards). James Zimmerman co-invented one type of SQUID (the RF-SQUID) and coined the term while at Ford, before joining NIST where he worked in the 1970s and 1980s.

One of his SQUIDs helped launch the field of biomagnetism—the medical use of SQUIDs. The first magnetocardiogram (MCG) with a strong, low-noise signal was performed with a portable SQUID made by Zimmerman at NIST to measure the magnetic signal of his own heart.** The experiment, performed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was the first time a SQUID recorded a living signal, and launched a growing field today.

Jim Zimmerman
Jim Zimmerman with a multi-hole RF-SQUID, a design concept he developed at NIST in the 1970s.
Credit: NIST
high resolution image

Among other advances at NIST, Zimmerman also made early SQUIDs for magnetoencephalography (MEG), which noninvasively measures magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain. In 1987, Zimmerman and NIST colleagues used a then-new high-temperature superconductor to make the first RF-SQUID—and probably the first superconducting electronic device of any kind—to operate at the temperature of liquid nitrogen, a relatively inexpensive and easily handled coolant.

Today, NIST remains a center of SQUID innovation. In addition to designing and making custom SQUIDs in a microfabrication facility, NIST researchers also invented a method for wiring hundreds of SQUID signal amplifiers together with large arrays of superconducting sensors. When used as amplifiers, SQUIDs measure the magnetic fields created in coils that carry and amplify very small currents generated by sensors.

For instance, SQUIDs made at NIST have been used to amplify sensor signals in more than 10 telescopes in North and South America, Hawaii, the South Pole and elsewhere.*** NIST SQUIDs also are used in imaging of hidden threats**** and for X-ray materials analysis.

*The SQUID at 50: Impact and Future, Industrial Physics Forum at the American Physical Society March Meeting 2014, March 4, 2014, Denver, Colo.
**R.L. Kautz. Jim Zimmerman and the SQUID. IEEE Transactions on Applied Superconductivity, Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2001.
***For example, see the 2011 NIST Tech Beat article, "Powerful NIST Detectors on Hawaiian Telescope to Probe Origins of Stars, Planets and Galaxies," at www.nist.gov/pml/div686/scuba2-array.cfm and the 2013 NIST Tech Beat article, "NIST Goes to the End of the Earth for Measurement Science," at www.nist.gov/pml/div686/southpole-040313.cfm.
****See the 2013 NIST Tech Beat article, "NIST Unveils Prototype Video Imaging System for Remote Detection of Hidden Threats," at www.nist.gov/pml/div686/detection-093013.cfm.

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

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Over 6 Months, NIST Zero-Energy House Gives Back to the Grid

Take a tour of NIST's Net Zero Energy House in this video, "Nothing Lost is Everyone's Gain."

Credit: NIST

Over the first six months in their special, new, four-bedroom home in suburban Maryland, the Nisters, a prototypical family of four, earned about $40 by exporting 328 kilowatt hours of electricity into the local grid, while meeting all of their varied energy needs.

And these virtual residents of the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), about 20 miles north of Washington, D.C., didn't have to skimp even a bit on any of the creature comforts of 21st century living. Their amenities ranged from indoor temperatures maintained between 21.1 and 23.8 degrees Celsius (70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) to a complete array of modern-day kitchen and laundry appliances, and from personal computers, a video gaming system, and two TVs to a pair of stereos, a hairdryer, and curling and clothes irons.

Both a laboratory and a home, the 2,700-square-foot (252-square-meter) NZERTF is a two-story, four-bedroom, three-bath house that incorporates energy-efficient construction and appliances, as well as energy-generating technologies such as solar water heating and solar photovoltaic systems. There, NIST scientists and engineers and their collaborators will develop and validate measurement and test methods for evaluating energy-efficient designs, materials and technologies.

Over the course of a year, the facility is designed to produce at least as much energy as it consumes. On July 1, 2013, a research team led by NIST engineer Hunter Fanney launched a year-long trial to determine whether NZERTF, as originally designed and built, meets these net-zero-energy expectations, despite the vagaries of local weather. That's when the Nisters—computer-simulated versions of two working parents and two children, ages 8 and 14—"moved in."

Though daily routines and energy-consuming habits are scripted and imitated by computer, this virtual clan behaves like the average family, based on standard occupant profiles developed by the Department of Energy. The Nisters bathe, shower, cook, turn on lights when they enter rooms, do the laundry, and relax by watching TV, listening to music, posting on Facebook, or playing video games. Computers even control devices that mimic the heat and moisture of the virtual family's breathing and perspiring.

"When it comes to energy use and production, nothing is going unmeasured," Fanney explains. "The house has more than 500 sensors to track the energy consumption of every single device. We are gathering a lot of valuable information that will be put to good use when we progress to the next stage and use our net-zero energy lab to develop improved test methods and performance metrics for high-efficiency and alternative-energy devices and systems."

As of December 31, 2013—the halfway point in the initial trial run—the NZERTF generated an energy surplus of 328 kilowatt hours, roughly the amount of energy that a dishwasher uses over one year. From July through October, the facility registered monthly surpluses. In November and December, when space-heating demands increased and the declining angle of the sun reduced the energy output of photovoltaic system, NZERTF ran monthly deficits.

To learn more about NZERTF and to follow its energy performance, go to: www.nist.gov/el/nzertf/.

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

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JILA Physicists Discover 'Quantum Droplet' in Semiconductor

JILA physicists used an ultrafast laser and help from German theorists to discover a new semiconductor quasiparticle—a handful of smaller particles that briefly condense into a liquid-like droplet.

quantum droplet
Artist's conception of microscopic "quantum droplet" discovered by JILA physicists in a gallium-arsenide semiconductor excited by an ultrafast red laser pulse. Each droplet consists of electrons and holes (representing absent electrons) arranged in a liquid-like pattern of rings. The surrounding area is plasma. The discovery adds to understanding of how electrons interact in optoelectronic devices.
Credit: Baxley/JILA
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Quasiparticles are composites of smaller particles that can be created inside solid materials and act together in a predictable way. A simple example is the exciton, a pairing, due to electrostatic forces, of an electron and a so-called "hole," a place in the material's energy structure where an electron could be, but isn't.

The new quasiparticle, described in the Feb. 27, 2014, issue of Nature* and featured on the journal's cover, is a microscopic complex of electrons and holes in a new, unpaired arrangement. The researchers call this a "quantum droplet" because it has quantum characteristics such as well-ordered energy levels, but also has some of the characteristics of a liquid. It can have ripples, for example. It differs from a familiar liquid like water because the quantum droplet has a finite size, beyond which the association between electrons and holes disappears.

Although its lifetime is only a fleeting 25 picoseconds (trillionths of a second), the quantum droplet is stable enough for research on how light interacts with specialized forms of matter.

"Electron-hole droplets are known in semiconductors, but they usually contain thousands to millions of electrons and holes," says JILA physicist Steven Cundiff, who studies the properties of cutting-edge lasers and what they reveal about matter. "Here we are talking about droplets with around five electrons and five holes.

"Regarding practical benefits, nobody is going to build a quantum droplet widget. But this does have indirect benefits in terms of improving our understanding of how electrons interact in various situations, including in optoelectronic devices."

The JILA team created the new quasiparticle by exciting a gallium-arsenide semiconductor with an ultrafast red laser emitting about 100 million pulses per second. The pulses initially form excitons, which are known to travel around in semiconductors. As laser pulse intensity increases, more electron-hole pairs are created, with quantum droplets developing when the exciton density reaches a certain level. At that point, the pairing disappears and a few electrons take up positions relative to a given hole. The negatively charged electrons and positively charged holes create a neutral droplet. The droplets are like bubbles held together briefly by pressure from the surrounding plasma.

JILA's experimental data on energy levels of individual droplet rings agreed with theoretical calculations by co-authors at the University of Marburg in Germany. JILA researchers found they could tap into each energy level by tailoring the quantum properties of the laser pulses to match the particle correlations within the droplets. The droplets seem stable enough for future systematic studies on interactions between light and highly correlated states of matter. In addition, quasiparticles, in general, can have exotic properties not found in their constituent parts, and thus, can play a role in controlling the behavior of larger systems and devices.

JILA is a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Colorado Boulder. Cundiff is a NIST physicist. The JILA research is supported by the National Science Foundation, NIST and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

*A.E. Almand-Hunter, H. Li, S.T. Cundiff, M. Mootz, M. Kira and S.W. Koch. Quantum droplets of electrons and holes. Nature. Feb. 27, 2014.

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

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NIST Issues Guidance for Federal Use of Secure Mobile Technology

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published two draft documents for public comment that describe processes that federal employees and contractors could use to provide smart card-like authentication for access to government computer resources using mobile devices such as phones and tablets. Comments on the drafts are due April 21, 2014.

man holding cell phone and badge
Credit: Fotolia/Silroby & Gray/NIST

The federal government increasingly is using credit card-sized smart cards—Personal Identification Verification (PIV) cards—that employ biometric data and encryption to uniquely identify the cardholder. PIV cards are used to allow the cardholder access to government facilities or to log on to federal computer systems from desktops and laptops equipped with PIV card readers. However, in the last decade, the mobile market has skyrocketed. Employees want to use mobile devices to access work information from wherever they may be—and employers agree.

The revised Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 201-2, Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors,* published in August 2013, provided an authentication credential for mobile devices. Now NIST is issuing a draft publication that provides the technical details for a system by which mobile device owners may add their PIV credentials to their smart phones or tablets, allowing the mobile device to take the place of the smart card for remote authentication to federal systems. Guidelines for Derived Personal Identity Verification Credentials [SP 800-157] describes how a user with a valid PIV card could obtain a derived, integrated PIV token using either hardware or software cryptographic modules.

The publication provides technical guidelines on:

  • Three primary lifecycle activities for the derived PIV credential—initial issuance, maintenance and termination—and the requirements for each activity to ensure security, and
  • Technical requirements for the derived PIV credential including certificate policies, cryptographic specifications, types of cryptographic implementation that are permitted and mechanisms for activation and use of the credential.

The document's primary intended audience is application and system developers and others who will be responsible for procuring, designing, implementing and managing derived PIV credentials deployments for mobile devices.

There are alternatives to derived PIV credentials integrated on a mobile device, including using separate PIV card readers or short-range, "near field" wireless links (NFC) of the sort popularized by contactless payment systems at gas stations. A second NIST publication draft, Mobile, PIV, and Authentication [NISTIR 7981], analyzes different approaches to PIV-enabled mobile devices. It points out the benefits and considerations of each approach and discusses when that approach might become available.

Guidelines for Derived Personal Identity Verification Credentials [SP 800-157] and Mobile, PIV, and Authentication [NISTIR 7981] are available at the NIST Computer Security Resource Center draft publications web site: http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsDrafts.html. Spreadsheet templates for comments also are available on the CSRC site. Comments should be submitted to piv_comments@nist.gov by April 21, 2014.

*www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=914530

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

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Pilot Projects to Launch Manufacturing Technology Acceleration Centers

To improve small U.S. manufacturers' supply chain competitiveness and the rates at which they adopt technology, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded nearly $2.5 million in funding for five pilot projects. The projects will be led by Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers and will bring together teams of experts in specific technology and supply chain areas to offer services and deep expertise relating to technology acceleration, transition and commercialization.

 high tech manufacturing workers on factory floor
 © endostock - Fotolia.com

"We can help these smaller manufacturers be more competitive in international supply chains by making sure they have the tools they need to take advantage of innovation," said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. "Keeping these manufacturers innovative makes them attractive suppliers for U.S.-based manufacturers and those looking to bring their business here."

According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, small and medium-sized manufacturers often lack the expertise and staff that enable larger firms to stay abreast of emerging technologies and processes. This creates a gap between the research being performed by universities, federal labs and other entities and the readiness of many of these manufacturers to adopt both existing and emerging technologies.

Working within specific supply chains to understand their technological needs and trends, the new Manufacturing Technology Acceleration Center (MTAC) teams will identify where manufacturers most need assistance in adopting or adapting technology. The projects will test and demonstrate business models that will allow small manufacturers to access the technology transition and commercialization services they need, and to help them form beneficial partnerships. The projects also will serve as pilots to guide future NIST investment and to develop strategies and approaches for providing similar services across the MEP system.

MTAC projects work to bridge the gap between available technologies and commercial adoption by manufacturers by helping companies turn those technologies into market opportunities, and by reducing barriers that keep manufacturers from incorporating technology solutions into their processes and products. These challenges include not only technology and knowledge transfer, but also technology transition and bringing a technology from lab to market.

The following MEP Centers will receive approximately $500,000 each to pilot MTACs:

The NIST MTAC efforts align with the administration's plan to launch a nationwide network of innovation institutes across the country that will develop world-leading manufacturing technologies and capabilities to support U.S. manufacturing sector growth. One goal of the MTAC program is for the centers to efficiently connect researchers, scientists, engineers and U.S. manufacturers and serve as coordination points within key supply chains.

To learn more about MEP and its 25 years of supporting U.S. manufacturers, visit www.nist.gov/mep.

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

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Funding Available for a New Center to Support Manufacturing in Florida

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking proposals for a new Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) center in Florida. The award will provide up to $3.5 million for the first year, to help the state's small- and medium-sized manufacturers enhance their productivity, innovative capacity, technological performance and global competitiveness.

U.S.-based nonprofit institutions or organizations, including universities, state and local governments and existing MEP centers are eligible to submit a proposal. An eligible organization may work individually or form a team with other organizations. At least 50 percent of the new center's first-year budget must come from sources other than the federal government. This mandatory cost-share increases after the third annual renewal, up to a maximum two-thirds of the center's budget for year five and beyond.

The Florida center will become part of a national system of extension service providers, comprising more than 400 centers and field offices throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. The centers provide services by using the most cost effective, local, leveraged resources through the coordinated efforts of a regionally based MEP center and local technology resources. The management and operational structure of each MEP center is based on the characteristics of the manufacturers in the region and locally available resources with demonstrated experience working with manufacturers.

As a public-private partnership, MEP delivers a high return on investment to taxpayers. For every one dollar of federal investment, the MEP generates nearly $19 in new sales growth and $21 in new client investment. This translates into $2.2 billion in new sales annually. For every $1,978 of federal investment, MEP creates or retains one manufacturing job.

Full details on the application process, including eligibility requirements and deadlines are available in the notice of Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) posted at Grants.gov (www.grants.gov) under Funding Opportunity Number 2014-NIST-MEP-FL-01. The Federal Register notice concerning this solicitation also was published on Feb. 28 and is available at https://federalregister.gov/a/2014-04475. All proposals must be received no later than May 14, 2014.

NIST MEP will hold an information webinar for organizations considering applying to this opportunity approximately 14 business days after posting of the FFO and publication in the Federal Register. Please contact Diane Henderson at diane.henderson@nist.gov to register for the webinar. More information is available on the NIST MEP website: www.nist.gov/mep.

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

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NIST's April 7 Workshop Launches Effort to Improve Disaster Resilience of Communities

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, Md., will host the first of six workshops devoted to developing a comprehensive, community-based disaster resilience framework, a national initiative carried out under the President's Climate Action Plan.* The workshop will be held at the NIST laboratories in Gaithersburg, Md., on Monday, April 7, 2014.

Joplin tornado destruction
Tornado destruction, Joplin Mo.: a collapsed building once housing the backup generator for a hospital.
Credit: NIST
high resolution image

Focusing on buildings and infrastructure lifelines such as communications and electric power, the planned framework will aid communities in efforts to protect people and property and to recover more rapidly from natural and man-made disasters. Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and other recent disasters have highlighted the interconnected nature of buildings and infrastructure systems and their vulnerabilities.

The six workshops will focus on the roles that buildings and infrastructure systems play in ensuring community resilience. NIST will use workshop inputs as it drafts the disaster resilience framework. To be released for public comment in April 2015, the framework will establish overall performance goals; assess existing standards, codes, and practices; and identify gaps that must be addressed to bolster community resilience.

NIST seeks input from a broad array of stakeholders, including planners, designers, facility owners and users, government officials, utility owners, regulators, standards and model code developers, insurers, trade and professional associations, disaster response and recovery groups, and researchers.

All workshops will focus on resilience needs, which, in part, will reflect hazard risks common to geographic regions.

The NIST-hosted event will begin at 8 a.m. and is open to all interested parties. The registration fee for the inaugural workshop is $55. Space is limited. To learn more and to register, go to: www.nist.gov/el/building_materials/resilience/disreswksp.cfm. Registration closes on March 31, 2014.

More information on the disaster resilience framework can be found at www.nist.gov/el/building_materials/resilience/framework.cfm.

*The Climate Action Plan (www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/image/president27sclimateactionplan.pdf)directs NIST to "convene a panel on disaster-resilience standards to develop a comprehensive, community-based resilience framework and provide guidelines for consistently safe buildings and infrastructure—products that can inform the development of private-sector standards and codes." After completing the initial framework, NIST will convene the Disaster Resilience Standards Panel.

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

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Akron to Host Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Regional Meeting, April 2, 2014

The second regional meeting of President Obama's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership initiative—AMP 2.0—will be held Wednesday, April 2, at the InfoCision Stadium on the campus of The University of Akron.

Jointly hosted by the United Steelworkers and The University of Akron, the all-day meeting will focus on how academia, industry, labor and government can partner to shape and promote the development and growth of advanced manufacturing jobs in the Midwest and all of the United States.

Key topics will include: challenges and opportunities in scaling up supply chains, job creation and workforce training development, and national and regional challenges to growth in advanced manufacturing and strategies to overcome them.

AMP 2.0 is a renewed national effort to secure U.S. leadership in the emerging technologies that will create high-quality jobs and enhance America's global competitiveness. It builds on progress made by its predecessor, created by President Obama in 2011. In its 2012 report, Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing, the inaugural AMP committee made 16 recommendations "aimed at reinventing manufacturing in a way that ensures U.S. competitiveness, feeds into the Nation's innovation economy, and invigorates the domestic manufacturing base."

A working group of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the AMP 2.0 steering committee is helping to implement the report's recommendations and to identify new, concrete strategies for securing the nation's competitive advantage in transformative early-stage technologies.

University of Akron President Luis Proenza and Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steel workers, are steering committee members.

To learn more about the meeting and to register, go to: https://www.uakron.edu/advanced-manufacturing-partnership/.

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

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March Cloud Computing Meetings at NIST Discuss Impact on Mobile Devices, Forensic Science

NIST cloud computing program logoAs part of its cloud computing forum and workshop series, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is hosting two meetings in March at its Gaithersburg, Md. Campus, "The Intersection of Cloud and Mobility" from March 25-27, 2014, and the "Cloud Computing Forensic Science Workshop" on March 24.

The March 25-27 meeting will bring together leaders in cloud computing and mobility from industry, government and academia, and will explore the advantages of using low-end mobile devices to receive unlimited mobile application services.

On day one, agency executives will address federal perspectives and visions for cloud and mobility. Panelists will discuss the current state of cloud and mobile and share near and future applications and technologies.

The second day will be devoted to current challenges at the intersection of cloud and mobility and sharing "lessons learned." Presentations will explore important issues including privacy, security, business/economic and behavioral issues. Another session will focus on challenges in the fields of finance, first responder support and intelligence.

Based on the discussions of the first two days, attendees will spend the third day developing a plan for future actions. Each day will end with a "breakout" session focused on that day's task.

As with past cloud computing workshops, the first day of the meeting also will cover progress on the U.S. Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap Priority Action Plans. The session will focus on metrics, standards, service level agreements and security reference architecture.

Cloud computing and accessibility is a new discussion topic this year. A public working group will focus on accessing information resources in multiple formats from a broad range of devices. This adds ease-of-use to electronic devices. Several breakout sessions will discuss this extension of accessibility.

For more information on "The Intersection of Cloud and Mobility," or to register, see www.nist.gov/itl/cloud/intersection-of-cloud-and-mobility.cfm.

Seeking evidence in the cloud is a new challenge in digital forensics. NIST is bringing together experts in the field to discuss the new issues the cloud brings, such as data replication, locating evidence and multi-tenancy, which is when IT resources such as hardware and software are shared by multiple users.

On March 24, the "NIST Cloud Computing Forensic Science" workshop will bring together international experts and those new to the field to delve into the current state of cloud forensics, identify needs and challenges and define next steps.

A session will be devoted to describing the cloud forensics challenges compiled by the NIST-hosted Cloud Computing Forensic Science Working Group. In another session, participants will develop a plan for future work in this emerging technology area. For more information and to register for the workshop, please see: www.nist.gov/itl/forensic-science-workshop.cfm.

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

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