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In This Issue:
bullet Six Million Pounds of Quartz Help Keep America Mighty
bullet Crime Labs Get NIST Help Analyzing Gunpowder and Explosives
bullet High-Performance Car Engine? It's Putty in Their Hands
bullet MDs Rely on NIST Standards for New Cancer, Heart Therapies
bullet Computer Programs Paint Fire by the Numbers
bullet A Little OOMMF May Help Increase Computer Memory
bullet Tech Trivia

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NIST Centennial

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's 100th year of service to America began on March 3, 2000, and will culminate with our centennial anniversary one year later. For each month during this period, NIST Tech Beat will honor the rich history of the agency by recalling a significant event or accomplishment that occurred during that month in the past century.

Six Million Pounds of Quartz Help Keep America Mighty

By April 1940, World War II had engulfed Europe and threatened to soon involve the United States. The American armed forces already had begun preparing for a possible war effort, and among the tasks was the stockpiling of quartz crystal from Brazil.

Military experts knew that tremendous amounts of quartz crystal oscillator plates would be needed for radio equipment, naval communications systems, radar and electronic precision instruments. At the time, Brazil held the world's only reserve of usable quartz for oscillator production, and Great Britain, Germany and Japan were taking 94 percent of the South American country's output. To meet its needs for quartz, the United States determined that it had to acquire 4 percent or 45.4 metric tons (100,000 pounds) right away.

The National Bureau of Standards (the predecessor of NIST) was asked to formulate specifications for radio-grade crystals and to test the Brazilian quartz purchased by the government to determine which pieces met the standards. By the summer of 1942, the project involved 63 inspectors and 13 laborers, required three work shifts and was evaluating 45.4 metric tons (100,000 pounds) of quartz a month. When the quartz evaluation project ended in April 1946, the staff numbered 166 and over 2,721.6 metric tons (6 million pounds) of rock had been processed-60 times the original plan.

Media Contact:
Michael E. Newman,  (301) 975-3025Up



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Law Enforcement

Crime Labs Get NIST Help Analyzing Gunpowder and Explosives

With a goal of more courtroom convictions in bombing and handgun crimes, forensic laboratories are performing a growing number of gunpowder and explosives residue analyses. Chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are aiding this effort with two recent projects. In one, they analyzed gunpowder residues on fired handguns to see if the residues could be associated with unfired gunpowders. The other project is assessing how accurately crime labs around the country are currently able to measure gunpowder composition.

In conjunction with the National Institute of Justice, NIST chemists have provided law enforcement agencies with a scientific basis for associating samples of unfired gunpowder or ammunition with handgun or pipe bomb residues. Chemists collected residues from handguns fired at a test firing range and analyzed nitroglycerin and stabilizer additives. They also developed a numerical identification ratio for linking residues to unfired powders.

In the next project, NIST is asking several forensic labs to analyze test samples of two commercial gunpowders. This voluntary interlaboratory comparison will allow participants to assess the quality of gunpowder measurements. Assuring the accuracy of gunpowder measurements will help make forensic gunpowder analysis more defensible in criminal prosecutions.

Media Contact:
Linda Joy,  (301) 975-4403Up


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High-performance Car Engine? It's Putty in Their Hands

If shoving a thick, day-glo plastic putty into your car's intake manifold doesn't strike you as a way to enhance performance, then guess again. Extrude Hone, a small Irwin, Pa., company, does it all the time. Their special abrasive goo smooths and shapes cast airway passages. Combined with a similar treatment for manufacturing combustion chambers, Extrude Hone's machined parts can boost an engine's performance by up to 6 percent.

Helping Extrude Hone get their putty-enhanced machining process to this stage was the Advanced Technology Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Originally, the company's technology involved a laborious, multi-step process in which a part was repeatedly machined and tested until the desired performance level was reached. ATP support, matched by co-funding by Extrude Hone and its joint venture partners, led to the development of an advanced process control system to measure the flow characteristics of the part as it is machined.

A recent ATP economic study reported that the process likely will be applied by the auto industry first to sport-utility vehicles and other light-truck classes of autos, which are most in demand and most impacted by fuel-efficiency requirements. If the new technology gets adopted as expected, the study says that within five years it should increase the annual gross domestic product by $142 million, annual personal income by $196 million, and annual tax revenues by $34 million, while creating 1,800 new manufacturing jobs.

Media Contact:
Michael Baum ,  (301) 975-2763


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MDs Rely on NIST Standards for New Cancer, Heart Therapies

Physicians and physicists have teamed up to bring cancer and heart patients some new treatment options that could reduce the number of invasive surgeries performed and lessen hospital time. The new treatments use tiny radioactive seeds that can be implanted in or near tumors for cancer treatment, or in arteries for treatment of coronary artery disease. Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are helping advance these new therapies by calibrating the radiation doses delivered by the radioactive seeds.

"Recent success with two new forms of radionuclide therapy-radioactive seeds for treating prostate cancer and radio-active sources for preventing the reclosing of arteries following balloon angioplasty-presage the treatment of hundreds of thousands of additional patients annually in the U.S. alone," write Bert Coursey and Ravinder Nath in the April cover story of Physics Today. Coursey heads NIST's Ionizing Radiation Division while Nath chairs Yale University's Department of Medical Physics.

These new treatments, using small (rice-sized) radioactive sources, offer the advantage of delivering a high radiation dose to the target cells while minimizing the radiation damage to healthy tissue. NIST is the only laboratory in the world that offers calibrations of the radioactive seed sources for prostate cancer. The intravascular applications of these radioactive sources are still in clinical trials, and FDA approval will be required before such treatments are available to the public.

Media Contact:
Linda Joy ,  (301) 975-4403


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Fire Research

Computer Programs Paint Fire by the Numbers

Thanks to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Building and Fire Research Laboratory, fire investigators, safety officials, architects and builders now have access to two software programs that together can visually recreate a blaze and graphically depict the spread and intensity of its deadly gases.

The first of the two computer fire modeling programs-the Fire Dynamics Simulator-numerically models the movement of smoke and hot gases from a fire, predicting gas temperatures, heat fluxes, gas velocities and sprinkler activation times. The second program-known as Smokeview-then visualizes this information in a useful way. Smokeview's three dimensional animations of colored particles depict the movement and temperature of the gases emanating from the fire.

BFRL engineers expect FDS and Smokeview to be used both by investigators trying to determine the behavior of actual fires, and by builders or architects who want to know how fire detection equipment will react to blazes. The two programs require a personal computer with a fast CPU, fast video card, a substantial amount of random-access memory and a large hard disk. For a Windows-based PC, the processor should be at least as fast as a 450-megahertz Pentium II, with at least 256 megabytes of memory. The programs can be downloaded free from the World Wide Web at www.fire.nist.gov/fds.

Media Contact:
John Blair, (301) 975-4261Up


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Information Technology

A Little OOMMF May Help Increase Computer Memory

For Hard disk drive companies are scrambling to keep pace with their record 50-fold increase in storage capacity during the last eight years. Continuing this remarkable pace, and developing innovative technologies such as low-power magnetic non-volatile memory (known as MRAM), depends on accurate, predictable micromagnetic details.

Scientists and engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology compiled results from industrial and academic computer programs designed to predict how the tiny magnetic charges in these devices would behave. Unfortunately, the programs rarely agreed with each other, leaving industry without a reliable prediction mechanism.

Accurate computer models can save a great deal of money in basic research and development costs, so NIST scientists and mathematicians teamed up with industry to create ways to verify the results of these computer programs.

Hoping to add some "oomph" to micromagnetic research, the NIST team developed a computer program called OOMMF. It stands for Object Oriented MicroMagnetic Framework.

OOMMF's micromagnetic predictions can be compared with the predictions computed by other programs, allowing researchers to make more accurate models of many computer storage materials. The software can be downloaded at http://math.nist.gov/oommf/software.html.

NIST is currently working on a new three-dimensional version of the software that will enable researchers to model layered materials.

Media Contact:
Philip Bulman, (303) 497-5661


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Tech Trivia

During the Project Mercury orbital flights of Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper in 1962 and 1963, NIST's Central Radio Propagation Laboratory provided NASA with hourly forecasts of ionospheric conditions to ensure radio communications reliability for obtaining telemetry data from the astronauts and the spacecraft equipment.

In 1948, a sundial of unusual design and extremely high accuracy was erected at the NIST facility located in Washington, D.C. Eighteen years later, the sundial's creator warned that moving the device to NIST's new headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., would introduce an error of 0.006 centimeters (0.002 inches). A slight realignment at installation corrected the aberration caused by the latitude change.

In 1918, NIST was handed the task of examining existing aircraft in order to set standards for constructing future Army and Navy planes. A wind tunnel, dynamometer laboratory and altitude simulation chamber were built for the project. Among the results were the first quantitative data on gasoline, the selection of aluminum as a replacement for spruce wood frames and parts, and a better type of porcelain for spark plugs.

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Editor: Michael E. Newman
HTML conversion: Crissy Robinson
Last update: March 30, 2000
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