In This Issue: NIST Helps Washington, D.C., Plug a Few Leaks ... in the Capitol Dome Better Protection for Our Protectors Nears Reality Boss Hoss Cycles Kick Into High Gear New Standard Keeps Computers in Sync for Complex Calculations Practice Makes Virtually Perfect in Medical Simulations Special Camera Followed the Sun to Opposite Ends of the Globe Tech Trivia
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NIST Helps Washington, DC, Plug a Few Leaks ... in the Capitol Dome
What do you do if your roof leaks? If you're handy, you repair it yourself. If you're not, you get a reputable contractor. But what if your abode is the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC? You move cautiously and get the best advice you can.
That's exactly what the Office of the Architect of the Capitol did. One of the groups it consulted consisted of engineers involved in welding research in the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Boulder, Colo., laboratories.
Why welding experts?
The supporting structure of the capitol dome-nearly 150 years old-is made of cast iron and leaks during heavy rainstorms. The leaking is caused by cracks in a few of the castings that form the dome's outer shell. New castings would appear to be the answer, but not so, said the Architect's office. It told NIST that the castings had to be restored to original condition without being replaced.
With this in mind, the NIST welding group recommended a non-traditional approach customized for the Capitol's aging materials. The engineers offered two options: a nickel-based powder sprayed on cracks and joints; or a nickel-based, shielded metal arc electrode that would provide ductility. The Architect's office is currently studying the recommendations.
Fred McGehan, Boulder (303) 497-3246
Better Protection for Our Protectors Nears Reality
Ballistic-resistant armor (more commonly, but incorrectly called "bulletproof" vests) has saved the lives of more than 2,500 law enforcement officers since 1975. That year, the first bullet-resistant soft body armor meeting new national standards-developed for the National Institute of Justice by the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Office of Law Enforcement Standards-was issued to 5,000 officers in 15 major cities. And it didn't take long to pay off; the first life was saved within six weeks.
While bullet-resistant armor is important to police officers on the beat, their colleagues guarding prisons and jails face very different hazards. For corrections officers, the greatest danger is stab wounds from knives, picks and hand-crafted shivs of all sorts.
OLES recently completed the nation's first draft standard for "stab-resistant" vests. This body armor is designed to give officers the same degree of safety enjoyed by those who wear the bullet-resistant variety.
Interestingly, OLES engineers got assistance in developing the stab-resistant body armor standard from an overseas source: peers in England. There, tough gun control laws make knives rather than firearms the greater threat to police. In turn, the British have more experience in knife and stabbing research than their American counterparts.
NIJ expects to publish the standard later this year.
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
Boss Hoss Cycles Kick Into High Gear
Monte Warne, the "boss" of Boss Hoss Cycles, knew he and his 12 employees manufactured a great product: the world's largest stock engine motorcycles. Warne's "problem" was that lots of other people knew it too, and demand for these big, powerful machines was far greater than the 200 motorcycles that the Dyersburg, Tenn., company was producing each year.
Warne contacted the Tennessee Manufacturing Extension Partnership, an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership, for assistance in improving the productivity of his company. After analyzing the company's processes and work flow, TMEP recommended that the company install new mechanized material handling equipment and streamline production by reducing activities that add little or no value. Within five months, the company reported an increase in sales and hired two more employees. Warne estimates that in the next few years these improvements will help the company manufacture 1,000 motorcycles a year.
Small manufacturers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico can reach their local NIST MEP affiliate by calling (800) MEP-4MFG (637-4634).
Jan Kosko, (301) 975-2767
New Standard Keeps Computers in Sync for Complex Calculations
Imagine a world where your telephone calls would go through only if the person at the other end of the line had the same model phone as you. Scientists and engineers who use a computing approach known as parallel processing to make extremely complex calculations have faced a similar situation for years.
Parallel processing is a way to break up a computing problem into pieces that various processors-the "brains" inside computers-can work on simultaneously. It produces terrific results, allowing people to make calculations in a week that would previously have taken a year.
But while parallel processing technology has been around for quite some time, many scientists have been stymied in their efforts to use it. Researchers could easily create a parallel processing network of computers if they were all made by the same company, but trouble ensued when the computers came from different firms.
Computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have spearheaded a significant advance in parallel processing technology by coordinating a new standard, the Interoperable Message Passing Interface, that eliminates many barriers to using computers made by different manufacturers. To develop the IMPI, NIST teamed up with some of the world's largest computer hardware and software companies.
So with the IMPI in action, each computer in a parallel processing network will get a "hello" from the others instead of the microchip equivalent of "We're sorry but your call cannot go through."
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
Practice Makes Virtually Perfect in Medical Simulations
Health professionals now can learn to perform the dreaded needle stick-the most common medical procedure-and practice certain types of minimally invasive surgery using simulators instead of traditional tools, such as plastic models, cadavers and animals. The simulators, which offer the high level of realism needed for medical applications at reasonable cost, are based on technologies developed over the past few years by HT Medical Systems Inc. (Gaithersburg, Md.) with co-funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program.
Technologies developed in HT's two ATP projects include a "printing press for medical virtual reality," which can create 3-D VR models from a set of two- dimensional images; the capability to realistically model the cutting and bleeding of human tissues; and tactile-feedback devices that replicate the "feel" of endoscopic and endovascular procedures.
The benefits from these innovations include a PC-based simulator with visual and tactile response to teach nurses the skills needed to insert a needle properly. More than 200 of these systems have been installed in six countries so far.
Independent assessments indicate that HT's simulators reduce nurse training costs, encourage practice and accurately assess procedural skill. Other benefits include less trauma to patients and reduced use of animals in medical training.
Michael Baum, (301) 975-2763
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 recall a significant event that occurred in the past century.
Special Camera Followed the Sun to Opposite Ends of the Globe
While the British once boasted that the sun never set on their empire, the National Institute of Standards and Technology went one better in June 1936. That month, the American research agency and Earth's nearest star became intimately connected in spite of the 93 million miles separating them.
The National Geographic Society and NIST jointly sponsored an expedition to the remote Kazak region of Asiatic U.S.S.R. (now known as the Republic of Kazakstan) in June 1936 to make extensive scientific observations of a total solar eclipse. Among the goals of the NIST team, headed by Irvine C. Gardner, was to take the world's first natural-color photographs of this heavenly event. Gardner's researchers used a 4-meter (14-foot) eclipse camera with a 23-centimeter (9-inch) astrographic lens made in NIST's glass plant.
The scientists' efforts paid off. Along with the striking NIST photos (which appeared in a 1937 National Geographic), Harvard University and Soviet investigators gathered new data on the sun's corona, prominences and spectra. As for the NIST solar camera, it made a second trip in search of "daytime darkness" when it was taken to Canton Island in the South Pacific in 1937 as part of the National Geographic-U.S. Navy Eclipse Expedition.
Michael E. Newman, (301) 975-3025
Although the original radio detection finder (known as RDF), a special antenna for identifying the direction of radio transmissions, was developed in Italy, NIST researchers patented an improved design in 1916. It served as a prototype for the U.S. Navy and was used widely to pinpoint the positions of enemy forces during World War I.
Following up on its success with the RDF, NIST scientists disproved the then-common notion that radio communication was impossible underwater. In 1917, NIST placed an RDF underwater and received signals clearly, and used the data to develop a simple but effective radio apparatus for submarines.
NIST's greatest contribution to navigation was probably the use of RDF technology to make a radio beacon for the instrument landing system, a technology which enables an aircraft crew to locate a runway in poor visibility. The "blind landing" technique was incorporated into the federal airways system when that system came about in the late 1920s.