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In This Issue:
bullet New Technique Helps Retrieve Data from Damaged Magnetic Tape
bullet NIST Joins Team to Standardize Cancer Screening Diagnostic Tests
bullet New Library Will Help 'Close the Book' on Computer Crooks
bullet 'Tele' Your Doctor How You Feel
bullet Kneeling Soon May Be More Appealing for Firefighters
bullet July Records Milestones in Time and Frequency Broadcasting
bullet Tech Trivia

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New Technique Helps Retrieve Data from Damaged Magnetic Tape

Audio cassettes, video tapes, credit cards and computer disks all store valuable information using very small magnetic tracks. Sometimes these instruments are accidentally damaged or intentionally modified. When this happens, recovery of the stored data or verification of authenticity becomes extremely difficult.

Researchers David Pappas at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Steve Voran at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration have developed a new technique for recovering analog and digital data from mangled tapes or other storage media. Termed second harmonic magneto-resistive microscopy (also known as SH-MRM), it makes use of high-resolution magnetic sensors developed for modern computer hard disk drives. These sensors map the microscopic magnetic fields across the samples, allowing investigators to rebuild the original signal and gain insight into the recording process and history. For forensic experts, this can provide critical information regarding the authenticity of evidence.

The researchers demonstrated the technique by recovering audio data from a tape fragment provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. They also showed that raw digital data can be read from a very short segment of tape from a flight data recorder, tape that's unreadable in a conventional tape deck. For the FBI, they used the technique to reveal magnetic marks produced by the erase and record heads during the recording process. They also showed that the audio data from test tracks can be reconstructed and played back directly from the SH-MRM images.

Media Contact:
Fred McGehan, Boulder (303) 497-3246Up



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NIST Joins Team to Standardize Cancer Screening Diagnostic Tests

The recent unveiling of the complete human genome holds great promise for new ways to treat, prevent and diagnose disease. Cancer researchers, for example, are optimistic about the possibility of detecting early signs of a variety of tumors before they become life threatening. One way is by developing tests for biomarkers, which signal precancerous changes in organs susceptible to cancer. To support this effort, the National Cancer Institute has recruited the National Institute of Standards and Technology to help evaluate and standardize promising biomarker tests as part of a new program called the Early Detection Research Network.

Researchers in the NIST Biotechnology Division will help evaluate the accuracy of tests that may detect mutations or breaks in genes-both of which may signal the early stages of cancer. NIST researchers will use a spectral imager to identify the chromosomal aberations and then assess the accuracy and speed of potential diagnostic tests designed to spot these changes. Their eventual goal is to develop measurement standards that clinical labs can use to validate the accuracy of a new generation of early cancer screening diagnostic tests.

For more details on the EDRN, visit the web at http://edrn.nci.nih.gov.

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


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New Library Will Help 'Close the Book' on Computer Crooks

Felons using computers in their work frequently manipulate files in an attempt to hide or obscure their activity. When law enforcement agents seize a computer during a crime investigation, they typically face the daunting task of examining as many as 20,000 computer files during their search for evidence. And it becomes almost overwhelming when more than one computer is involved.

The field of computer forensics will enjoy a significant advance later this year when computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology unveil the National Software Reference Library. The library, which will be available to law enforcement agencies and participating organizations, will contain the “signatures” of a variety of software programs. This “signature”—the mathematical algorithm patterns unique to a specific computer file—can be used like fingerprints to distinguish one file from another.

Preliminary tests show that comparing the signatures to programs seized during an investigation can help filter from 40 percent to 95 percent of the computer files. Investigators then can focus their attention on the remaining files to see if someone has tampered with them.

Software companies ranging from Adobe Systems Inc. to Microsoft Corp. have donated computer programs for the library, and NIST is currently seeking additional donations.

Media Contact:
Philip Bulman,  (301) 975-5661


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'Tele' Your Doctor How You Feel

Expert radiologists in West Virginia can be in several places at the same time—and provide faster, more convenient services to rural patients—as a result of an innovative suite of medical information technologies developed under the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Advanced Technology Program. The three-year ATP project led by the Advanced Technology Institute of Charleston, S.C., partnered industrial firms, clinical facilities, universities and national laboratories.

One early result of the project is a high-speed network—believed to be the first teleradiology network—used by the Charleston Area Medical Center to offer expert interpretations by a radiologist to at least seven hospitals statewide. Approximately 150 patients are served daily by the system, which handles all types of multimedia data and supports access to existing systems. The network allows healthcare providers to get interpretations in 15 minutes, compared to as much as 10 hours previously.

CAMC also uses the network to store and make magnetic resonance, computed tomography, ultrasound, nuclear medicine and X-ray images accessible to staff in intensive care, emergency and diagnostic imaging. Other outcomes of the ATP project included user interfaces and compression technology that have helped reduce the costs and improve the quality of digital radiology. General Electric Co. used some of the technology to develop a commercial picture archiving and communication workstation two years ahead of schedule and assume leadership in this technology, previously dominated by Japan and Europe.

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


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Fire Research

Kneeling Soon May Be More Appealing for Firefighters

Protective clothing that safeguards a firefighter exposed to a sudden flash fire or short duration exposure to a flashover (defined as the spontaneous ignition of most items within a contained area) often fails if he or she kneels on a hot surface or the knee part of the clothing gets wet.

Kneeling-which occurs when firefighters crawl on dry hot floors during search and rescue operations or get down on a hot roof while attempting to vent a structure-can compress and eliminate the clothing's protective air spaces. Knee burns also occur when hose teams crawl through hot water and get the insulating fibers of their protective garments wet, a situation that transfers heat some 21 times faster than through the air.

The New York City Fire Department and the National Institute of Standards and Technology are working together to stop the scalding knee burns that sent 11 New York firemen to surgery in 1997-1998. With burn data from the firefighters, NIST fire safety engineers and an NYFD guest researcher developed a test apparatus that can measure how well protective clothing performs when the garment is compressed. The apparatus may be used to evaluate thermal performance under either wet or dry test conditions that simulate specific fire ground (the area involved in the actual fire) conditions. Data generated should be useful in new protective clothing designs and in helping standardize their thermal performance.

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


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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 recall a significant event that occurred in the past century.

July Records Milestones in Time and Frequency Broadcasting

This past Father's Day, one of the top gifts advertised for dear old Dad was a wristwatch that keeps its time in step with the atomic clock of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

How can this be possible? It's as simple as the letters WWVB and a host of significant dates in July.

Back in July 1956, the National Bureau of Standards (predecessor to NIST) began broadcasting a longwave radio signal from its station KK2XEI in Boulder, Colo. The transmission, sent out on less than 2 watts of power, proved that a time and frequency signal could be broadcast with little interference from the ionosphere. Seven years later, on July 5, 1963, a low-frequency transmitter was switched on at Fort Collins, Colo., some 50 miles to the north. The new station, named WWVB, transmitted an inaudible 7-kilowatt signal that provided standard time information to most of the continental United States and was controlled by the NBS atomic clock.

On July 1, 1965, a time code was added to the then-10-kilowatt WWVB that made it possible for clocks to be designed to receive the time signal, decode it and provide time in sync with atomic accuracy. Three decades later, WWVB's power has been increased to 50 kilowatts, upgrading the signal strength so that today's broadcast can be received simply and clearly by all kinds of clocks, watches, VCRs, cars and electronic gear.

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


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Tech Trivia

Before taking the job of U.S. Inspector of Standard Weights and Measures in 1899 (which led to the first directorship of the National Bureau of Standards, the predecessor to NIST, in 1901), physicist Samuel W. Stratton worked at the University of Chicago under 1907 Nobel Physics Laureate Albert A. Michelson and with 1923 Physics Prize recipient Robert A. Millikan.

In 1986, two IBM Corp. scientists shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for building the first scanning tunneling microscope that revealed the atomic landscape to viewers. In making the award, the Nobel Committee paid tribute to the pioneering work of NIST physicist Russell Young. Fifteen years earlier, Young built the Topografiner, a novel microscope that surveyed surfaces nearly to the level of individual atoms.

Stanford and Harvard may boast of numerous Nobel Laureates among their alumni, but they probably are not any prouder than Juniata College, a small, private college of liberal arts and sciences in central Pennsylvania with an enrollment of just over 1,000. The college celebrated its first and only Nobelist in 1997 when alumnus William D. Phillips, a NIST fellow, shared the Physics Prize that year.

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Editor: Michael E. Newman
HTML conversion: Crissy Robinson
Last update: July 14, 2000
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