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In This Issue:
bullet NIST Simulates Urban Destruction to Test Mechanical Searchers
bullet NIST Taming Atoms to Power Future Super Computers
bullet One Modeling Software Does the Trick for Two Famous Structures
bullet Chilly Willee Freezes Costs with Help from Illinois MEP Center
bullet Quality Metal Detectors Are Easier to Find, Thanks to NIST
bullet When Mother Nature's at Her Worst, NIST is Often at Its Best
bullet Tech Trivia

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NIST Simulates Urban Destruction to Test Mechanical Searchers

For the sake of science, robotics researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology carefully designed and built a scene of urban devastation. Now they are sharing it with the rest of the world.

NIST's re-creation of a collapsed building was put through its initial paces earlier this month in Austin, Texas, at the world's first competition for search-and-rescue robots.

Measuring 20 meters (66 feet) on a side, the square test course is composed of three successively more difficult modules. The first is interspersed with overturned furniture, closets with doors ajar, floors with a uniform surface, and occasional jutting walls. The third—and most challenging—features rubble blocking doorways; a buckled, about-to-collapse cinder-block wall; pipes, rebar and broken boards; a pancaked floor section; and floors with different textured surfaces.The intermediate module has two floors, a pancaked section and moderate difficulty for travel.

A variety of overt and hidden "targets" are strategically placed within the modules for robots to locate and identify. These include mannequins, infrared emitters (tuned to human body temperature), hoses that emit compressed air (to represent gas leaks) and recorded human sounds.

Competitions score a robots’ ability to maneuver through the “damaged building,” find and identify humans, place a package near a "victim," and then exit the structure.

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



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Quantum Computing

NIST Taming Atoms to Power Future Super Computers

A maze of mirrors and lenses directs laser beams around a circuitous path on a metal table in an unassuming laboratory building at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. A similar setup appears on a table 2,700 kilometers away at NIST’s other campus in Boulder, Colo. As haphazard as the arrangements appear, they are helping NIST scientists manipulate atoms at the quantum level. Their goal is to create quantum bits, or qubits, for futuristic quantum computers that could make today’s supercomputers look like a slide rule.

Quantum computing could potentially encode information in ways no eavesdropper could intercept. Quantum computing also can place massive amounts of information in a small number of qubits since it takes advantage of the peculiarities of the quantum nature of matter. The NIST experiments are seeking to entangle atoms in such a way that measuring the energy level of one would reveal the energy level of another, even if they happen to be widely separated. Physicists in NIST’s Colorado labs have demonstrated that it is possible to entangle four atoms (Nature, March 16, 2000). These physicists are now seeking to entangle greater numbers of atoms and are being joined in these endeavors by their colleagues in Maryland. The potential computing power for a quantum computer increases exponentially with the number of entangled particles, or qubits.

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

Collier Smith, Boulder (303) 497-3198Up


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Building Research

One Modeling Software Does the Trick for Two Famous Structures

What do the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site and New York's World Trade Center have in common?

Engineers at both locations used the same programming—the CONTAM airflow and indoor air quality simulation software from the National Institute of Standards and Technology—to analyze the ventilation and airflow in their complex, multizone structures, as well as predict the effects of potential design changes on these functions.

SRS is a DOE facility involved in the management of the nation's nuclear weapon stockpile and the recycling of nuclear materials. NIST researchers assisted Westinghouse (manager of SRS) engineers in developing an airflow computer model of the facility that includes two separate buildings, a large number of ventilation and filtration systems, and a series of laboratory exhaust hoods. CONTAM has been credited with effectively displaying the limitations of the current ventilation system, along with revealing that extensive duct modification would be needed to support proposed renovations.

In New York, fire science engineers from Hughes Associates Inc. used CONTAM to analyze various fire safety issues related to upcoming modifications at the World Trade Center complex. CONTAM predicted the performance of the planned smoke control system, providing data that allowed engineers to simplify the operation. Additionally, various scenarios were computer modeled to study the fire response of potential structural design changes within the building.

A new upgraded CONTAM program for Windows™ is now available for downloading from NIST at www.bfrl.nist.gov/IAQanalysis/CONTAMWdesc.htm.

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


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Chilly Willee Freezes Costs with Help from Illinois MEP Center

Few things are more enjoyable on a hot, summer day than a frozen fruit drink.
But, Bernie Barc, chief executive officer of Chilly Willee, the company that produces machines that dispense a frozen concoction, was getting complaints from customers about maintenance problems. The machines manufactured by Barc’s Belvidere, Ill., company are located primarily in convenience stores and concession stands and often are operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a result, gearbox parts required frequent maintenance and replacement.

Barc contacted the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center—an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership national network of assistance centers for small manufacturers—for help in designing an improved gearbox. IMEC and a local engineering consultant,
Creative Design Solutions Inc., developed a self-lubricating, virtually maintenance-free gearbox. Barc says the new design will save about $15,000 in annual labor costs, decrease downtime of the machines and increase customer satisfaction.

“Our plan is to expand our customer base … into schools and shopping malls. Having a maintenance-free machine will make it that much easier,” said Barc.

Small manufacturers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico can reach their local NIST MEP affiliate by calling (800) MEP-4MFG (637-4634).

Media Contact:
Jan Kosko , (301) 975-2767Up


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Law Enforcement

Quality Metal Detectors Are Easier to Find, Thanks to NIST

Metal detectors—commonly found in places such as airports and courthouses—produce magnetic fields that interact with metallic weapons or other
hidden metallic contraband items, a quality that can be measured or used to generate an alarm. These devices must be able to detect such metal objects repeatedly and often in rapid succession. They also have to generate fields strong enough to do the job without disturbing medical electronic devices such as implanted cardiac defibrillators.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have completed work on new performance standards and operational requirements for both walk-through and hand-held metal detectors. Several federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and dozens of state and local law enforcement and corrections agencies, contributed ideas to the project.

The researchers created a sophisticated measurement system that employs specialized computer software to evaluate detector effectiveness. Test objects also were developed to duplicate the response of various threat items, such as razor blades, handguns and handcuff keys.

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


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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.

When Mother Nature's at Her Worst, NIST is Often at Its Best

Rip the month of August off the wall calendar in July?

It’s a wonder that this isn't standard practice for the scientists and engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology who investigate structural failures caused by natural forces (as well as those resulting from errors in design and construction or material flaws). In the past 33 years, it seems that assessment teams from NIST (and its predecessor, the National Bureau of Standards) have spent more than their fair share of Augusts poring through debris and devastation in the hopes of learning why some structures come down while others stay up.

Summer’s final month has seen NIST crews in the field following a massive flood in Alaska in 1967, Hurricane Camille's rampage through Mississippi in 1969, a even-greater destructive sweep of the South by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and a magnitude 7.4 earthquake in Turkey in 1999. And within days—sometimes hours—after the high winds, deluges or tremors subsided, the NIST investigators were hard at work trying to put together a puzzle with twisted, shattered or missing pieces.

Typically, the on-site work is followed up by reviews of drawings, specifications and inspection reports of structures to determine the conditions before failure occurred.

Extensive laboratory tests are conducted on materials to determine physical properties. The investigators also may fabricate replicas or use computer modeling to analyze and predict the behavior of structure parts.

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


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Tech Trivia

The oldest alumnus of the National Bureau of Standards/National Institute of Standards and Technology was Frederick J. Schlink, an engineer who died in 1995 at age 104 after a long career that included his first research position after college at NBS from 1913 until 1920. Schlink was better known as a pioneer in consumerism, with two popular books in 1928 and 1933 fueling the movement for independent product testing.

The "Cal Ripken Iron Man" of NBS/NIST is still at work at age 95. Materials scientist Howard F. McMurdie started at NBS in 1928, retired in 1966 and has continued to work as a guest researcher since then-a career with the agency that stands at 72 years and counting. McMurdie spends several days a week at NIST's Gaithersburg, Md., headquarters editing books in the International Center for Refraction Data series.

The NBS/NIST laboratories in Boulder, Colo., lost their oldest alumnus this past February when Wilbert F. Snyder died at age 95. Snyder worked at NBS in Washington, D.C., from 1927 until 1954, and then moved to Boulder. From 1954 until 1969, he helped develop microwave measurement techniques and the physical standards to support them. After his retirement, Snyder worked as a guest researcher until 1987, completing a 60-year tenure at NBS/NIST.

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Editor: Michael E. Newman
HTML conversion: Crissy Robinson
Last update: August 9, 2000
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