In This Issue: Desert Wetlands? No Mirage, It's the Cutting Edge of Aquaculture NIST Measurements May Give the Heave-Ho to Frost-Heaving Damage Charters of Freedom Encasement Project Moves Forward Tunnels Make Accurate Wind-Speed Measurements a Breeze Montana MEP Center Deals Toilet Manufacturer a Royal Flush of Success In the Rockies' Shadow, Boulder Labs Achieve Mountainous Results Tech Trivia
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Desert Wetlands? No Mirage, It's the Cutting Edge of Aquaculture
The California desert around Palm Springs may not strike you as a likely spot for a thriving wetlands, but it's there nonetheless. The pond and bulrushes are the last stage of an innovative water-treatment system devised by Kent SeaTech (San Diego, Calif.) for its aquaculture (fish farm) facility.
Fish farms to raise striped bass have often been criticized for their heavy useand foulingof water. But Kent SeaTech wanted to change that. Working with partial support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program, the company developed a comprehensive waste-water treatment and recirculation system that reuses 80 percent of its water.
The system uses a combination of a fishthe tilapiathat thrives on the by-product solids of fish farming, to reduce the amount of solids in the water; a bacteria-based "reactor" to convert ammonia to nitrates; and the bulrush-laden artificial wetland, which converts the nitrates to nitrogen, controls pH and removes carbon.
Not only has the technology helped Kent SeaTech increase its production of striped bass to almost 4 million pounds a year, but the company now sells the (quite tasty) tilapia to Asian markets at nearly 100 percent profit.
Kent SeaTech is the first aquaculture operation in the western United States to use wetlands. Besides increasing fish production 40 percent, the company says its innovative design costs only a fifth as much as conventional sewage treatment and can be integrated with neighboring farms to provide lower cost water with moderate levels of useful plant nutrients.
Michael Baum, (301) 975-2763
NIST Measurements May Give the Heave-Ho to Frost-Heaving Damage
In the far north, a pingo is nature's equivalent of cold weather blister. Pingos are hills where the Arctic landscape heaves upward because of the freezing of ground water as it seeps upward. While pingos are benign, the same forces that create them cause major headaches in another part of the wintry neighborhood.
Lifting and cracking of buildings and paved surfaces, such as airport runways, pose a special challenge for facilities in cold climates. To help combat the problem, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are studying the behavior of supercooled salt solutions as models of the cold ground water involved in frost-heaving.
NIST has developed the first precise measurements of the thermodynamic properties of supercooled salt solutions and has improved upon measurements for pure water. The goal: making engineering models more accurate.
Supercooled water is an unfrozen liquid at temperatures below zero. Damage to buildings and other infrastructure can occur when water rising from the soil underneath freezes. NIST's thermo-dynamic measurements of stable and supercooled water and salt solutions will enable engineers to gauge potential frost-heaving effects when designing structures to avoid damage.
Pamela Houghtaling, (301) 975-5745
Charters of Freedom Encasement Project Moves Forward
In March 1999, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Archives and Records Administration unveiled the manufacturing model of a planned state-of-the-art enclosure for the documents known the Charters of Freedomthe Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For NIST, the lead designer and manufacturer of the new case, it was a case of deja vu. Nearly 50 years before, NIST's predecessor, the National Bureau of Standards, had designed and built the current encasements.
In the 18 months since the unveiling, the effort to put the Charters in their lighter, stronger, leak-resistant and more-document-friendly cases by 2003 has passed a number of milestones. In February 2000, Archives staff sealed the first prototype case with the transmittal page of the U.S. Constitution safely inside, the first test of the technology involving one of the Charters documents.
Prototype two, an encasement with slight modifications from the original, rolled off the NIST production floor in July. In August, it received the second page of the Constitution. During the next three years, NIST will complete seven cases, two large and five small. One large model will house the Bill of Rights, while four of the small ones will hold the remaining artifacts. There will be one spare of each size.
For more information, go to the Charters of Freedom Encasement Project site on the World Wide Web at www.nist.gov/charters.
Michael Newman, (301) 975-3025
Tunnels Make Accurate Wind-Speed Measurements a Breeze
When its wind speed reaches 119 kilometers (74 miles) per hour, a tropical storm becomes a hurricane. At 211 kilometers (131 miles) per hour, the hurricane's strength escalates from category 3 to a category 4. To people and property in the storm's path, these aren't just numbers; data like these can be the difference between survival and devastation. So, how can weather professionals ensure that the readings of their instruments are accurate?
Enter the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Responsible for maintaining standards for air-speed measurements in the United States, NIST utilizes both a high-speed and low-speed tunnel to accomplish the task. Both were built in the 1970s.
The high-speed tunnel contains two test areasone whose cross section measures 1.5 meters by 2.1 meters (4.9 feet by 6.9 feet) and the other 1.5 meters by 1.2 meters (4.9 feet by 3.9 feet). Its motor can generate wind speeds between 3 and 75 meters per second (7 to 168 miles per hour). The low-speed tunnel is 1 meter by 1 meter (3 feet by 3 feet) and has a wind-generation speed between 0.2 and 10 meters per second (0.4 to 22 miles per hour).
NIST is putting its expertise in wind-speed measurement to work for indoor environments as well. The low-speed wind tunnel is used to study, document and develop standards for air exchange rates in structures such as mines, clean rooms and office buildings.
Pamela Houghtaling, (301) 975-5745
Montana MEP Center Deals Toilet Manufacturer a Royal Flush of Success
After several years of working on a very specialized product, Bill Phillips' invention has made it to the outdoor retailer marketplace thanks to help from the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, an affiliate of the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Phillips, an inventor and president of Phillips Environmental Products Inc., in Bozeman, Mont., had an idea for the PETTthe Portable Environmental Toiletand related accessories to help make storage and proper disposal of human waste easy and sanitary.
But to get his product to market, Phillips needed engineering and technical assistance. MMEC field engineers helped Phillips make the PETT lightweight, durable, hygienic and truly portable. The result is a device suitable not just for outdoor enthusiasts, says Phillips, but also for those involved in disaster services, utility companies, the military and other situations where access to sanitary facilities in the field is needed.
"MMEC was instrumental in expediting development by three to six months and saved us tens of thousands of dollars," said Mike Groff, vice-president of
For further information on MMEC and its assistance to Phillips, contact Deborah Nash, (406) 994-3812. 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
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.
In the Rockies' Shadow, Boulder Labs Achieve Mountainous Results
There's not much one can get for a dollar these days, but in 1950, it bought a 87-hectare (217-acre) site for the future National Bureau of Standards (predecessor to the National Institute of Standards and Technology) laboratories in Boulder, Colo. The Boulder Chamber of Commerce raised $90,000 to purchase the land and then sold it to the government for a buck.
On Sept. 6, 1950, Congress approved the Department of Commerce appropriation, including $4.3 million to begin construction on the western branch of NBS. (NBS headquarters were in Washington, D.C.) September was again important to the Boulder labs when on Sept. 14, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially dedicated the NBS complex.
In the 46 years since that time, the now-NIST Boulder Laboratories have expanded into other areas of scientific endeavor including cryoelectronics, lasers, opto-electronics, and atomic and molecular physics. The labs currently house about 430 scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel.
Perhaps the best-known resident of the Boulder Laboratories is the NIST F-1 cesium fountain atomic clock, the nation's official time and frequency standard.
The biggest scientific achievement out of Boulder? Most folks would probably say the 1995 first observation of the Bose-Einstein condensate, a fourth state of matter at ultracold temperatures.
Michael E. Newman, (301) 975-3025
In September 1911, the Popular Science Monthly magazine showcased the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) in a lengthy article. Among the noted achievements of the then-10-year-old agency: testing all of the cement made by the Atlas Cement Co. for the Panama Canal, some 6,000 barrels a day during peak production.
The magazine also described how NBS researchers were using a polariscope, a device that measured how much a substance in solution rotated polarized light from its normal plane, to determine the percentage of sugar in test solutions. Applied to the customs examination of imported sugars, the NBS system helped reduce test variance at five ports of entry and ensured that import fees were being calculated accurately.
A third NBS accomplishment recognized by the magazine was work in thermometry, the science of measuring temperatures. In the early 1900s, most American-made thermometers for very high temperatures varied by 30 to 40 percent. In addition, thermometers used by the physicians of the era were consistently unreliable. NBS researchers fixed temperature scales, which in turn, helped thermometer manufacturers produce more accurate instruments.