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In This Issue:
bullet Everyday is SUNday Inside the Sphere
bullet Live on the Internet, It's the Panama Canal!
bullet Louisiana Center Helps Houseboat Firm Sail on the Sea of Success
bullet Mr. Gorbachev, Please Don't Tear Down This Wall!
bullet NIST Makes Measureable Improvements in Mammography
bullet If the Phone Rings Before Dawn in October, Hope It's Sweden Calling
bullet Tech Trivia

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Everyday is SUNday Inside the Sphere

A new car’s brilliant finish fades, roofing shingles degrade and weatherstripping cracks. The culprit: the sun’s ultra-violet rays. Strength, safety and color fastness are important to manufacturers who test their products’ ability to withstand UV exposure in two ways—vast open-sky arrays in sun-drenched sites or artificial ultraviolet weathering chambers. Outdoor tests take too long, often stretching for several years. Indoor devices can accelerate the testing process but do not always provide optimal results.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed a spherical device that distributes UV radiation uniformly into 32 external specimen chambers, ensuring repeatability and reproducibility of test results. The device is calculated to accelerate UV exposure 30 to 65 times faster than natural solar exposure.

The hollow, two-meter diameter aluminum sphere is lined with highly reflective poly(tetrafluoroethylene). Sealed quartz tube bulbs are arranged uniformly around an opening at the top. Microwave energy heats the gases inside the bulbs to form a high-temperature plasma. The plasma radiates up to 1800 watts of ultraviolet light into the sphere and back out into its specimen chambers.

Materials exposed to the sphere’s UV light for one day potentially receive the equivalent of 65 days of sun. Two months could equal more than 10 years of solar exposure. The sphere’s design allows researchers to test different samples of the same material under precisely the same UV light conditions in separate specimen chambers, each of which can be set for different temperatures, humidities and physical stresses.

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



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Technology Innovation

Live on the Internet, It's the Panama Canal!

Cutting-edge technology for sending live, high-quality digital images over data networks is making security monitoring more effective, as well as offering conveniences—such as Internet access to the images—not associated with traditional visual surveillance methods. The digital system is one of the commercial products based on video compression and decompression (codec) technology developed by Cubic Video Technologies Inc. (San Diego, Calif.) with co-funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Advanced Technology Program.

The codec condenses the large amounts of data in an image, making transmission practical, and then reconstitutes the image at the receiver. In the ATP project, Cubic developed a new codec concept, writing and testing the algorithms to implement it. In a critical advance, the algorithms were written to prevent network anomalies, such as “packets” of data being lost or misplaced. This ensures that image frames will not be missing or out of order.

Originally demonstrated in the New York City subway system, Cubic’s system is currently keeping tabs on a variety of situations, including Indiana schools, ships transiting the Panama Canal, and electronic commerce sites across the nation.

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


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Small Business

Louisiana Center Helps Houseboat Firm Sail on the Sea of Success

Ray Guidry, owner of Party Campers in Cecilia, La., was disappointed with the performance of his web site. Party Campers manufactures unique trailer houseboats that feature the wide-open area of a party boat with the security of a traditional houseboat. Guidry had hoped his voyage onto the World Wide Web would attract new customers for his “floating RVs,” but it was getting few hits and generating zero sales.

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana, an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership network, offered Guidry and his three-person company the opportunity to participate in its eBusiness services. Under the eBusiness program, MEPoL would house his web site and make weekly submissions to some 2,500 search engines.

Since MEPoL began hosting Guidry’s web site (www.partycamper.com), web site hits and phone inquiries based on web site visits have increased significantly, leading to improved sales. Additionally, MEPoL’s weekly submission of the site address to search engines has kept Party Camper’s site continually in the top 15 when a web browser uses a key word search, such as pontoon houseboats.

For further information on MEPoL and its assistance to Party Campers, contact Danielle Pontiff, (337) 482-6764. Small manufacturers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico can reach their local NIST MEP affiliate by calling (800) MEP-4MFG

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


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Mr. Gorbachev, Please Don't Tear Down This Wall!

It may lack the historical significance of an ancient Mayan ballcourt, Hadrian’s Wall or the Great Wall of China, but for predicting the effects of weathering on different types of building stones, nothing beats the Stone Test Wall at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) constructed the 12-meter-long-by-4- meter-high (37-foot-by-12-foot) outdoor wall in Washington, D.C., in 1948 to answer questions concerning the durability of common American building stones used in monuments and commercial and government buildings. Most of the wall’s 2,300 stones came from samples collected and displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. For comparative purposes, NBS stored unexposed specimens of the same stones.

The 32-metric-ton (35-ton) wall was moved intact to NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus in 1977. For 52 years, it has illustrated the weathering effects of frost and acid on individual stone types as well as degradations due to thermal and moisture expansion and shrinkage.

Last month, the pioneering research experiment went high tech. With an online visit to http://stonewall.nist.gov, builders can access the “virtual” NIST Stone Test Wall and a growing database on the individual stones it holds.

NIST researchers plan to expand the database with detailed petrologic studies that relate each stone’s mineralogical and texture attributes to its weathering and durability performance. Pictures of well-known buildings constructed with specific stones also will be available.

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


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NIST Makes Measureable Improvements in Mammography

Mammograms have become significantly more accurate during the past decade due to a variety of clinical improvements, including several from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. For example:

  • Women undergoing mammography exams at accredited U.S. clinics are assured of receiving proper X-ray exposure due to a NIST mammography radiation standard and instrument calibration facility.
  • A NIST-patented device could help improve image quality in mammography by calibrating the electrical voltage that generates X-rays in a mammography unit. This tells radiologists whether the actual amount voltage agrees with the prescribed voltage.
  • An advanced digital mammography system, now commercially available from GE Medical Systems, offers greater sensitivity and image quality than conventional mammography. Co-funding under NIST’s Advanced Technology Program helped GE and partner Perkin Elmer develop a new manufacturing process to dramatically reduce the cost of making detector panels for the system.

NIST innovations have helped improve many other areas of medicine from diagnostic tests and treatments to manufacturing and quality of health-care products. See the fact sheet, “A Measure of Confidence: NIST and Quality in Health Care.”

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


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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.

If the Phone Rings Before Dawn in October, Hope It's Sweden Calling

It was 3:30 a.m. on Oct. 15, 1997, when the phone rang in the California hotel room of William Phillips, a National Institute of Standards and Technology physicist. He would say later that day that it was the best wakeup call he—and NIST—ever got.

The pre-dawn caller, you see, was from Stockholm, Sweden, and the message was that Phillips had just been named to receive the 1997 Nobel Physics Prize. Along with co-winners Steven Chu of Stanford University and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji of France, Phillips was recognized for advancing basic knowledge and new techniques using laser light to trap and chill atoms to extremely low temperatures.

At room temperature, atoms in the air zoom around and bounce off each other at nearly the speed of sound, or hundreds of meters per second. Obviously, it’s much easier to measure certain atomic properties when the atoms are moving slowly or are nearly still.

Since the late 1970s, Phillips and his NIST team have developed ways to chill atoms close to absolute zero (the temperature at which atomic motion ceases), allowing scientists to bring atoms to a crawl—just a few millimeters per second.

The research has enable the design and construction of one of the world's most accurate time pieces, NIST F-1 cesium fountain atomic clock, which is the nation's time and frequency standard. In other experiments at NIST, laser cooling and trapping has been used to achieve a new state of matter. Some day, this research may lead to practical advances such as quantum computers capable of processing information in unique ways.

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


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Tech Trivia

Weather forecasting was vastly improved in 1936 when NIST built a radiosonde, a balloon-borne instrument that increased the range and quantity of available weather data by transmitting information on cloud height and thickness, temperature, pressure and other phenomena. Radiosondes still are used today.

Cryogenic refrigerators and the world's largest hydrogen liquefier are among the novel technologies resulting from NIST research on cryogenics, a branch of physics dealing with the production and effects of very low temperatures. This research contributed to the scientific, military, aerospace, industrial and medical fields.

Products ranging from compact disk players to missile guidance systems are made worldwide with voltmeters that are calibrated using a standard based on technology developed by NIST in the 1980s. The now well-established standard for the volt, which made use of a single, simple equation of physics, was more accurate, more stable and much easier to use than its predecessors.

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Editor: Michael E. Newman
HTML conversion: Crissy Robinson
Last update: January 24, 2001
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