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In This Issue:
bullet New Book, Web Site Chronicle 100 Years of Service to America
bullet NIST Helps Ensure Well-Timed Sledding at Next Winter Olympics
bullet Rebuilding Bone with the Help of Technology
bullet NIST Designing Tests of Crash-Prevention Technology
bullet The Right 'Combination' Unlocks the Door to Advanced Materials
bullet Radiation Standards Helped X-Rays Do More Good than Harm
bullet Tech Trivia

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New Book, Web Site Chronicle 100 Years of Service to America

Consider some of the economy-building, life-improving advances of the past 100 years-image processing, DNA diagnostic "chips," smoke detectors, automated error-correcting software for machine tools, atomic clocks, the scanning tunneling microscope, pollution-control technology and high-speed dental drills-and then tell how they're all linked together. If you said the National Institute of Standards and Technology, move to the head of the class.

Founded on March 3, 1901, as the National Bureau of Standards, NIST was the federal government's first physical science research laboratory and has served throughout the century as a "behind-the-scenes" specialist for industry, science, government and the public. Its research, measurement tools and technical services are integrated deeply into many of the systems and operations that, collectively, drive the economy-manufacturing cells, satellite systems, communication and transportation networks, laboratories, factories, hospitals and businesses.

You can now explore the history of this pivotal agency, learning about NIST's major accomplishments and their impacts, in NIST at 100: Foundations for Progress, an extensive, illustrated book. Single printed copies may be requested by fax (301-926-1630) or e-mail (inquiries@ nist.gov). A full-color World Wide Web site, www.100.nist.gov, complements the printed text and provides links to additional material.

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



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Time and Frequency

NIST Helps Ensure Well-Timed Sledding at Next Winter Olympics

Traveling some 1,300 meters (4,300 feet) along the side of a mountain with a nearly 120-meter (400-foot) vertical drop, bobsled and luge racers reach some of the highest speeds of any Olympic competitors—up to 130-145 kilometers per hour (80-90 miles per hour). Since winners are often decided by mere milliseconds, the timing system for these events must be highly accurate and consistent.

That won’t be a problem at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Thanks to experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the timing system for the state-of-the-art run at Utah Olympic Park—home of the bobsled and luge events at the next Olympics—recently were calibrated against national time standards. The finish line and three starting lines—for the men’s luge, the women’s luge and the bobsled—were tested.

The calibration process used electronically controlled shutters activated by Global Positioning Satellite signals to simulate a racer’s breaking the infrared light beams at the start and finish lines. The track timer’s count was compared to the elapsed time measured by electronic systems that were directly traceable to the NIST atomic time scale (including the NIST F1 cesium fountain atomic clock in Boulder, Colo.) The results showed the timing system is capable of achieving an accuracy of better than plus-or-minus half a millisecond.

Media Contact:
Collier Smith Boulder, (303) 497-3198


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Rebuilding Bone with the Help of Technology

The combination of tissue engineering with materials science holds the promise of producing biomaterials capable of regenerating bone that has been broken or lost to disease. Tissue engineering provides replacement tissue in the form of a bio-material for a damaged area in the body. Researchers at the Paffenbarger Research Center in Gaithersburg, Md., a collaboration between the American Dental Association Health Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, are working to expand the use of bone repair material—primarily calcium phosphate cement—beyond what’s possible today.

Calcium phosphate cement, originally developed as a dental material, also has been commercialized for use in neurosurgical applications. For example, physicians can use it to rebuild part of a person’s face lost to cancer. The cement, which the body readily accepts, replaces a section of bone and serves as scaffolding around which new bone forms in the same shape. Use of this biomaterial is now limited to those areas of the body that do not move or bear any stress.

The ADA/NIST team hopes to expand these limited capabilities by modifying existing biomaterials and developing new ones. The goal is to produce materials that can handle the physical demands on bone where movement and stress are factors. As a result, dental implants—now requiring a lengthy procedure from placement to actual use—could be completed in days rather than months. In another example, bone cement injected in fluid form into a broken arm, knee or hip could reduce the time required for mending.

Media Contact:
Pamela Houghtaling,  (301) 975-5745


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Auto Safety

NIST Designing Tests of Crash-Prevention Technology

It happens more than 3,000 times a day. A weary driver begins to doze off or becomes distracted, his car drifts into the next lane or onto the shoulder and, then, there’s a crash, the kind that claims more than 10,000 lives a year.

Technology offers a potential solution to this problem. Already installed on some commercial trucks, lane-departure warning systems may be options for U.S. car buyers within the next two or three years. If this “smart” technology takes off and becomes widely available, the annual toll of damage and casualties could drop significantly. A study sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that the technology could prevent some 160,000 crashes and 1,500 deaths.

To ensure that the warning systems work as desired, NHTSA has contracted with intelligent-vehicle researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop tests that manufacturers and regulators can use to evaluate system performance. Building on a previous project, the NIST team will design tests for assessing how accurately and reliably the technology alerts drivers to unintended lane departures before they occur. The tests will simulate a wide range of environmental conditions—rain, snow and fog, for example—and crash scenarios. NIST’s many tasks include defining key performance variables and metrics, determining road features and other test-track requirements, specifying measurement equipment and procedures, verifying test-system performance, and recommending methods for presenting test results in a clear and consistent manner.

Media Contact:
Mark Bello,  (301) 975-3776Up


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Materials Science

The Right 'Combination' Unlocks the Door to Advanced Materials

New, more complex materials are increasingly in demand for applications in microelectronics, biotechnology and nanotechnology. The use of combinatorial methods—which comprise a special set of tools and techniques—enables scientists to conduct many experiments on many materials at the same time. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is using this methodology to learn more about materials and their structures, properties and processing—data which can help manufacturers accelerate the development of new materials.

Breaking away from the traditional one-at-a-time testing of materials, combinatorial methods allow researchers to rapidly explore a wide range of characteristics about a test material—in parallel and on a miniaturized scale—such as the effects of temperature, thickness and composition. Researchers can easily compare these characteristics, screening for what works and what doesn’t.

Two approaches characterize NIST’s involvement in combinatorial methods. “Combi for NIST” is the use of the method to enhance and accelerate NIST research in areas ranging from polymers and biomaterials to electronic and optical
inorganic materials. On the other side, “NIST for Combi” represents a growing effort to use the expertise gained at NIST to develop and validate research tools, establish standards and demonstrate applications of combinatorial methods for industry and academia.

Media Contact:
Pamela Houghtaling,  (301) 975-5745


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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.

Radiation Standards Helped X-Rays Do More Good than Harm

Nov. 8, 1895. In the laboratory of German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen, a ghost-like, flickering image appears at a great distance from a set of cathode ray instruments. The new form of invisible radiation, dubbed X-rays by Roentgen, is soon shown to have the ability to pass through solid matter and, in conjunction with a photographic plate, yield shadowy images of bones and the interior of the human body. The field of radiology is born.

Less than two decades after their discovery, X-rays were actively being used for medical diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, technicians operated their equipment empirically—and without lead shielding—at somewhat arbitrary voltages. In 1926, the Radiological Society of North America asked the National Institute of Standards and Technology to determine national standards for radium and X-rays used in diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. The institute developed a standard for X-ray equipment, which could be measured precisely, and produced the first quantitative data on X-ray doses in this country. On May 16, 1931, NIST published Handbook 15 to document the work. And in November of that year—almost exactly 36 years from the date X-rays were discovered—the Advisory Committee on X-Ray and Radium Protection officially adopted the first safety code to make their use safer. The code—based on NIST’s work—set guidelines for shielding of operating rooms and high-voltage equipment and for protective devices for patients and operators.

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


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Tech Trivia

During World War I, the NIST facility in Washington, D.C., had an officer of the day and a military watch for extra security. However, an unscheduled Sunday visit by President Woodrow Wilson, his wife and Commerce Secretary William Redfield in 1918 proved it needed improvement. Unable to enter a locked building where an all-metal plane was undergoing tests, Redfield found an unfastened window and all three VIPs climbed in to see the plane.

How to Own Your Home, a NIST handbook for prospective home buyers, appeared in the fall of 1923 and sold 100,000 copies the first week. It was reprinted in magazines and serialized in newspapers across the country. Eight years later, a companion volume, Care and Repair of the House, came out and was similarly serialized. The second publication sold half a million copies (at 20 cents each) from 1931 to 1940.

Reported for the most part in specialized publications, NIST research in 1915 in electricity, metallurgy, chemistry and other disciplines was known only in scientific circles. So, it came as a shock to NIST Director Samuel Stratton late in the year when the Secretary of Commerce told him that Thomas Edison, unaware of the fundamental research carried on at the agency, had suggested "that the federal government establish such a laboratory."

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Editor: Michael E. Newman
HTML conversion: Crissy Robinson
Last update: November 28, 2000
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