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February 2001

In This Issue:
bullet Getting the Better of Einstein--For Once
bullet Students Help Renovate a Part of WWII--and NIST--History
bullet XCALIBIR Cuts a Path to Advanced Microchips
bullet Centers Can Help Small Manufacturers Save Energy, Dollars
bullet Firefighter Rescue Devices Checked for PASSing Grade
bullet 1904 Baltimore Disaster Made Standards a Hot Issue
bullet Tech Trivia

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Getting the Better of Einstein-For Once

Researchers at the NIST Boulder Laboratories have convincingly demonstrated one of the basic tenets of quantum mechanics (referred to as QM) and, in the process, refuted a concept embraced by Albert Einstein.

The NIST experiment—reported in Nature on Feb. 15, 2001—measured correlations between two massive entangled particles (singly ionized beryllium atoms).

QM holds that many properties of particles are not determined until they are measured or observed in some fashion, and also that two particles can be put into a condition whereby an observation of one of them is instantly transmitted (faster than the speed of light) to affect the other.
Einstein, along with his colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, believed that the quantum mechanical view of the universe was “incomplete” and proposed that there were “hidden variables” of some unknown nature that could explain the puzzling QM phenomena.

Previous tests of the hidden variable theory have been limited by two loopholes. One has to do with the possibility of an unknown signal passing between parts of the apparatus and contaminating results (called the “lightcone” or “locality” loophole), and the other with assumptions made about whether the measured results of an experiment were representative of all the results of that experiment (the “detection” or “fair sampling” loophole). In the NIST experiment, a measurement outcome was recorded for every run of the experiment, so that no assumptions had to be made about fair sampling, thus firmly closing the detection loophole.

Previous experiments by others eliminated the lightcone loophole but not the detection loophole.

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



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Students Help Renovate a Part of WWII-and NIST-HistoryCamera Icon

A forerunner of today’s “smart weapons,” the Bat of World War II was the first totally automated guided missile employed by the United States. Like its namesake which uses sonar (sound waves) for locating objects, the Bat emitted radar (radio waves) pulses that reflected off an enemy ship or other offshore object to target its path. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, then known as the National Bureau of Standards, was a major contributor in the missile’s development during the 1940s.

During the summer of 2000, the remains of a Bat missile were discovered in a NIST Gaithersburg, Md., warehouse. The 4-meter (12-foot) long, 3-meter (10-foot) wingspan flying bomb was tattered and worn after more than 50 years in storage, yet its fuselage, wings and tail assembly were still intact (the interior mechanisms including the warhead had been discarded years ago). NIST’s Office of Information Services, curator of the history museum at the agency’s Maryland headquarters, decided to add the Bat to its collection. But first, a renovation of the missile was in order.

Fortunately for NIST, a local academic institution, Frederick Community College, runs an aviation maintenance program that provided the needed expertise for the job. Students from FCC have been working with NIST staff since January to repair, clean, paint and reassemble the Bat. Completion of the project is expected by the first week in March.

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


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XCALIBIR Cuts a Path to Advanced Microchips

To build smaller and smaller microchips, one part of the semiconductor industry has to get larger. Silicon wafers—the high-tech canvases upon which multiple integrated circuits are printed—which predominately run about 200 millimeters (8 inches) in diameter, are beginning to appear in a 300-millimeter (12-inch) disk. A 300-millimeter disk means more than twice the number of chips can be built at a single time.

However, larger wafers demand exceedingly accurate measurements of flatness and thickness, while advanced lithography (printing) systems require accurate assessments of the curvature of the specialized lenses and mirrors used. And to make things even more difficult, the readings have to be consistently within 0.25 nanometer (10 billionths of an inch), equivalent to the diameter of one or two atoms.

Like its namesake, the fabled sword that won England for King Arthur, a National Institute of Standards and Technology-developed device called XCALIBIR (for X-Ray Optics CALIBration InterferometeR) may help the United States meet these needs and continue its leadership in the world's microelectronics realm.

Like the optician whose tools provide accurate data on lens thickness and curvature, XCALIBIR's operators hope to provide American semiconductor manufacturers with atomic-level measurements of their “eyeglasses”—the optics by which circuit patterns are affixed to silicon wafers. Achieving such precise measurements requires XCALIBIR to be housed in an enclosure that controls the temperature to within 0.05 degree Celsius. It also must sit atop a 15-metric ton (16-ton) granite table that suppresses measurement-upsetting vibrations.

The instrument currently is undergoing performance testing.

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


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Centers Can Help Small Manufacturers Save Energy, Dollars

Anyone who has opened an energy bill lately knows that the cost of energy, especially natural gas, is soaring. Manufacturers consume more than a quarter of the natural gas used in the United States and have been especially hard hit. Small manufacturers can find ways to reduce energy costs with help from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Here are two examples:

The Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a NIST MEP affiliate, helped Naturally Potatoes improve the energy efficiency of its state-of-the-art processing facility in Mars Hill, Maine. Naturally
Potatoes is a small producer of mashed, sliced, diced and whole potatoes for the institutional and retail markets. As a result of an energy audit conducted by MMEP, Naturally Potatoes is saving nearly $365,000 annually.

Using lean manufacturing techniques (where activities with no value added are eliminated), the Chicago Manufacturing Center, a NIST MEP affiliate, helped Allied Tube & Conduit in Harvey, Ill., find a way to reduce set-up time. Allied was producing five million feet of steel tubing in its mill each day, but set-up time to produce a different size tube was taking more than five hours. The Chicago center helped Allied cut its set-up time in half and reduce labor, energy and time costs by $2.5 million.

Companies can get help in reducing their energy costs—or improving their entire operation—by contacting the local NIST MEP affiliate. To reach any of the affiliates in the network serving all 50 states and Puerto Rico, call (800) MEP-4MFG (637-4634).

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


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Fire Safety

Firefighter Rescue Devices Checked for PASSing Grade

Each year hundreds of firefighters die or are seriously injured in building fires. Often they are overcome by smoke or heat before they can call for help. In an effort to locate trapped or incapacitated firefighters, many fire departments have equipped firefighter protective clothing with transistor radio-sized motion detectors called Personal Alert Safety System devices.

Sensors on the devices, first introduced in the early 1980s, register movement or lack of movement after a specific time period. A loud alarm signals a fallen firefighter and guides rescuers to his or her location. The PASS device’s usefulness should expand as advances in miniaturization and sensor technology are incorporated into the devices.

NIST Building and Fire Research Laboratory engineers, with the support of the U.S. Fire Administration, are assessing the current state-of-the-art in PASS technology and examining specific enhancements, which include elimination of false alarms, improved accuracy, linking to Global Positioning Systems and/or fire ground personnel tracking systems, and incorporating additional sensors, such as thermal sensors or toxic gas analyzers.

BFRL engineers are evaluating PASS devices from different vendors in laboratory tests, as well as in a series of controlled townhouse and apartment burns. Laboratory evaluations include controlled exposure in ovens (thermal radiation) and using an apparatus that shoots hot gases toward the device (convector heat). Controlled field burns include inserting instrumented mannequins into furnished rooms that are set afire.


Media Contact:
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.

1904 Baltimore Disaster Made Standards a Hot Issue

When Congress created the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) in March 1901, it hoped that the new agency would soon address the problem of divergent measurements and standards (such as eight different definitions of the gallon). Little did the legislators know that within three years, a very different—and more dramatic—need for standardization would provide the first test of the fledgling national laboratory’s ability to make a difference.

On the morning of Feb. 7, 1904, a fire broke out in a warehouse in the Baltimore harbor. As flames began spreading through the central business district, the Baltimore fire chief called for help from Washington, D.C. However, engine companies arriving by special train from the capital found themselves helpless when their hoses would not fit Baltimore hydrants. There was no standard thread size at the time for coupling hoses to hydrants. The blaze raged for a total of 30 hours and destroyed some 1,500 buildings over a 70-block area, while one by one, firefighting units from New York, Philadelphia, Annapolis, Wilmington, Atlantic City, Chester, York, Altoona and Harrisburg all arrived to find their efforts cursed by incompatible equipment.

Following the catastrophe, the Secretary of Commerce requested that NBS study the coupling problem. Before the investigation ended, more than 600 sizes and variations in fire-hose couplings were documented across the country. The following year, the National Fire Protection Association, with the assistance of the Bureau, adopted a national coupling standard along with an interchangeable device for non-standard couplings.

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


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Tech Trivia

The modern era of U.S. aviation was launched with NIST's help. Before World War I, U.S. military forces had only several dozen aircraft, all obsolete by European standards. Aviation instruments were sent to NIST for testing, and many were modified or overhauled before being adopted by the military. NIST also produced the first quantitative data on the power-producing qualities of fuels and the first serious U.S. studies of the aerodynamics of flight.

Gas lasers are among the inventions influenced by NIST research on spectroscopy, a technique for identifying and characterizing substances based on the characteristics of the emitted light, which depend on the energy levels of the atoms. Laser pioneers used Atomic Energy Levels, three volumes published by NIST between 1949 and 1958, which are still considered models of authenticated, verified and consistent spectroscopic data.

A sound ranging device developed by NIST was used toward the close of World War I to locate enemy artillery emplacements. The instrument timed the arrival of sound from each enemy firing at microphones placed along the Allied trench lines. An oscillogram found in 1962 at NIST’s former Washington, D.C., facility shows gunfire noise on Nov. 11, 1918, abruptly stopping as the Armistice went into effect at 11 a.m. It is the only known graphical record of the end of a war.

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Editor: Michael E. Newman

Date created: 2/20/01
Last updated: 3/7/01
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