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May 2001

In This Issue:
bullet NIST Posts New Web Site: No One Over 18 Admitted!
bullet Just Grape! NIST Excels in International Wine Testing
bullet NIST Research Helps Create New Treatment for Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
bullet No Cause for Alarm ... Unless It's for Real
bullet New System Being Developed to Detect Concealed Weapons
bullet NIST Team to Keep the Feds Ahead of Cyber Dangers
bullet Tech Trivia

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NIST Posts New Web Site: No One Over 18 Admitted!

A new National Institute of Standards and Technology web site gives fourth- to eighth-grade students a fun way to learn about measurements, science and technology. Found at, the new site lets children explore the research, programs and impacts of NIST through a variety of educational games and activities.

The “Taking America’s Measure” web site is part of NIST’s year-long observance of its centennial (see the web site at NIST was founded as the National Bureau of Standards, the nation’s first physical science laboratory, in 1901.

Among the activities available for kids on the new web site are a search for eight hidden “measurement siblings” to learn about prefixes used in the International System of Units; riddles highlighting NIST achievements during its first century; a hidden pictures page; a NIST scrambled word puzzle; a crossword puzzle on measurement; a NIST “metric pyramid” that can be downloaded, cut out and assembled; and a hunt for 25 hidden words in a “Find NIST in Your Home” word search. The words used in the last activity are all names of household items that are supported by NIST. For example, cars, CD players and cell phones all rely on accurate measurements made at the agency.

Also available from NIST is a printed brochure that features many of the same activities found on the kid’s web site. To obtain copies, email your request with a mailing address to, or call (301) 975-NIST (6478).

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



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ChemistryWine testing at NIST

Just Grape! NIST Excels in International Wine Testing

National Institute of Standards and Technology chemists recently demonstrated that their measurements of lead in wine are among the best in the world. NIST’s effort was part of an international pilot study of how accurately 14 national measurement institutes around the world measured the hazardous metal in wine. The participants’ results agreed very closely with the exact level of lead in wine samples provided by the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements in Geel, Belgium.

NIST chemists quantified the trace amounts of lead in wine in a new clean room facility in the Advanced Chemical Sciences Laboratory at the agency’s headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md. This clean room has specially designed air-handling and workspace structures to substantially reduce metal contamination from the environment, while the air is continuously filtered to remove particles. These features allow scientists to keep samples in their original state and better quantify the lead and other metals within them.

The lead in wine study will help prevent measurement disagreements from becoming barriers to U.S. wine producers who wish to export their products overseas. International measurement comparisons are important for global trade because any country potentially could require proof that imports—especially imported foods and beverages—are sufficiently free of toxic elements and have been measured against reliable standards.

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


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NIST Research Helps Create New Treatment for Abnormal Uterine Bleeding

Abnormal uterine bleeding, defined as bleeding outside the regular monthly menstrual periods of non-pregnant women, is a common, troublesome ailment. Treatments for this condition include a thermal balloon procedure suitable only for a limited number of patients, hormone therapy or hysterectomy. A new procedure, based in part on National Institute of Standards and Technology research, in which the abnormal bleeding is curtailed by freezing problem tissue was recently approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

The new procedure, which can be done on an outpatient basis, results from a cooperative research and development agreement between NIST and CryoGen Inc., a San Diego-based medical device company.

NIST scientist Ray Radebaugh, along with colleagues Eric Marquardt and Marcia Huber, designed a catheter that can reach temperatures of minus 150 degrees Celsius (minus 238 degrees Fahrenheit) and minus 190 degrees Celsius (minus 310 degrees Fahrenheit) at the tip. The technology originally was created to freeze abnormal heart tissue and prevent arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).

The cryogenic probe is inserted via the cervix into the uterus where one side receives a four-minute freeze and the other side a six-minute freeze. Ultrasound helps the technician place the probe for a good result. According to a review in Family Practice News, the treatment was successful in clinical trials, with patients typically discharged 30 minutes after the procedure and with nearly all returning to work the following day.

Media Contact:
Fred McGehan Boulder,  (303) 497-3246


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Fire ResearchTesting smoke detector sensors

No Cause for Alarm ... Unless It's for Real

For whom—or more importantly, for what—does the fire or smoke detector bell toll (or shriek or beep)? Sometimes, it tolls for nothing, at least nothing dangerous.

Too often, false detector alarms—whether from stray fumes, burnt toast or even a cigar—cause people to ignore or deactivate these life-saving devices. Fire researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are studying sensor alarm thresholds to help manufacturers build “smarter” multisensor detectors that sound off only to real fire and smoke dangers. The project is sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Healthy Homes Initiative program.

In stage one of the project, researchers in NIST’s Building and Fire Research Laboratory exposed carbon monoxide sensors, photoelectric and ionization smoke sensors, and thermal heat sensors to various stimuli in a wind tunnel. Sensor responses to stimuli such as flaming fire, smoldering cotton, cigarette smoke, smoke from bread toasting and dust were obtained. Data were used to derive a mathematical formula that could lead to a combined carbon monoxide/smoke detector that can discern dangerous fire and smoke conditions from non-threatening activities.

Next summer, the researchers will test prototypes of the combined CO/smoke sensor packages in 50 high-rise apartments and single-family homes.

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


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New System Being Developed to Detect Concealed Weapons

Suppose there’s an unruly crowd where law enforcement officers have reason to believe some members are carrying concealed weapons—guns, knives, perhaps even plastic explosives. Word goes out over the police radio to bring an unmarked, nondescript van up to within 10 meters of the shouting demonstrators.

Within minutes of the van’s arrival, the armed personnel are identified and captured before they have a chance to use their weapons. Far fetched? Not if a new technology under development by the National Institute of Standards and Technology proves successful.

Working with funding from the National Institute of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration, members of NIST’s Electromagnetic Technology Division in Boulder, Colo., have been testing individual components of a system designed to reveal concealed weapons in a crowd.

The technology involves a radar-like apparatus that would illuminate a group with low-level electromagnetic waves. Clothing is transparent to the waves but objects concealed beneath the clothing are not. Images of guns, knives and plastic explosives are reflected back to the NIST device, then directed through a set of optics which focus the radiation onto an array of 8-centimeter (3-inch) silicon wafers with millimeter-wave antennas attached. The antennas are so tiny that 120 can fit onto a single wafer. An electronics package converts the concentrated electromagnetic radiation into images, and these are projected onto a laptop computer screen.

The researchers are hoping to have a prototype of the weapons detector ready for testing by year’s end.

Media Contact:
Fred McGehan Boulder,  (303) 497-3246


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Computer Security

NIST Team to Keep the Feds Ahead of Cyber Dangers

A team of computer security experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology soon will be available to help federal agencies navigate through the dangers of cyberspace.

The newly formed Computer Security Expert Assist Team (known as CSEAT) will help agencies to assess their vulnerability to hackers, viruses and a variety of other threats. The team will be staffed by members of the Computer Security Division of NIST’s Information Technology Laboratory. NIST long has been active in information technology security efforts ranging from developing information scrambling (encryption) standards to identifying ways to make the Internet more secure.

NIST’s expert team will help government offices improve their computers in order to reduce disruption of critical federal computer systems. Agencies served by CSEAT will learn how to protect their computer systems, how to identify and fix existing vulnerabilities, and how to anticipate and prepare for future security threats. Additionally, the CSEAT team plans to identify the most successful computer security practices in government and industry, and educate agencies about which approaches work best.

NIST will give the highest priority to emergency requests and assistance for critical computer systems in federal agencies. The team expects to begin operations by the end of June 2001. The team may be reached via electronic mail at

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


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Tech Trivia

NIST's first permanent woman employee, Grace C.U. McDermut, joined the agency in 1904 (three years after its founding) as a laboratory aid in the Office of Weights and Measures. McDermut had previously broken another "gender barrier" at the Colorado School of Mines where she was the first woman graduated. She retired from NIST's Mechanics Division in 1952.

Among the notable female scientists during NIST's first century were Marilyn Jacox, an expert in the spectroscopy of free radicals and molecular ions; Mary Natrella, author of Experimental Statistics, one of NIST's most frequently cited publications; Charlotte Moore Sitterly, responsible for the compilation of Atomic Energy Levels, volumes of critically edited data on atomic spectra; and Katharine Gebbie, current director of NIST's Physics Laboratory.

NIST's first woman director, Arati Prabhakar, served from 1993 until 1997. Prabhakar came to NIST after heading up the Microelectronics Technology Office at the Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. She also was the first woman to earn a doctorate in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology.

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Editor: Michael E. Newman

Date created: 5/2301
Last updated: 5/30/01
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