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June 2001

In This Issue:
bullet From Curves to Corked Bats: NIST Helps America ‘Play Ball’
bullet NIST, Partners ‘Booting Up’ Tomorrow’s Smart Workplace
bullet Controlled Blazes May Help Make College Life Safer
bullet NIST Biomedical Standards Say ‘Here’s to Your Health!’
bullet From the Start, NIST Has Helped Optoelectronics Improve Our Lives
bullet For the Time of Your Life, Call NIST
bullet Tech Trivia

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CentennialBaseball Photo of Briggs

From Curves to Corked Bats: NIST Helps America ‘Play Ball’

A new addition to the Centennial web site for the National Institute of Standards and Technology will be a hit with baseball fans from Boston to Seattle. Titled “NIST and the American Pastime,” this historical page ( describes the surprising connections between the federal government’s first physical science laboratory and the sport from the diamond.

Visitors can learn how Lyman Briggs, director of NIST’s predecessor, the National Bureau of Standards from 1933 to 1945, scientifically addressed a World War II concern of major league batters. Batters thought that all-cork-center baseballs—used to replace the previous rubber-cushioned cork center balls when rubber supplies were at a premium—were less lively. “A hard-hit fly ball with a 1943 center,” he reported, “might be expected to fall about 30 feet [9 meters] shorter than the prewar ball hit under the same conditions.”

The new web page also details the famous research conducted in the late 1950s by the then-retired Briggs on the physics of the curve ball. Using wind tunnels and pitchers from the Washington Senators, Briggs demonstrated that a thrown ball can curve up to 17-1/2 inches (44-1/2 centimeters) over the 60.5 feet (18.4 meters) that separate pitcher and batter. Briggs revealed that it was the ball’s spin, rather than speed, that caused it to break.

Other featured NIST links to baseball include investigations of corked bats, better radio signals for game broadcasts and innovations in light-emitting diode displays that make today’s spectacular full-color scoreboards possible.

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



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Information Technology

NIST, Partners ‘Booting Up’ Tomorrow’s Smart Workplace

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in cooperation with U.S. information technology companies are prototyping the office of the future and developing the infrastructure that will one day make it a reality.

The NIST Smart Space Laboratory is a simulated work environment where software and hardware are blended to give people unprecedented levels of access to computers. One project uses audiovisual technology to allow computers to participate in a meeting. An array of microphones in the system can identify which person is speaking by voice patterns and then transcribe what he or she says. Video cameras also can be incorporated to continually scan the room for a visual record of the proceedings.

In another project, a person speaks to a computer to access stored information or the Internet. If a voice identification program gives the okay, the computer lets the person through.

The NIST Smart Space Laboratory makes use of numerous aspects of pervasive computing—the convergence of computers, wireless devices, sensors that “see” and “hear,” and the Internet so that people use their machines in a natural, unobtrusive way. The smart office research focuses on how machines and sensors can work together in an office environment—data that soon may help to overcome the challenges involved in integrating such tools into a cohesive network.

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


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Fire Research

Controlled Blazes May Help Make College Life Safer

For researchers of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, burning abandoned residence halls isn’t a form of protest, it’s a test for saving lives. Last September, NIST fire engineers set fire to a condemned barracks at a South Carolina Air Force base to study fire behavior in a dormitory setting. This summer, they will conduct fire tests in a scheduled-for- demolition residence hall at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Ark., as part of a U.S. Fire Administration initiative to demonstrate how fire sprinklers can improve fire safety in college housing.

Buildings with an automatic sprinkler system have excellent fire safety records, yet fewer than 25 percent of the dormitories in this country have the devices installed. In the Arkansas study, a NIST team will set fire to four dorm rooms, two of which will have sprinklers installed beforehand. The experiment will examine rooms with both closed and open doors. Data on temperature, carbon monoxide and oxygen readings will be collected from sensors both inside and outside of the rooms. The data will define the hazards created during a dorm room fire, determine how rapidly a fire spreads when unchecked and reveal how effectively sprinkler protection lessens the threat.

USFA is committed to helping college and university officials recognize the important role sprinklers have in their fire safety plans. The University of Arkansas is the first university to participate in these fire studies.

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


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NIST Biomedical Standards Say ‘Here’s to Your Health!’

Blood and urine tests play a critical role in medical diagnosis. Yet, can the results be trusted? False negatives can lead to untreated disease, while false positives can incur unnecessary treatments. And results may vary from one laboratory to another, necessitating costly retesting. Responding to the challenge, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been applying its expertise in basic chemical analysis and measurement techniques to promote accurate results in the clinical laboratory.

For a number of years, NIST scientists have been developing pure reference compounds, known as Standard Reference Materials (SRMs), for biochemical markers. Back in 1967, they came up with the first pure crystalline compound of cholesterol and since have developed definitive methods for measuring the substance in blood. Laboratory instrument manufacturers use SRMs as quality controls to assure consistency in results.

Today, NIST maintains and continues to refine definitive methods for 12 health status markers—calcium, chloride, cholesterol, creatinine, glucose, lithium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, triglycerides, urea and uric acid. NIST also provides SRMs for other markers including vitamins A and E and beta-carotene. More biomedical SRMs and reference methods are in the development pipeline such as cardiac troponin, thyroid-stimulating hormone, prostate-specific antigen and cortisol.

The bottom line? More accurate measurements lead to better diagnosis, which translates into more cost-effective and improved health care overall.

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


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From the Start, NIST Has Helped Optoelectronics Improve Our Lives

Optoelectronics may not be a familiar word to most of us, but it’s definitely well known at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. For more than three decades, NIST researchers have helped make measurements and develop standards for the industry that combines electronics and optics—including lasers—for use in products and services. Examples include modern telephones, compact discs, laser printers and medical diagnostic equipment.

The market for optoelectronic components reached $70 billion in 2000; lasers alone accounted for $8.8 billion in sales that year. Obviously, a booming industry such as this has a strong need for reliable and cost-effective measurements. In fact, it is estimated that between 10 and 30 percent of the cost of producing an optoelectronic component is attributed to measurements, including those that support the manufacturing process and those that support product specifications.

The first NIST primary standard for laser measurements was developed in 1965. Today, the agency maintains seven primary standards for measuring laser power and energy. NIST also was involved with the optical communications industry at the very beginning. Its work on the characterization of optical fiber began in 1976, just as telephone companies around the world were beginning to test optical communication systems in the field. Over the years, NIST has developed a series of standards to help this industry flourish.

Today, NIST maintains the broadest range of measurement capabilities of optoelectronics of any national measurement laboratory. In some areas, it is the only laboratory able to provide traceability, and it makes those services available throughout the world.

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


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Time and Frequency

For the Time of Your Life, Call NIST

Don’t ever say we don’t have time for you.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has lots of different ways to satisfy your (and the rock band Chicago’s) need to “really know what time it is”:

  • If you have one of those radio-controlled clocks or watches that automatically sets itself, NIST’s WWVB radio station in Colorado is now back on the air at a full 50 kilowatts of power after an extended period of reduced strength while a broken antenna was repaired.
  • Shortwave buffs can tune into WWV and WWVH, broadcasting time signals around the clock on frequencies between 2.5 and 20 megahertz. This includes time announcements, standard time intervals, marine storm warnings and Global Positioning System status reports.
  • Time broadcasts also can be heard on the telephone for the price of a long-distance call. The two numbers are (303) 499-7111 for a simulcast of WWV in Colorado and (808) 335-4363 for WWVH announcements from Hawaii.
  • Finally, check out; it will show you the time according to NIST-F1, one of the world’s most accurate atomic clocks.

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


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Tech Trivia

To develop law enforcement standards that would be useful to state and local police nationwide, NIST established its Law Enforcement Standards Laboratory (known today as the Office of Law Enforcement Standards) in 1971. In its first four years, the lab completed more than 45 projects, some two dozen reports, 18 performance standards, two Standard Reference Materials and a user’s guide.

Among the first accomplishments for the lab in the 1970s: performance standards for courtroom audiovisual recordings, handcuffs, helmets and body armor; a Standard Reference Material for forensic laboratory analysis of automotive paint that included 140 accuracy-certified samples; and an investigation that revealed typical burglar alarm systems gave up to 99 percent false alarm rates (usually because of operator error).

Today’s OLES continues to help the nation’s law enforcement officers. Last year, a fourth revision of the standard for ballistic-resistant body armor (more commonly but incorrectly called bullet-proof vests) was issued, along with the first performance criteria for stab-resistant protective garments. Since the first use of body armor meeting NIST-developed standards in 1975, the lives of more than 2,500 officers have been saved.

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Editor: Michael E. Newman

Date created: 6/2501
Last updated: 7/13/01
Page maintained by Crissy Robinson