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January/February 2002

In This Issue:
bullet NIST Helps Ensure Well-Timed Sledding at Winter Olympics
bullet New Web Page Highlights NIST Efforts in Homeland Security
bullet New Evidence for Human Impact on Carbon Dioxide Levels
bullet Award-Winning ATP Project Helps Manufacturers Get a Grip
bullet NIST Helps U.S. Army Ensure Gas Mask Quality
bullet NIST, Automakers Steer Clear of Info Highway Barriers
bullet Tech Trivia

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Time and Frequency

NIST Helps Ensure Well-Timed Sledding at Winter Olympics

Sliding down the icy side of a mountain on steel runners, racers in the bobsled, luge and skeleton events reach some of the highest speeds of any Olympic Winter Games 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 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Thanks to experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the timing system for the state-of-the-art runs at Utah Olympic Park has been calibrated against national time standards. NIST also loaned special equipment to the Salt Lake Organizing Committee so that the timing systems can be recalibrated shortly before the opening ceremonies on Feb. 8, 2002.

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

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



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Fact Sheet

New Web Page Highlights NIST Efforts in Homeland Security

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is playing a key role in enhancing the nation’s ability to prevent and respond to terrorism. Through more than 75 ongoing and newly initiated research and standards development projects, NIST is helping the millions of individuals in law enforcement, military, science, emergency services, information technology, airport and building security, and other areas protect the American public from terrorist threats.

A new NIST Web page, “Technologies for Improved Homeland Security” (, provides a sampling of the NIST efforts related to improving homeland security. On the Web page, projects are grouped into four sections: Safer Structures and Secure Information Systems; Enhanced Threat Detection and Protection; Tools for Law Enforcement; and Emergency Response.

Links are provided to additional information on specific projects and programs, as well as related topics.

Also available from NIST is a printed version of the “Technologies for Improved Homeland Security” fact sheet. To obtain copies, e-mail your request with a mailing address to, or call (301) 975-NIST (6478).

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


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New Evidence for Human Impact on Carbon Dioxide Levels

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Arizona State University (ASU) have new, statistical evidence of the impact of human activity on rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Kevin J. Coakley of NIST and Randall S. Cerveny of ASU performed a statistical study of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii and at the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole. Their data study goes back to 1974 and 1975, respectively.

The researchers detected a seven-day cycle in carbon dioxide concentrations in Hawaii but not at the South Pole. On average, they found the highest CO2 concentrations in Hawaii were during weekdays and the lowest were during weekends. They attributed the apparently weekly cycle to air pollution emitted from either local traffic or transported to the observatory from more distant sources by winds.

“A weekly cycle in atmospheric CO2 records cannot be explained by natural variability. However, such a cycle can be attributed to human causes since the five-day workweek is an artifact of Western civilization,” Coakley and Cerveny said.

A paper based on the Coakley and Cerveny study will appear in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Review Letters.

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


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Technology Partnerships

Award-Winning ATP Project Helps Manufacturers Get a Grip

A better way to get a grip on your work has earned a “Technology of the Year” award from Industry Week magazine for researchers at Lamb Technicon Machining Systems (Warren, Mich.). In a project supported by the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Lamb Technicon (a UNOVA company) developed an innovative “flexible fixturing” system for manufacturing.

Precision machining requires that a part under production be clamped and located rigidly in place in the machine tool with micrometer accuracy. To do this, manufacturers custom-build precision clamps or 'fixtures” for each part. An automobile engine alone might require 100 different fixtures, at a cost of up to $5 million. The need to design and build a new fixture for every new or modified part adds significantly to the cost and time required to correct a design problem or change models.

Lamb Technicon’s Intelligent Fixturing System (IFS), by contrast, automatically adapts itself to any part within a family, a group of like parts with similar size. The system recognizes different parts automatically and positions each in the proper orientation for the machining process. The IFS can save automakers $30 to $50 per car, according to Lamb Technicon estimates, as well as simplify set-up, speed model change-overs, and economize the production of cars with low-volume demand.

Supported by a 1997 ATP award, the IFS was developed with help from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Michigan. The system is now in prototype.

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


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NIST Helps US Army Ensure Gas Mask Quality

If an enemy uses chemical or biological weapons on the battlefield, the US Army wants to be certain that its gas masks are able to properly protect American soldiers. A gas mask that does not fit well—from leaks around the edges, small holes in the mask or a malfunctioning filter—cannot do the job.

To identify such problems, the Army uses a commercial system that compares the concentration of airborne particulate matter inside a soldier’s mask while it is being worn with the ambient concentration of particles outside the mask. Ordinary small particles in the air serve as a stand-in for chemical or biological agents like mustard gas or anthrax since their flow behavior is very similar. Unfortunately, there is no standard reference material or method in place for verifying the accuracy of the measuring equipment to ensure that the particles are being properly counted.

Therefore, the Army is funding a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) project to standardize its gas mask testing procedure. NIST is utilizing a uniform particulate source that will consistently deliver 80 nanometer (or 125 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair) airborne particles for use in tests. Also in development—two independent methods to verify the accuracy of the test equipment—which together with the new particulate source will provide the needed validation.

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


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NIST, Automakers Steer Clear of Info Highway Barriers

Modern automobile production depends on the quick and consistent exchange of data between production plants, a worldwide chain of hundreds of suppliers, and multiple engineering and manufacturing teams. Dissimilar software formats, however, can inhibit easy data exchange, resulting in costly delays and sometimes even flawed parts. Such information exchange barriers are estimated to cost the US automotive industry at least $1 billion per year.

To combat the problem, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently awarded $300,000 to the Automobile Industry Action Group (AIAG) in Detroit. The funds support a pilot project to implement and demonstrate a new product data management (PDM) exchange standard that all parties could use to convey and manage vital information.

An individual automaker would not be motivated to undertake this effort alone with its suppliers, since the benefits would extend beyond that automaker. This NIST/AIAG pilot project will accelerate adoption of a PDM standard that will reduce data translation and exchange problems industry-wide. In the near-term, the project provides participants with the means to share technical data that are vital to successful global manufacturing.

The new PDM standard builds on the successful STandard for the Exchange of Product model data (STEP), developed by NIST and industry teams during the 1990s. AIAG will present a progress report on its efforts in June 2002.

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


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Tech Trivia

Haste makes waste, but during the 1920s, waste was made into a number of useful products by the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST). For example, in 1924, Bureau scientists compiled a “summary of the technical methods for the utilization of molasses” left behind after the processing of sugar from cane and beets. Ammonia, glycerine and potash were among the items recoverable from the waste molasses.

In 1926, the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) created a Division of Organic and Fibrous Materials. Funded by a special Congressional appropriation, the group’s purpose was to “investigate the utilization of waste products from the land.” The division later would develop recycled products such as wrapping paper from scrap manila rope fibers, fertilizer from cotton burrs and textile sizing from sweet potato starch.

Another project of the Division of Organic and Fibrous Materials was to synthesize the rare sugar xylose (useful then to both the medical field and the tanning industry) from farm wastes such as cottonseed hulls, corncobs and peanut shells. By 1929, National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) scientists had developed a process for making 100 pounds of 99.99-percent-pure xylose per day. It would be nearly 20 years before a faster and cheaper method was invented.

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Editor: Michael E. Newman

Date created: 2/1/02