'Pins' Down Imaging System for the Blind
is believing, unless youre blind or visually impaired. To
this group, the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST) says, feeling is believing.
scientists and engineers at NIST have created a tactile graphic
display that brings electronic images to the blind and visually
impaired in the same way that Braille makes words readable.
new imaging device was developed at NIST by the same research
team that recently created an electronic Braille reader. The reader
translates text from sources such as electronic books into Braille.
to its designers, the prototype graphic display conveys scanned
illustrations, map outlines or other graphical images to the fingertips,
and can translate images displayed on Internet Web pages or in
electronic books. It uses refreshable tactile graphic display
technology, allowing a person to feel a succession of images on
a reusable surface.
machine uses about 3,600 small pins that can be raised in any
pattern, and then locked into place for reading. The pins then
can be withdrawn and reset in a new pattern.
image is sent electronically to the device, which uses software
to determine how to create a tactile display that matches the
inspiration for the tactile graphic display came from a bed
of nails toy found in a novelty store. Watching the pins
in the toy depress under fingers and then return to their original
state started the NIST engineers thinking about how the principle
could be applied to electronic signals.
Bulman, (301) 975-5661
Helping Prepare an 'Out of This World' Atomic Clock
the worlds clocks from a timepiece far above the Earth
someday may be the norm if the National Institute of Standards
and Technology (NIST)-led program to put an atomic clock aboard
the International Space Station (ISS) proves successful. This
effort is part of the NASA-funded Primary Atomic Reference Clock
in Space (PARCS) mission, scheduled to fly on the ISS in early
be used to test gravitational theory, study laser-cooled atoms
in microgravity and explore ways to improve the accuracy of
timekeeping on Earth.
microgravity can be slowed to speeds significantly below those
used in atomic clocks on Earth, providing a predicted 10-fold
improvement in clock accuracy. (The current U.S. standard, the
NIST-F1 clock, is accurate to within one second in 30 million
years.) The PARCS space clock will be compared continuously
to the hydrogen maser, a fundmentally different clock, to provide
a test of an Einstein theory that predicts that two different
kinds of clocks in the same environment will keep the same time.
gravitational frequency shift, comparisons will be made between
the space clock and a clock on Earth. Signals conveyed to the
ground from such space clocks someday might serve as an international
time standard available to anyone around the world.
a cooperative effort involving NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL), NIST, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the
University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Torino
in Italy. JPL is leading the actual development of the space
McGehan (Boulder), (303) 497-7000
Standard Helps Make Software Easier to Use
drives people more crazy than software programs that are poorly
designed, inappropriate for specific tasks and, in general, difficult
to use. Employee frustration, wasted work time and decreased productivity
attributable to software that isnt usable can be costly
for both businesses and individuals.
help remedy the problem, computer scientists at the National Institute
of Standards and Technology (NIST) teamed with U.S. companies
to develop a standard way to test and evaluate software usability.
The product of the teams effort, the Common Industry Format
(CIF) for Usability Test Reports, recently was approved by the
American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
pilot studies by companies such as The Boeing Co., Oracle Corp.
and Microsoft Corp. have verified the new standards usefulness.
In fact, aerospace manufacturer Boeing partnered with Oracle,
a large supplier of database products, to conduct joint tests
of the CIF. This has resulted in software that both companies
agree is more effective.
that the value of the CIF has been demonstrated, NIST is considering
expanding its work to focus on improving usability of next-generation
computer devices such as handhelds.
learn more about the CIF, go to www.nist.gov/iusr.
Bulman, (301) 975-5661
Solving a Mystery Among Electrons
it comes to sleuthing in science, few are better than the intrepid
investigators at the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST). For example, take the Case of the Stray Electrons.
researchers have created nanoscale devices that manipulate electrons
in order to count them one at a time. Such counting is critical
to the development of new fundamental electrical standards. When
two electrons are bound in pairs (called Cooper pairs) in a superconductor,
they can be manipulated much faster, providing larger currents
that can be measured more accurately. Manipulation of Cooper pairs
also is important in several schemes to develop quantum computers.
Past attempts at manipulation, however, have been thwarted by
the existence of a small number of unpaired electrons rambling
around in the superconducting state. Avoiding these unpaired electrons
is the mystery that NIST is now helping solve.
researchers have uncovered an important clue by showing that a
previously unappreciated factor has a strong effect on the number
of unpaired electrons in Cooper pair devices. Electron counting
devices are made from two layers of aluminum, where the strengths
of the bonds pairing electrons in each layer can be different.
This slight difference originally was thought to be unimportant.
However, a study of more than a dozen devices in which this difference
was varied in a controlled way and indepen-dently measured in
each device, shows the
difference does affect device performance directly.
McGehan (Boulder), (303) 497-7000
Genetics Research Lends a Hand in World Trade Center IDs
© Robert Rathe
NIST staff members John Butler and Susan Ballou discuss the DNA project at a robotic sample preparation station.
To receive a high-resolution version of this image, contact Gail Porter.
new tool for
genetic analysis developed with National Institute of Standards
and Technology (NIST) assistance may help scientists identify
the remains of victims of the terrorist attack on the World Trade
Center (WTC) in New Yorkthe largest effort of its kind in
from about half of the approximately 2,800 victims have been identified,
many through the analysis of DNA in tissue samples recovered from
the site. Identification is difficult because of the damaged and
degraded condition of the samples. Now that standard methods have
revealed all they can, new techniques for analyzing very small
fragments of DNA are being used to reexamine the genetic material
from as many as 13,000 recovered bone samples.
such technique is adapted from a NIST-developed method using short
tandem repeats (STRs)tiny segments of DNA containing two
to five base pairs (the nitrogen compounds whose unique pairings
make up the genetic code of an individual). By contrast, a complete
human genome contains some 3 billion base pairs.
perform the STR analysis, many copies are made of targeted DNA
fragments using a method called the polymerase chain reaction
(PCR). NIST designed new PCR primerstools for targeting
the amplification (copying) to a specific DNA segmentthat
reduce the size of the amplified regions by 100 base pairs or
more. Smaller PCR products amplify better than large ones when
genomic DNA is degraded.
Ost, (301) 975-4034
Micro-Positioner May Help Send Messages from the Stars
home from 93 billion miles awayonly E.T. and other science
fiction characters can do that. But with the help of National
Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) know-how, reality
soon may catch up with imagination.
designs for a realistic interstellar explorer, or
RISEa highly autonomous craft that would travel far beyond
this solar system to collect scien-tific datacall for a
laser-based communications link to Earth that relies in part on
a recent NIST invention called a Parallel Cantilever Bi-axial
Micro-Positioner. The prototype NIST device acts as a mechanical
filter that generates very straight lines by screening out all
other motions. Primarily intended for use in the delicate assembly
and alignment of optoelectronic devices and applications in micro-
and nano-manufacturing, the micro-positioner in a different application
offers a promising means for meeting the demanding range, mass
and power requirements for the RISE.
its interstellar role, the micro-positioner would be used to position
a lens that steers a laser beam communication link toward Earth.
The beam must be pointed precisely because the distances would
be, well, astronomical. The RISE is envisioned as having a range
up to 1,000 Astronomical Units (AU)1,000 times the distance
from the Earth to the sun, or 93 billion miles.
recent paper by researchers at NIST and Johns Hopkins University
Applied Physics Laboratory (which is designing the RISE) concluded
that an optical communications downlink spanning 1,000 AU is technically
feasible in the next decade if these new technologies can be sufficiently
refined. For example, the current range of the NIST micro-positioner
would have to be improved by a factor of nearly 10.