With the July 9, 2003 issue, we combined under one title
two NIST newsletters, NIST
Update and NIST TechBeat. We’ve made the change
to help improve the timeliness of our topics. Our goal is to
topics tied to publication of peer-reviewed papers, conference
presentations, and other timely “news hooks” as often
as possible. We also will be including photos and graphics whenever
We hope you like the new look! Please let me know if you have
any comments or suggestions.
Gail Porter, email@example.com
NIST TechBeat Editor
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NIST Facility Soon Will Be ‘Reflecting’ on
roadways should get safer in the future, now that the National
Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed
a way to accurately and reliably measure how light reflects
off stop signs and other road markings.
signs and markings are designed to be visible at night
by retroreflectivity—that is, they reflect some of
the light emitted by a vehicle’s headlights back
toward the driver’s eyes. However, measurements of
retroreflectivity have varied so much among different devices
that federal transportation officials have been unable to
define minimum standards for this Congressionally mandated
NIST established a facility—funded
by the Transportation Research Board of the National
Cooperative Research Program—that
resolves numerous measurement problems and improves accuracy.
Inside the facility, one finds a long black tunnel with
a set of tracks on which sits an instrumented platform.
materials are mounted on the platform, which can be moved
3 to 30 meters (10 to 100 feet) from a light source at
of the tunnel. Using custom software, scientists precisely
control all of the components and measure the characteristics
of light reflected from the sign to a detector located
close to the source.
expects that the facility will begin providing calibration
services early in 2004.
Ost, (301) 975-4034
Finding Dirty Bombs
and Other Radiation Threats
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an age of terrorism, law enforcement agents and other first
responders need to be prepared for a wide range of threats,
including so-called “dirty bombs” and other radiation
hazards. To help ensure the performance of devices used to detect
such threats, National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST) researchers are working with the Institute of Electrical
and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American National Standards
Institute (ANSI) to develop new standards for a variety of radiation
detectors and monitors.
funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and
NIST’s Office of Law Enforcement Standards,
NIST researchers are investigating a wide variety of detection
devices, ranging from 3-meter-high portal towers that scan
truck trailers while they move through checkpoints to small,
pager-size monitors that serve as personal dosimeters. Many
of these devices originally were designed for monitoring
workers in factories and laboratories. The new standards
will ensure that the devices work as intended under the new
conditions now encountered in homeland security related tasks.
some devices work differently in the rain or high humidity
conditions, as well as in wide temperature
So far, the NIST researchers also have found that the calibration
of some detectors depends a lot on the exposure rate and
energy of the radiation detected. The accuracy of 19 different
hand-held detectors ranged within plus or minus 5 percent
of the actual radiation value to plus or minus 40 percent
depending on whether they were measuring high, medium or
low energy radiation sources.
Ost, (301) 975-4034
NIST Developing Virtual Reality Training Tool
learn how to fight a fire, say those who work in this dangerous
profession, you have to train in an actual blaze. But how do
you safely prepare for that first blaze or fire situations that
you’ve never seen before?
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is developing
a virtual reality simulation of fire situations that
will enable fire professionals to demonstrate how life-threatening
conditions can develop in structures and to test firefighting
tactics on computers without risk to life and limb.
build the most realistic physics-based computer fire simulations
to date, NIST experts are reworking the agency’s fire
modeling software—known as the Fire Dynamic Simulator
fire imaging program—known as Smokeview. Refinements
to FDS will increase the system’s ability for simulating
the smoke, hot air and other gas flow caused by fire, wind,
ventilation and structural
conditions. The upgrade also will improve data processing,
yielding speedier calculations that will permit even the
fires (such as a multistory or multibuilding event) to be
will be working with firefighter instructors to develop a simulation
of all of the possible outcomes for different
fire scenarios used in training. These will be incorporated
software package, enabling users to change a simulation
with the click of a mouse. Immediately, firefighters will be
to learn the ramifications of actions such as opening a
window, closing a door or focusing a hose spray in a certain
Enhancement of fire-related images, such as picturing “smoke” realistically
on the computer screen (instead
of denoting it symbolically with contours, dots or vectors)
will add to “real” feel.
a description of NIST’s current FDS and Smokeview software
packages, see “Understanding Fire and Smoke Flow Through
Modeling and Visualization” in the July-August 2003 issue
of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications. For more information
on the virtual reality project, contact Glenn Forney, (301) 975-2313,
Blair, (301) 975-4261
MEP Helps Small Kentucky Firm Play Big Role in
Semicon Associates may be a small company, it has some very
big customers, including the U.S. military. Semicon manufactures
communication systems components used in a wide variety of
space, medical and military equipment, including the F-18 Hornet
fighter aircraft and the Tomahawk cruise missile.
Although business has been good for the 80-employee company, Semicon
managers wanted their firm to better serve current customers and
expand its customer base. The Kentucky Manufacturing Assistance
Center (KMAC), an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards
and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP),
helped Semicon managers and employees assess the company’s
short- and long-term market situation, reach a consensus about
future directions, and develop and implement the steps needed
to reach their goals. KMAC also helped the company implement the
processes and standards needed to meet ISO (International Organization
for Standardization) quality standards.
a result, the company is more competitive and profitable;
costs, lead times and defects; increased defense
sales by about 20 percent; and
created 10 new jobs.
As a mission-critical defense supplier, we at Semicon are very
proud of the part we play in keeping our country’s defenses
strong,” says Semicon President Jeffrey Waldal. “We
are better able to serve our customers in the near term as a
result of the Kentucky Manufacturing Assistance Center’s
assistance … and … our firm has developed a roadmap that will lead to future success.”
more information on KMAC, call (859) 252-7801 or go to www.kmac-mep.org.
Details on the NIST MEP can be found at www.mep.nist.gov or manufacturers can reach the center serving their area by calling (800)
Photon Detector Conquers the Dark Side
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from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
and Boston University have demonstrated a detector that counts
single pulses of light, while simultaneously reducing false or
“dark counts” to virtually zero.
Reported in the July 28, 2003, issue of Applied Physics Letters*,
the advance provides a key technology needed for future development
of secure quantum communications and cryptography.
communications and cryptography is a codemaker’s
Holy Grail. The idea is to use a rapid series of light pulses
(photons) in one of two different states to transmit information
in an unbreakable code.
photon detector project is part of a multi-disciplinary NIST
effort to develop the sophisticated measurement methods needed
to make quantum communication and cryptography
possible. Funding was provided by the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the NIST Advanced
current photon detectors operate best with visible light,
cannot reliably detect single photons and suffer
dark counts due to random electronic noise. The new device
with the wavelength of near-infrared light used for fiber
optic communications and produces negligible dark counts.
of using light-sensitive materials, the NIST device uses
film coupled to a fiber optic communication line. The
film is chilled to 120 milliKelvin, at its transition temperature
normal conductivity and superconductivity. When the fiber
optic line delivers a photon to the tungsten film, the
temperature rises and the apparatus detects it as an increase
device detects about 20,000 photons per second and works
with an efficiency of about 20 percent.
the research team hopes to increase efficiencies to
greater than 80 percent.
McGehan (Boulder), (303)
* Miller, A.J., Nam, S.W., Martinis, J.M. and Sergienko,
A.V. Demonstration of a low-noise near-infrared photon counter
with multi-photon discrimination, Applied Physics Letters (July
28, 2003), Vol. 83, No. 4, pp. 791-793.
NIST Helps Chip Industry Measure Features by Counting
quest to develop the nanotechnology equivalent of ruler--length-measurement
references based on the spacing of atoms in a perfectly ordered
crystal--has inspired a burst of innovation at the National Institute
of Standards and Technology (NIST). Progress to date has yielded
a novel device that can resolve distances smaller than the radius
of an atom and a reliable method for writing 10-nanometer-sized
features on silicon.
researchers are packaging the new technology and know-how
into a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) system designed
to write patterns with dimensions determined by counting
that make up the patterns’ structural features. Ultimately
aiming for an accuracy of better than 1 nanometer, the team
intends to supply the semiconductor industry with benchmark
to calibrate measurement tools used in research and production.
measure exceedingly small distances, members of the “atom-based
artifacts project” developed a novel diode-laser based
interferometer. The new, compact instrument incorporates
elements of two types of existing interferometers—devices
that determine the distance between two objects on the basis
patterns—but achieves much higher levels of resolution.
To date, the team has measured distances in increments smaller
than 10 picometers, or less than one-hundredth of a nanometer.
to produce durable, silicon-based measurement references
have paid off with a method for reliably writing patterns
with 10-nanometer linewidths—equivalent to about
30 silicon atoms across. These STM-written patterns are
long-lived, even outside of a vacuum, and
recent work suggests that reactive ion etching can increase
Receives Valuable Chemical Data from Dow: Dow Chemical Co.
has donated an extensive
collection of more than 50,000 infrared spectra—independently
valued at more than $5 million—to NIST for incorporation
into its Chemistry WebBook. The WebBook is an online resource
(http://webbook.nist.gov/) that 600,000 users rely on annually
for a wide range of research and development applications and
To learn more, go to www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/dowchemical.htm.