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October 10, 2003

  In This Issue:
bullet NIST Physicist Wins MacArthur 'Genius' Grant
bullet Helping Consumers Choose Among House Repair Options
bullet Mimicking the Human Body With Carbon Black Polymers
bullet Standard Improves Tests of Male DNA
bullet Electronics Interconnections For Extreme Space Environments
bullet Quick Links

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NIST physicist Deborah Jin in her laboratory at JILA
© Geoffrey Wheeler
NIST Physicist Deborah Jin in her laboratory at JILA.

For a high resolution copy of this photo contact, Gail Porter.

NIST Physicist Wins MacArthur 'Genius' Grant

Deborah Jin, 34, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colo., and adjoint assistant professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder), has been named a 2003 winner of a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as the “genius grant.” The fellowship is awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of Chicago.

Jin is a fellow of JILA, a laboratory run by NIST and CU-Boulder.

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. The fellowship is a “no strings attached” award in support of people, not projects. Each fellowship comes with a stipend of $500,000 to the recipient, paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years.

“NIST congratulates Deborah Jin for receiving this tremendous honor,” commented NIST Director Arden Bement Jr. “The MacArthur Fellowship goes to persons of unlimited creativity and originality, unwavering dedication to the pursuit of excellence, and unending commitment to the betterment of others. Deborah exemplifies all of these characteristics and more.”

In 1999, Jin and graduate student Brian DeMarco created a new quantum gas that was named one of the top 10 scientific advances of the year by the journal Science. They cooled a vapor of quantum particles to a temperature less than a millionth of a degree above absolute zero using lasers and magnetic traps. The result was a quantum state in which atoms behave like waves. Jin and DeMarco's research is a step toward a better understanding of fermions—basic building blocks of matter—and may lead toward a new generation of atomic clocks and atom lasers. (For more details go to

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



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Helping Consumers Choose Among House Repair Options

House maintenance is a never-ending and costly task. Roofing, siding, windows and even garage doors wear out.

Now researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a software program that takes the guesswork out of replacement decisions. The free program, called NEST (for National Economic Service-life Tools), allows homeowners to select the most cost-effective replacement material for roofing, siding, windows and garage doors. It also provides, for the user’s own zip code, cost estimates for replacements, including the cost of local labor and local materials, as well as the cost of maintenance.

NEST currently consists of two software tools. “NEST Builder” and “Durability Doctor.” NEST Builder asks homeowners to specify the house layout and size, as well as various kinds of materials used for roofing, siding, windows and garage doors. The software program uses the information to build a virtual or graphic model of a user’s home.

“Durability Doctor” then combines the house model data with information on material cost and service life of the selected housing component. It estimates the installation and maintenance cost as well as the monthly financing cost of each alternative over the product's lifetime. Consumers then can compare costs for nine different types of roofing, four garage door materials, six types of windows and eight varieties of siding. “Durability Doctor” also reports which replacements are the most durable, have the lowest installation cost and lowest life-cycle cost for each housing component.

NIST developed NEST with funds from the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, a government-industry initiative led by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to modernize the homebuilding industry. NEST is available at

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



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Mimicking the Human Body With Carbon Black Polymers

Metal detectors have become so commonplace that you might think we know all we need to about them. However, the law enforcement community must continually update performance standards for metal detectors to ensure that new products purchased in the marketplace operate at specified minimum levels. Further-more, they must know if exposure to the magnetic fields generated by metal detectors affects the functioning of personal medical electronic devices (such as cardiac defibrillators, infusion pumps, spinal cord stimulators, etc.)

With funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) develop and revise such standards as new technologies become available. One project concentrated on finding better materials to mimic the human body’s response to the magnetic fields generated by metal detectors. By using such biologic “phantoms,” researchers can create more realistic testing scenarios without subjecting medical patients to exposure.

Since about two-thirds of the human body is made of water, conventional phantoms utilize liquids and salts. However, the liquids are subject to evaporation that changes both the salinity and the electrical conductivity, making it difficult to model human body components consistently.

The NIST researchers came up with an improved phantom material, a polymer mixed with carbon powder. By varying the amount of carbon powder used, the materials can mimic blood, bone, fat and skin. The researchers chose carbon black—a fine powder made almost entirely of elemental carbon—because of its electrical conductivity and low cost. The impregnated polymers can be formed in a variety of shapes and sizes. A recent NIST publication* discusses the material and its low-frequency electrical properties in detail.

Media Contact:
Gail Porter
,  (301) 975-3392

* NIST Technical Note 1529, Carbon-Loaded Polymer Composites Used as Human Phantoms: Theoretical Models for Predicting Low-Frequency Dielectric Behavior. R.G. Geyer, J. Baker-Jarvis, M.D. Janezic, and R.K. Kaiser.



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Columns of a DNA gel show the sizes of Y chromosome fragments from 6 male and 1 female sample (empty lane third from right)

Columns of a DNA gel show the sizes of Y chromosome fragments from 6 male and 1 female sample (empty lane third from right).

For a high resolution copy of this image contact, Gail Porter.

Standard Improves Tests of Male DNA

Mother Goose tells us that boys are made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails.” She was clearly mis-informed about the snails and tails, but she was on to something with the snips. What you really need to build a boy is a “Y” chromosome, and it turns out that SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), known by the biotech cognoscente as simply “snips,” can be helpful in sorting out who fathered the boy. If DNA can be thought of as an instruction book for building a specific person, then SNPs are single letters at an exact location in that book that tend to vary among individuals.

A new Standard Reference Material (SRM) issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) uses both SNPs and STRs (sections where three to five DNA “letters” form repeating patterns) to help improve the reliability of laboratory analyses of male DNA. The result of several years of research, the standard consists of six vials of very carefully analyzed DNA. Five are male samples, and one is female. Laboratories that perform forensics or paternity DNA analyses can use the SRM to double check the accuracy of their equipment and test procedures for analyzing the Y chromosome. It also may be helpful for population studies that study whether the human race evolved from one or many “Adams.”

Each vial comes with certified DNA sequences for 22 different STR locations and 42 different SNPs. NIST research chemist Margaret Kline provided a detailed description of the SRM and the methods used in preparing it at the 14th International Symposium on Human Identification in Phoenix, Ariz., on Oct. 1, 2003.

Media Contact:
Gail Porter,  (301) 975-3392



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Electronics Interconnections For Extreme Space Environments

If all goes as planned, two rovers named Spirit and Opportunity will explore the surface of Mars next year, gathering a wealth of geologic information and beaming the results back to Earth. However, the environment is so extreme that the rovers will be equipped with heaters to keep the electronic gear warm enough to operate properly over the Martian winter when temperatures can dip to -120 degrees C. Future space probes will involve even more extreme environments, with temperatures as high as 460 degrees Celsius (860 degrees Fahrenheit) on Venus and as low as -180 Celsius (-292 Fahrenheit) on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

George Harman, a world authority on materials for microelectronic interconnections and packaging at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), recently made a workshop presentation for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on designing semiconductor device interconnections to withstand extreme space environments.

Harman recommended that spacebound microelectronics interconnections be made with corrosion resis-tant, highly stable metals, especially gold. He also suggested the use of some newer polymers that can withstand extreme temperatures but are not yet used in the space program. “Flip chips” are another interconnection approach, that, with proper metallurgy, may make sense in high-temperature planetary environments. Instead of using wire leads around the edges of a microchip to export electrical signals, flip chips normally use a pattern of ball-shaped solder contacts that are attached directly on the chip surface. Harman suggested that NASA consider using flip chips designed with gold contacts to produce spacecraft electronics that are both space-saving and heat resistant.

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



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Quick Links

Thirteen Prepare for Baldrige Site Visits—Starting Oct. 19, teams of business, education and health care experts will visit 13 organizations—three manufacturers, three service companies, two small businesses, and two education and three health care organizations—as the final review stage for the 2003 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Baldrige award recipients for 2003 are expected to be announced in November. Sixty-eight organizations applied for the 2003 award. For more details, see

Media Contact:
Jan Kosko, (301) 975-2767


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Editor: Gail Porter

Date created: 10/10/03