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December 4 , 2003

  In This Issue:
bullet Microscopes Provide New View For Tissue Engineering
bullet 2003 Baldrige Award Goes to Seven Organizations
bullet Test Measures Compatibility of DVD Disks and Drives
bullet Public's Help Requested on Rhode Island Nightclub Fire
bullet Standard Helps Control Quality of Joint Replacements
bullet Testing Rescue Robots At Arenas Around the Globe
bullet Report Details Progress On World Trade Center Investigation
bullet Quick Links

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Microscopes Provide New View For Tissue Engineering

NIST physical scientist Joy Dunkers positions a polymer scaffold sample for imaging.
©Robert Rathe

NIST physical scientist Joy Dunkers positions a polymer scaffold sample for imaging.

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

In the November issue of Optics Express*, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientists describe a novel combination of microscopes that can peer deep into tissue-engineering scaffolds and monitor the growth and differentiation of cells ultimately intended to develop into implantable organs or other body-part replacements.

The new dual-imaging tool provides a much needed capability for the emerging tissue engineering field, which aims to regenerate form and function in damaged or diseased tissues and organs. Until now, scrutiny of this complicated, three-dimensional process has been limited to the top-most layers of the scaffolds used to coax and sustain cell development.

Composed of biodegradable polymers or other building materials, scaffolds are seeded with cells that grow, multiply, and assemble into three-dimensional tissues. Whether the cells respond and organize as intended in this synthetic environment depends greatly on the composition, properties, and architecture of the scaffolds’ porous interiors. Tools for simultaneously monitoring microstructure and cellular activity can help scientists to tease apart the essentials of this interactive relationship. In turn, such knowledge can speed development of tissue-engineered products ranging from skin replacements to substitute livers to inside-the-body treatments of osteoporosis.

NIST scientist Joy Dunkers and her colleagues paired an optical coherence microscope—a high-resolution probe of the scaffold interior—with a confocal fluorescence microscope—used to track cells stained with a fluorescent dye. The instruments provide simultaneous images that can be merged to create a comprehensive rendering of microstructure and cellular activity. By stacking the sectional images, they can create a top-to-bottom movie showing structural and cellular details throughout the scaffold’s volume.

*J. P. Dunkers, M. T. Cicerone, and N. R. Washburn, “Collinear optical coherence and confocal fluorescence microscopies for tissue engineering,” Optics Express, Vol. 11, No. 23, pp. 3074-3079. []

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




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2003 Baldrige Award Goes to Seven Organizations

Four companies, two hospital systems, and one school district were named by President Bush and Commerce Secretary Evans to receive the 2003 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest honor for quality and performance excellence. This is the most Baldrige Award recipients since the program started in 1988 and the first time that recipients were named in all five Baldrige Award categories.
The 2003 Baldrige Award recipients are: Medrad, Inc., Indianola, Pa. (manufacturing); Boeing Aerospace Support, St. Louis, Mo. (service); Caterpillar Financial Services Corp., Nashville, Tenn. (service); Stoner Inc., Quarryville, Pa. (small business); Community Consolidated School District 15, Palatine, Ill. (education); Baptist Hospital, Inc., Pensacola, Fla. (health care); and Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, Kansas City, Mo. (health care).

The Baldrige program is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in conjunction with the private sector.

The new recipient organizations were selected from among 68 applicants. All seven were evaluated by an independent board of examiners in seven areas: leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, information and analysis, human resource focus, process management, and results. The six-month evaluation process included about 1,000 hours of review and an on-site visit by teams of examiners to clarify questions and verify information in the applications. The seven organizations are expected to be presented with the Baldrige Award in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., early next year.

For more information, see:

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




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Tests Measure Compatibility Of DVD Disks and Drives

The next time you try to watch a homemade movie, or access your files from a recordable DVD on your computer’s DVD drive, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. It might not work.

Initial tests conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in collaboration with the DVD Association and the Optical Storage Technology Association show that compatibility between recordable DVDs and DVD drives is only 85 percent. This means that if a recording is made on 10 different brands of DVDs, the odds are that at least one will not work. The problematic results range from DVDs that do not work at all, suddenly freeze, or have video or audio “drop out.” Currently, no drive reads all discs, and no discs are compatible with all drives. However, newer drives perform significantly better than older drives.

The first phase of testing included 14 models of DVD-ROM drives, representing about 60 percent of the installed base in America as of last year. Each drive was tested with more than 50 different brands and types of recordable DVD discs.

A second phase of testing will include new drives and media, including those drives that allow consumers to record their own DVDs. Computer scientists at NIST have developed specialized software and a comprehensive test plan, which was published in October as NIST Special Publication 500-254, DVD-ROM Drive Compatibility Test.

The results of the test will be made available to manufacturers to help them improve the compatibility of their products.

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



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Public's Help Requested on Rhode Island Nightclub Fire

At a press briefing in Providence, R.I. on Nov. 25, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers reported solid progress in the agency's ongoing federal technical investigation of the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub in W. Warwick, R.I. The investigation team leaders also asked the people of Rhode Island to volunteer information to help the effort continue toward a successful outcome.

"As our investigation moves into its next stages, NIST needs individuals and groups to share with us any information that they have about The Station nightclub, its operations and emergency procedures, and the events in the building on the night of the fire," said James E. Hill, acting director of NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory.

The investigation is being conducted under the authority of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act. Under the act, NIST is authorized to investigate building failures. The NIST investigations will establish the likely technical causes of the building failure and evaluate the technical aspects of emergency response and evacuation procedures in the wake of such failures. The goal is to recommend improvements to the way in which buildings are designed, constructed, maintained and used in order to increase both occupant safety and structural integrity.

NIST announced at the press briefing that it has established a toll-free, anonymous phone line for persons with information to contact the Rhode Island investigation team at (877) 451-8001. Individuals also can provide information by fax at (301) 975-6122; by e-mail at; or by regular mail at NCST Rhode Island Investigation, NIST, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 8660, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-8660.

For more details see:

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



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Standard Helps Control Quality of Joint Replacements

Ionizing radiation isn’t generally thought of as good for you, but it’s good for artificial hips. A new reference material from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will help researchers determine what methods of irradiating the plastic parts in joint replacements during manufacturing will best increase their wear resistance.

Reference Material 8457 is intended to help address concerns about the long-term durability of orthopedic hip implants amid growing use of these devices in younger, more active patients. It is well known that radiation can create new chemical bonds between adjacent molecular chains in a special form of polyethylene used to make the socket for the metal ball and shaft in an artificial hip. This “crosslinking” creates a structure that resists sliding forces and wear. Manufacturers and researchers need to control radiation conditions to achieve the intended wear resistance; too much radiation causes brittleness, and too little can result in poor wear resistance.

The NIST material consists of 10 small, identical cubes of polyethylene. The cubes are intended for use as control samples in a new ASTM International standard test method. The method involves immersing cubes in an organic liquid and measuring how much the material swells. Samples that expand the most have the least amount of crosslinking. Each reference material comes with a certificate that provides precise cube dimensions and information about swelling from a series of round-robin tests involving six laboratories.
The reference material will help researchers and implant manufacturers control or optimize a variety of processing parameters, such as the type (gamma radiation or electron beams), timing, and doses of radiation used for crosslinking.

Media Contact:
Laura Ost, (301) 975-4034



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Testing Rescue Robots At Arenas Around the Globe

Opportunities for major strides in robotic search and rescue technology should advance in December when Italy opens a year-round, robot-testing arena in Rome. The arena, patterned after one created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), simulates conditions in collapsed buildings. The Rome facility duplicates arenas already fabricated in the United States and Japan. Two more robot arenas based on the NIST design are scheduled to open next year in Germany and Portugal.

The arenas host “RoboCupRescue,” an international robotic search and rescue team competition designed to advance robot rescue capabilities. Researchers also use the arenas to perform robot experiments and support collaboration between organizations. Like real collapsed buildings, all the arenas include sections that range in difficulty from level, uncluttered surfaces to areas that require stair climbing and navigation among “pancaked” floors and rubble.

The next RoboCupRescue event is scheduled for Lisbon in June, 2004. Revised competition rules and improved ways to measure robot performance should increase the relevance of such events for real emergencies. For example, new limitations on robot-human radio communications better reflect real disaster conditions in which frequencies are usually overloaded with emergency communications and structural debris often interferes with transmission. Multiple sensor identifications of simulated “victims” also are now encouraged and false positive identifications, that in real life would jeopardize rescuers, are penalized. To comply, teams are adding sensors for body heat and other signs of life (body movement), sound (moaning, tapping) and carbon dioxide (breathing). Sensors that can detect human urine and sweat as well as hazards such as gas leaks are also under development.

During these international competitions, both NIST and National Science Foundation-funded researchers videotape the robots and operator interfaces to identify “best in class” algorithms, sensors, and mechanisms. They also gather information from robot operators to help in continuing to refine robot performance measures.

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



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Report Details Progress On World Trade Center Investigation

Investigators from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who are studying the Sept. 11 collapse of the World Trade Center buildings have obtained access to all of the essential information needed for their two-year federal study of the disaster. NIST’s success in gaining this information from a variety of organizations and agencies is included in an update report presented on December 2 at the third meeting of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee. This panel of experts advises the NIST Director on investigations conducted under the NCST Act.

Details about NIST’s access to the information needed for the WTC investigation, as well as the status of the investigation's progress since an interim technical report was issued in May 2003, may be found in a 41-page document available at

“Since our interim technical report in May, the WTC investigation has achieved a number of milestones critical to its successful completion next fall,” according to NIST Director Arden Bement Jr. “These accomplishments bring us even closer to achieving the desired outcome or our overall response to the WTC disaster: improvements in the way people design, construct, maintain and use buildings, especially high-rise buildings.”

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



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Quick Links

Nanotechnology Act Calls for Major Role for NIST—The "21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act," signed into law by President Bush on December 3, specifies a major role for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The Act requires the director of NIST to "establish a research program on the development and manufacture of nanotechnology, including metrology, reliability and quality assurance, processes control and manufacturing best practices and to utilize the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to disseminate the results of the program." For details see:

Spam Technology Workshop—The National Institute of Standards and Technology will be holding a workshop examining the technical means for controlling unwanted e-mail known as spam. The workshop, to be held Feb. 17, 2004, will cover technical topics such as ways to detect and reduce spam and the technical possibility of creating “do not spam” lists. More information is available at

Computerized Welding—The 13th International Conference on Computer Technology in Welding was held in Orlando, Fla., on June 18, 2003. The conference was sponsored by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the American Welding Society, and the Welding Institute. Topics included modeling, weld data flow, and computers and automation. Hard copies or CDs of the proceedings are available from

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Editor: Gail Porter

Date created: 12/4/2003