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January 16, 2004

  In This Issue:
bullet Cell Phone Still Too Big? Micro-Oscillators May Help
bullet Advice for Designing Reliable Nanomaterials
bullet New Standard on the Menu, Certified Slurried Spinach
bullet Online Calculator Improves Analysis of Chemical Data
bullet Quick Links

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Cell Phone Still Too Big? Micro-Oscillators May Help

3-D plot showing microwave frequency generated by new NIST oscillator
A three-dimensional plot shows how the microwave frequency (x axis) generated by a new NIST oscillator varies with changes in the current (y axis). The height of each peak represents the power of the signal produced at specific frequencies.
size comparison, NIST micro-oscillator with human hair

A tiny, novel device for generating tunable microwave signals has been developed by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Described in the Jan. 16 issue of Physical Review Letters, the device measures just a few micro-meters square and is hundreds of times smaller than typical microwave signal generators in use today in cell phones, wireless Internet devices, radar systems and other applications.

The device works by exploiting the fact that individual electrons in an electric current behave like minuscule magnets, each one with a “spin” that is either up or down, just as an ordinary magnet has a north and a south pole.

The NIST device consists of two magnetic films separated by a non-magnetic layer of copper. As an electric current passes through the first magnetic film, the electrons in the current align their spins to match the magnetic orientation in the film. But when the now aligned electrons flow through the second magnetic film, the process is reversed. This time the alignment of the electrons is transferred to the film. The result is that the magnetization of the film rapidly switches direction, or oscillates, generating a microwave signal. The microwave signal can be tuned from less than 5 gigahertz (5 billion oscillations a second) to greater than 40 GHz.

The NIST experiments confirm predictions made by theorists at IBM Corp. and Carnegie Mellon University in 1996.

NIST physicist William Rippard says the new oscillators can be built into integrated circuits with the same technologies now used to make computer chips and that they may eventually replace bulkier technologies at a greatly reduced cost.

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



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Advice for Designing Reliable Nanomaterials

Stronger or tougher? For designers of advanced materials, this tradeoff may complicate efforts to devise efficient methods for assembling nanometer-scale building blocks into exotic ceramics, glasses and other types of customized materials.

“Not all properties may benefit from microstructural refinement, so due caution needs to be exercised in materials design,” writes the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Brian Lawn in the January issue of Journal of Materials Research.* An expert on brittle materials, Lawn advises that past experience is not always a useful guide for predicting material properties and performance when film thicknesses, grain sizes and other characteristic dimensions shrink toward molecular proportions. At this level, materials designers must reckon with interatomic force laws that are obscured at larger scales, from micrometers (millionths of a meter) on up.

“Generally in brittle materials, strength (resistance to crack initiation) increases and toughness (resistance to crack propagation) decreases as characteristic scaling dimensions diminish,” Lawn concludes from his work to refine ceramics used in biomechanical applications such as dental crowns and orthopedic implants. At the nanoscale, tiny cracks require more load to spread them, but have little resistance to extension once they start and are, therefore, more likely to spread catastrophically. Depending on the application in mind, the decrease in fracture toughness may more than offset initial gains in strength, or the ability to withstand stresses that squeeze, stretch or twist the material.

This poses challenges for designers who choose to build minuscule devices and tiny systems with ceramics because of the light weight, high strength and hardness. Lawn says contact points in devices with moving parts will require especially close attention. As the size of contacts decreases, he notes, stresses will become more concentrated, “increasing the potential for irreversible damage and premature failure at ever-lower critical loads.”

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

*B.R. Lawn, “Fracture and Deformation in Brittle Solids: A Perspective on the Issue of Scale,” J. Mater. Res., Vol. 19, No. 1,
Jan. 2004.


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New Standard on the Menu, Certified Slurried Spinach

Popeye was right: spinach is good for you. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) now has certified exactly what’s in it.

Standard Reference Material (SRM) 2385 consists of small jars of slurried spinach—pure spinach that’s been blanched, pureed and passed through filter screens. The concentrations of vitamins and other constituents have been measured and certified, so that the food industry can use the SRM to validate analytical methods and provide accurate nutritional information for its products. An analytical method is evaluated by using it to measure constituents in the SRM and then comparing the results to the NIST-certified values.

small jar of NIST slurried spinach Standard Reference Material on a bed of fresh spinach leaves.
Slurried Spinach 2385, a new NIST Standard Reference Material, can be used by food manufacturers to help ensure the accuracy of nutritional labels.

The NIST values confirm that spinach is rich in antioxidants—both beta-carotene and lutein. Although the actual amounts look small (the antioxidants constitute 0.0019 percent and 0.0033 percent of the spinach by mass, respectively), spinach contains far more of the two combined than most other fruits or vegetables.

Antioxidants help fight formation of free radicals, highly reactive molecules that can damage DNA and are implicated in the development of certain diseases. Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body and is needed for healthy vision, skin and hair. Lutein is a pigment found in the retina and may help guard against eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. Among its other attributes, spinach also contains 1.55 percent dietary fiber by weight.

The new SRM was developed at the request of the food industry and with the help of more than 10 food manufacturers. NIST now supplies 37 different food SRMs to the industry, one or more for each of the nine sectors of the Association of Analytical Communities’ food triangle, which categorizes food based on its fat, carbohydrate or protein content. The food triangle helps to assure the availability of validated analytical methods for all types of foods.

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


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Online Calculator Improves Analysis of Chemical Data

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientists recently unveiled an online calculator on NIST’s Web site designed to make chemical analysis by mass spectrometry faster and more reliable. The tool also may make some chemical evidence introduced in criminal cases more trustworthy.

The NIST tool, called MassSpectator, automates the mathematical calculations needed to convert plots of mass spectrometry data into final results—a listing of the chemical components and concentrations of substances in a mixture of unknown composition.

Mass spectrometry works by measuring the mass of single molecules within a chemical compound. It does this by first turning solid or liquid substances into charged particles called ions. The ions then are manipulated with magnetic fields, radio frequencies or other means so that molecules with different masses hit a detector at different times and/or locations. Signals from the detector are plotted as “peaks” that represent molecules of different sizes.

The NIST software automatically, without any user involvement, identifies and calculates the size of the peaks. Previously available software requires user interaction to take that second step.

By automating the entire calculation process, MassSpectator saves time; makes it much easier to work with massive datasets such as those used to study the functions of proteins; and eliminates errors or bias that might be introduced by manually translating mass spectrometry peaks into final chemical results. For example, by using Mass Spectator’s automated calculations, law enforcement agencies can increase confidence in chemical analyses conducted during criminal investigations.

For further information, see

Media Contact:
Scott Nance, (301) 975-5226


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Quick Links

New Values for Fundamental Constants—Accurate values for fundamental physical constants—like the speed of light in a vacuum, the mass of an electron, or Avogadro’s constant—are required in many practical calculations made in scientific and technical work. New values for more than 300 basic constants and conversion factors are now available. These values, recommended by the international Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), are the result of an adjustment carried out by NIST physicists under the auspices of the CODATA Task Group on Fundamental Constants. For more information, see

Learn from the Best— Organizations large or small; in service, manufacturing, education or health care; with one office or multiple sites around the globe—all can benefit from the knowledge and experience of the seven recipients of the 2003 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The Quest for Excellence XVI conference will be the first opportunity to learn about the exceptional practices and results of the 2003 recipients: Medrad, Inc. (manufacturing); Boeing Aerospace Support (service); Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation U.S. (service); Stoner, Inc. (small business); Community Consolidated School District 15 (education); Baptist Hospital, Inc. (health care); and Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City (health care). The conference will be held March 28-31, 2004, in Washington, D.C. For further information, call (301) 975-2036 or visit the Baldrige National Quality Program Web site at

Baldrige Criteria for 2004 Available—In addition to being the basis for a Baldrige Award application, Baldrige Performance Excellence Criteria are used by thousands of organizations to assess and improve their performance in a wide range of areas, including leadership, corporate governance and ethics, employee and customer relations, and results. The 2004 Baldrige criteria for business, education and health care are now available. The criteria may be downloaded from or may be requested by calling (301) 975-2036.

Submitting 2004 Baldrige Applications Electronically—For the first time, organizations can electronically submit their applications for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In prior years, applicants submitted 25 copies of their application for review by the award’s private-sector board of examiners. Organizations can submit their application on a CD in PDF format by May 13. The 2004 Baldrige Award application forms booklet is available at or by calling (301) 975-2036.

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Editor: Gail Porter

Date created: 1/15/2004