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February 13, 2004

  In This Issue:
bullet Laser Method Identifies, Counts Toxic Molecules
bullet Testing Sticky Stuff With a ‘Fly’s Eye'
bullet Researchers Offer Tips For Longer Lived CD, DVDs

Demolition Tests Aim to Improve Emergency Communications

bullet Federal Standard Issued For Improving IT Security
bullet ATP Opens New Competition for R&D Projects

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Laser Method Identifies, Counts Toxic Molecules

A spectroscopy technique that offers advances in detection of toxic chemicals and counting of molecules has been demonstrated by a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientist and collaborators. Described in the Feb. 8 issue of the Journal of Chemical Physics, the NIST-patented technique may be useful for development of miniaturized chemical sensors, as well as for fundamental surface science studies.

The technique (a variation on cavity ring-down spectroscopy) relies on laser light reflecting and circulating inside a prism-like optical resonator. The time it takes the light to diminish (or ring down) changes depending on whether specific chemicals are present near the resonator and on how much light they absorb. This information can be used to identify and quantify specific molecules.

The technique can detect small amounts (100 parts per million) of trichloroethylene, a toxic commercial solvent that is prevalent but difficult to locate in the environment. The sensitivity is equivalent to the best of other published optical methods that could be used outside a laboratory. A highly selective coating is expected to enhance performance further.

The technique also was used to determine the number of molecules per unit area on a surface (“absolute coverage”) without the need for ultrahigh vacuum experimental conditions, which are typically required for such measurements. Hence, the new approach enables quantitative studies of real-world surface processes, such as catalytic reactions. Absolute coverage measurements are useful in surface science, providing key information about surface reactions or structures for many applications, such as improving solar cell efficiency.

The research was performed with collaborators from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and the University of Maryland; partial funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Management Science Program.

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



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Testing Sticky Stuff With a ‘Fly’s Eye’

A new collaboration at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will contend with lots of sticking points—by design. NIST and industry researchers intend to devise rapid screening and measurement methods that speed discovery of new epoxies, pressure-sensitive adhesives and other products manufactured for the $30 billion global adhesives market.

In a project just getting under way, the partners will refine and extend miniaturized technologies for simultaneous testing of hundreds of systematically varying adhesive formulations. One test platform is designed for screening new combinations of components used to make labels, skin patches and other pressure-sensitive adhesives, a fast-growing segment of the market. It includes an array of up to 1,600 “micro lenses,” an arrangement resembling a fly’s compound eye. In an automated process, each lens is coated with an incrementally different formulation. The array is lowered until each lens contacts a wafer-like substrate coated with a thin film that also can vary in chemical composition and thickness. The array then is raised until each lens detaches from the substrate.

Arrays of multi-colored dots indicate the strength of different adhesives measured with the NIST multi-lens testing system. Red areas indicate the stronger bonds, blue areas the weaker.

Arrays of multi-colored dots indicate the strength of different adhesives measured with the NIST multi-lens testing system. Red areas indicate the stronger bonds, blue areas the weaker.

From measurements of changes in the position of lenses and other preselected variables, researchers can deduce the adhesive strength of different formulations under deliberately varying conditions. A microscope mounted below the testing platform monitors the entire process. The resulting color-coded maps show changes in adhesion energy (an indicator of an adhesive’s strength) as lens and substrate bond and, then, separate.

Another system for high-throughput testing of prospective epoxies and other adhesives for the microelectronics and other industries also is under development as part of this new collaborative effort.

Partners in the project include Intel and National Starch and Chemical, an ICI company. Both Intel and ICI are members of the NIST Combinatorial Methods Center (NCMC) consortium. For more information, go to

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



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Researchers Offer Tips For Longer Lived CD, DVDs

You should never use a pen, pencil or hard-tip marker to write on your CDs.

That is among several recommendations made by computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), who sliced, diced and baked CDs and DVDs to see how long the digital information would survive.

Most CDs and DVDs will last 30 years or more if handled with care, but many factors can slash their longevity. Direct exposure to sunlight can do a great deal of damage both from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and the heat. Indeed, any rapid significant change in temperature or humidity can stress the materials. The study also found that fingerprints and smudges frequently do more harm than scratches, and recommends handling discs by the outer edge or the center hole.

Discs may be cleaned with a cotton cloth by wiping in a straight line from the center of the disc toward the outer edge. Isopropyl alcohol may be used for extra cleaning power.

Discs last longest when stored in plastic cases in a cool, dark, dry environment. Because gravity can gradually bend the disc, storing it upright like a book is best for long-term storage.

Many libraries, archives and government agencies store information on optical media, and NIST collaborated with the Council on Library and Information Resources to issue the research report.

A quick reference guide to the research group’s findings is available at

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


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Demolition Tests Aim to Improve Emergency Communications

A team of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientists have begun conducting experiments in “laboratories” that are here one day and gone the next. They are using buildings set for demolition to measure radio signals with the hope their work will some day lead to new tools that help emergency personnel save more people trapped in collapsed buildings.

The NIST team was in New Orleans, on hand as demolition experts were getting ready to raze a high-rise.

Prior to demolition, the NIST team placed specially modified radio transmitter modules operating in the frequency bands used by emergency personnel and mobile telephones at various points within the soon-to-be-destroyed Fischer Public Housing Project. The researchers collected information on the transmitters’ signal strength and other data. They also used Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to determine the locations and distances of transmissions from within the building.

After demolition, the team found that 10 of the 14 transmitters continued broadcasting.

The researchers hope their work eventually leads to the development of technology that allows emergency personnel to lock on to cell phone or radio signals within collapsed buildings to help in locating and perhaps communicating with survivors.

The project was funded by the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs’ Community Oriented Policing Services through NIST’s Office of Law Enforcement Standards.

The NIST team will follow up its work in New Orleans by conducting similar experiments with other demolitions around the United States.

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



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Federal Standard Issued For Improving IT Security

Computer security specialists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new standard to help federal agencies better protect their computer networks. The standard provides a new way to categorize government information and information systems.

“Protecting our government networks remains a critical priority for this administration,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans. “This new standard will help agencies better handle security threats by providing better information and guidance to federal agencies so they can make sound decisions.”

The standard was developed following passage of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002. Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 199, Standards for the Security Categorization of Federal Information and Information Systems, introduces significant changes in how the federal government protects information and the computerized networks that store information by giving detailed guidance on how to categorize systems.

The standard includes criteria to be used by civilian agencies in categorizing information and information systems, providing appropriate levels of security according to a range of impact levels. Under the standard, agencies will assess the potential impact on their missions that would result from a security breach due to loss of confidentiality (unauthorized disclosure of information), integrity (unauthorized modification of information) or availability (denial of service).

The mandatory standard will be a critical component of an agency’s risk management program. As required by FISMA, NIST is also developing a companion standard that will specify minimum security requirements for all federal systems. A draft of that material was published by NIST in 2003 for public comment. Together, these two standards will help ensure that appropriate, cost-effective security measures are put in place for each federal system. NIST also has a variety of computer security guidelines that may be used in conjunction with the new standard.

A copy of the standard is available at

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


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ATP Opens New Competition for R&D Projects

The NIST Advanced Technology Program (ATP) has announced a new competition for cost-sharing awards to support high-risk industrial R&D projects. The ATP offers funding to single companies or to industry-led joint ventures to accelerate the development of challenging, high-risk technologies. R&D projects are selected in a competitive, peer-reviewed process.

The ATP intends to hold only this single competition this fiscal year, which will close on April 14, 2004. Approximately $30 million is available for new awards in this competition. Details of the competition and the announcement of federal funding opportunity are available at and

The ATP will hold seven public meetings (Proposers’ Conferences) around the country to review general information on the 2004 competition. These meetings provide general information regarding the ATP, its project selection criteria, the selection process, eligibility and cost-sharing requirements, as well as an opportunity for questions and answers. There is no registration fee, and attendance at these Proposers’ Conferences is not required. The dates and locations are:

  • March 1-Atlanta Hilton Hotel, Atlanta, Ga.,
    (404) 659-2000 and Hilton Dallas Lincoln Centre, Dallas, Texas, (972) 934-8400
  • March 3-Hyatt Harborside Hotel, Boston, Mass., (617) 568-1234 and Seattle Marriott Waterfront, Seattle, Wash. (206) 443-5000
  • March 5-Hyatt Rosemont, Rosemont, Ill. (Chicago) (847) 518-1234 and Hyatt Regency Los Angeles at Macy's Plaza, (213) 683-1234

Media Contact:
Michael Baum, (301) 975-2763

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Editor: Gail Porter

Date created: 2/13/2004