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July 2, 2004

  In This Issue:
bullet Nanomaterial Yields Cool Results
bullet WTC Investigation Identifies Standards, Codes Issues
bullet Lack of Supply Chain Standards Costing Billions of Dollars
bullet Measuring Artificial Viruses To Improve Disease Detection
bullet Lasers Key to Construction, Manufacturing Advances

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New NIST research results reported in Nature may help move the promising technology of magnetically generated refrigeration closer to market.

Photo by: Kathie Koenig

New NIST research results reported in Nature may help move the promising technology of magnetically generated refrigeration closer to market.

Nanomaterial Yields Cool Results

A pinch of iron dramatically boosts the cooling performance of a material considered key to the development of magnetic refrigerators, report researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the June 24 issue of the journal Nature. The achievement might move the promising technology closer to market, opening the way to substantial energy and cost savings for homes and businesses.

By adding a small amount of iron (about 1 percent by volume), the NIST team enhanced the effective cooling capacity of the so-called “giant magnetocaloric effect” material by 15 to 30 percent. The result, writes materials scientist Virgil Provenzano and his NIST colleagues, “is a much-improved magnetic refrigerant for near-room-temperature applications.”

The original material—a gadolinium-germanium-silicon alloy—already is considered an attractive candidate for a room-temperature magnetic refrigerant. However, its cooling potential is undercut by significant energy costs exacted during the on-and-off cycling of an applied magnetic field, the process that drives the refrigeration device. These costs—called hysteresis losses—translate into commensurate losses of energy available for cooling.

The iron supplement overcomes this disadvantage. It nearly eliminates hysteresis and the associated energy cost, permitting the material to perform near the peak of its potential.

Independently suggested by two scientists in the 1920s, earning one the Nobel Prize in 1949, magnetic refrigerators offer sizable prospective advantages over the century-old technology of today’s vapor-compression cooling systems. Potential pluses include substantial gains in energy efficiency, lower cost of operation, elimination of environmentally damaging coolants, and nearly noise- and vibration-free operation.

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



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WTC Investigation Identifies Standards, Codes Issues

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) team conducting the federal building and fire safety investigation into the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster of Sept. 11, 2001, announced on June 18 that it has identified a series of issues about test methods, standards, codes and emergency operations currently used for buildings that merit further analysis as the investigation moves toward completion. At a press briefing in New York City, lead investigator Shyam Sunder released the second major progress report on the WTC investigation in which these issues and the interim findings that led to their identification are documented. Sunder said that the team’s final report—scheduled for release as a draft document in December 2004—would feature recommendations for improvements in the way people design, construct, maintain and use buildings, especially high-rises.

Among the findings discussed in the report are:

  • working hypotheses for the collapses of WTC 1 and WTC 2 (“The Twin Towers”) and WTC 7, a 47-story building that fell later in the day on 9-11;
  • key visual observations on the building, fire and smoke conditions in all three WTC buildings (the WTC towers and WTC 7) from analysis of a large collection of photographic and videographic images;
  • a summary of what has been learned from computer models used to analyze aircraft impact damage, fire and smoke behavior, and collapse mechanisms;
  • results from experimental work to analyze steel recovered from the WTC and laboratory fire tests of WTC structural components/office environments; and
  • information gained from nearly 1,200 first-person interviews of WTC surviving occupants, first responders and families of victims.

The complete report, including appendices, is available on the comprehensive NIST WTC investigation Web site,

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




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Lack of Supply Chain Standards Costing Billions of Dollars

Inadequacies in managing inventory, scheduling and accounting information cost the automotive and electronics industries a combined total of almost $9 billion annually, according to a newly released study* commissioned by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Almost all of these costs could be eliminated with optimally integrated systems for exchanging information throughout supply chains, the study concludes.

Conducted by RTI International (Research Triangle Park, NC), the analysis found that only a handful of firms are close to achieving "ideal" information integration with some or most of their supply chain partners. The lack of widespread interoperability costs the auto industry more than $5 billion a year and the electronics industry almost $3.9 billion a year, or about 1.2 percent of the value of shipments in each industry.

An underlying problem, according to the study, is the lack of universally accepted and implemented standards for the format and content of messages that flow between supply chain partners. This reduces opportunities for cost savings and leads to duplication of effort, maintenance of redundant systems, and investment in inefficient processes such as manual entry of data when machine sources are available.

RTI defined excessive costs for several categories of logistics and accounting information flows, and used case studies and Internet surveys to determine costs per occurrence for each category. These results then were combined with secondary data on sales, employment and wage rates to estimate industry-level impacts.

The study is part of NIST's strategic planning process for implementing the 2002 Enterprise Integration Act, which authorizes the Institute to help industry improve supply chain integration.

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

*The report, Economic Impact of Inadequate Infrastructure for Supply Chain Integration, is available online at (.pdf; download Acrobat Reader) Paper copies can be requested from Denise Herbert at



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Measuring Artificial Viruses To Improve Disease Detection

A new method* developed by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for accurately measuring the concentration of artificial viruses in a solution may ultimately help doctors diagnose diseases like HIV and hepatitis C earlier.

These artificial viruses are commercial standards made from the same basic chemical components in RNA (the single stranded version of DNA needed for protein synthesis.) They are constructed to be nearly identical chemically to real viruses but are encased with a protein covering to prevent degradation. The standards are currently used in research laboratories to help check analysis methods for detecting specific types of RNA, but the product has not been approved for clinical use.

What's needed according to NIST researcher Susan Krueger is a standard, reliable way to measure the concentration of artificial RNA in solution. By knowing exactly how much of the "fake" virus is present in a patient sample, a lab can better detect any additional signal caused by real virus molecules. Traditional methods for measuring concentrations don't work well with the new product since the artificial viruses are not infectious.

Instead, NIST scientists measured the concentration of artificial RNA virus solutions using a beam of neutrons as probes. As neutrons pass through the test solution, they interact in very specific ways with particular atoms, providing scientists with detailed information on molecular weight and geometry. This information can be used to very accurately measure the amount of RNA in a given solution. Precise calibration of artificial RNA concentrations may, in turn, allow laboratories to reliably detect lower concentrations of real viruses at earlier stages of infection.

The NIST research was conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground, Aberdeen, Md.

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

*The researchers presented their work at the second American Conference on Neutron Scattering, held June 6-10, in College Park, Md.



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Lasers Key to Construction, Manufacturing Advances

LADAR image

Lasers, already used for everything from price scanning at the supermarket to eye surgery, now are likely to dramatically change the construction, large-scale manufacturing, remote sensing and defense industries. A new National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report* predicts "tremendous" applications for laser scanning devices, also known as LADARs (for Laser Detection and Ranging) and argues for a vigorous effort to create next-generation LADAR—a coffee-cup-size device with millimeter accuracy. The results, says study director William C. Stone, “could be comparable to the advances achieved when computers were first matched with machinery."

Industry has used LADAR systems, which create three-dimensional images of areas and objects, since the late 1970s. Recent advances in microchip lasers, optics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and computers, however, have increased LADAR's speed of data acquisition, range accuracy and reliability, as well as reduced its size and costs. LADARs now are used to generate topographic images, to survey the depths of large bodies of water, and as three-dimensional documentation of construction when building plans are not available. Manufacturers also are beginning to use LADARs as a tool to recreate critical machine components from single examples.

NIST is testing LADAR as a tool for remote management of construction sites and for navigating unoccupied military vehicles. (The latter research could soon lead to collision-avoidance advances for civilian automobiles.) To spur greater LADAR industrial use, NIST also is working to develop test objects for LADAR performance standards so industry can have confidence in laser scanning readings and comparison of systems. Other LADAR research currently under way at NIST includes work on rapid, long-range automated identification systems for remote scanning and inventory of construction materials; automated LADAR-based docking systems for building construction cranes; and basic scientific and engineering research that will enable development of miniature, high-resolution, low-cost, next-generation LADAR systems.

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

*Performance Analysis of Next-Generation LADAR for Manufacturing, Construction and Mobility, NISTIR 7117, William C. Stone, Building and Fire Research Laboratory; Maris Juberts, Nick Dagalakis, Jack Stone, Jason Gorman, Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory. See (.pdf; download Acrobat Reader)


Input Sought for 'Next Generation' Manufacturing Programs

The Commerce Department and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) recently released reports ( and respectively) (.pdf; download Acrobat Reader) making recommendations to address the challenges faced by the manufacturing industry. One of the recommendations in the NAPA report suggests creating a strategic plan that articulates the "next generation" of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). In order to gather public comment on this strategic plan and respond to the recommendations in both the Commerce and NAPA reports, MEP will be holding a series of regional roundtables (Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Orlando, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.) and scheduling web casts. To register for a meeting or web cast, go to

NVLAP Announces Program for Voting Systems Test Labs

On June 23, 2004, a Federal Register notice was published announcing that the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) will establish a laboratory accreditation program for laboratories that test voting systems, including hardware and software components. This program will use standards determined by the Election Assistance Commission to accredit the laboratories. For more information, access the Federal Register notice at: or contact Jeffrey Horlick, NVLAP, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 2140, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-2140; (301) 975-4016;

Scientists Discover New Interstellar Molecules

A team of scientists using the National Science Foundation's Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) has discovered two new molecules in an interstellar cloud near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The team included scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the University of Oslo, Norway, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va. Their results were accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. This discovery is the GBT's first detection of new molecules and is already helping astronomers better understand the complex processes by which large molecules form in space. For more information, see

Report Spotlights Fire/Construction Research

A new 332-page history of a quarter century of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Building and Fire Research Laboratory activities summarizes the critical work of NIST researchers on behalf of the nation’s construction and fire safety communities. The well-illustrated report details NIST research on topics such as construction integration and automation, simulation of building fires, development and testing of smoke detectors, development of air quality control software, lessons learned from site investigations in the aftermath of earthquakes and hurricanes, high-performance concrete durability tests, and efforts to improve fire fighter protective clothing. Building and Fire Research at NBS/NIST 1975-2000 by Richard N. Wright is available at Individual chapters are available as PDF files. To request a hard copy of the report, contact Kellie Beall at 301-975-5643 or


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Editor: Gail Porter

Date created: 07/01/04
Date updated: 07/01/04