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August 13, 2004

  In This Issue:
bullet Carbon Nanotubes Eliminate Manufacturing Woe
bullet Going to Mercury? Don't Leave Home Without a NIST Calibration
bullet New NIST Guide Helps Book'em on Digital Evidence
bullet Plan to Reform, Strengthen NIST MEP Announced
bullet Forum on Vehicle Shipment Accuracy

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Carbon Nanotubes Eliminate Manufacturing Woe

normal view and cross section of nanotube-filled polymer next to traditional polymer
Two examples of how nanotube-filled polymers (thin rod in left photo; small disk in right photo) avoid swelling seen in traditional polymers.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have discovered that the addition of carbon nanotubes to a common commercial polymer, polypropylene, leads to dramatic changes in how the molten polymer flows. This process eliminates a widespread manufacturing headache known as “die-swell” in which polymers swell in undesirable directions when passing through the exit port of an extruder (a machine for producing more or less continuous lengths of plastic sections).

Researchers have been adding small amounts of nanotubes—tiny tubes of carbon about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair—to polypropylene in hopes of dramatically enhancing the material’s strength and other properties. Once realized, this enhanced polymer could be processed at high speed through extruders for use in manufacturing.

NIST materials scientists were concerned that because nanotubes make the polypropylene rubbery, the material would be difficult to process or its enhanced properties would be lost. To their surprise, the opposite proved true. When sheared (forced) between two plates, the polymer normally separates the plates. However, when nanotubes are added, the plates are pulled together.

The scientists discovered that this “pulling-together” completely alleviated die-swell. Industry currently uses various time-consuming trial-and-error solutions to deal with the problem.

Eliminating die-swell should help manufacturers improve their time-to-market by simplifying their die design processes and enabling the controlled manufacture of smaller components.

The NIST work appears in the August 2004 edition of the journal Nature Materials.

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



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Going to Mercury? Don’t Leave Home Without a NIST Calibration

artist's impression of the Messenger spacecraft in orbit around Mercury
Artist’s impression of the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around Mercury.

T he first spacecraft intended to orbit Mercury was launched on Aug. 3, 2004, carrying an instrument for mapping the composition of the planet’s crust that was calibrated with a novel procedure at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The procedure, using NIST-produced, high-energy gamma rays, enabled the device to be prepared for the same intense radiation levels typically produced in outer space.

Mercury is a rocky planet like the Earth but smaller, denser and with an older surface. Scientists believe that by studying Mercury they can develop a better understanding of how the Earth formed, evolved and interacts with the Sun.

Scheduled to orbit Mercury in 2011, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft carries seven scientific instruments, including a detector that will measure gamma rays emitted by Mercury’s crust as it is bombarded by cosmic rays. The bombardment releases neutrons, which react with the elements in the crust; analysis of the resulting gamma rays will help identify the elements. The detector’s efficiency (the fraction of incoming gamma rays detected) needed to be calibrated based on the gamma-ray energy for 37 different orientation angles associated with the orbits around the planet. Typical gamma ray sources, such as those used for medical treatments, emit at lower energy levels than those needed for the calibration.

NIST scientists, in collaboration with the mission’s prime contractor, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, solved the calibration problem by using a high-intensity neutron beam to irradiate targets made of sodium chloride and chromium. The targets captured neutrons and emitted gamma rays, which were measured by MESSENGER’s gamma-ray detector. These gamma rays spanned the energy range that will be measured in the planetary assay. According to Johns Hopkins’ Edgar A. Rhodes—lead scientist for the MESSENGER instrumentthe calibration procedure “will likely set a new standard for space-flight gamma-ray spectrometers.”

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



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New NIST Guide Helps Book’em on Digital Evidence

Criminal investigators increasingly find that personal computers, handheld devices and even mobile phones contain pictures, e-mail and other data critical to the prosecution of cases. A new guide written by computer forensics experts under the direction of the Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides step-by-step instructions to assist investigators in locating digital evidence so that it stands up to scrutiny once cases are tried.

Forensic Examination of Digital Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement is the second guide published since NIST was asked in 1998 by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to work on computer forensics.

At the request of NIJ, NIST recently convened a panel of computer forensics experts that pooled their expertise to shape the content of the new guide. NIST staff then organized the information into an easily understood and highly usable document.

The guide provides practical techniques for extracting digital data without either inadvertently altering the information or making it appear that it has been altered. For example, one section describes the right type of search warrant to access the data. Another lesson explains how data must be extracted without changing “modified dates” or other record fields that may lead to charges of evidence tampering.

Other topics covered in the publication include securing digital evidence, hardware/software operating systems, physical access, internal or external storage devices, and the retrieval of configuration information.

The guide can be downloaded in ASCII text and Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format from the NIJ Web site. Go to and enter publications number NCJ 199408 into the search engine.

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



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Plan to Reform, Strengthen NIST MEP Announced

On Aug. 9, 2004, Commerce Under Secretary for Technology Phillip Bond announced the Commerce Department’s approach to reform and strengthen the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), managed by Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in close cooperation with state and local organizations. The improvement plan is based on input from MEP partners and others at nine webcasts and meetings held around the country over the past month, as well as discussions with other federal agencies and Congress.

MEP is a nationwide network of resources helping small manufacturers become more competitive.

The improvements are a key step toward meeting the goals set by Commerce Secretary Don Evans in a report on manufacturing released earlier this year. (Manufacturing in America: A Comprehensive Strategy to Address the Challenge to U.S. Manufacturers is available at

As a result of feedback from MEP partners and others, the Commerce Department will use a reapplication process to strengthen the performance of MEP centers. Reapplication will take place as part of the current review process for MEP centers rather than as a separate effort.

External teams review an MEP center’s performance every two years as required by statute. In addition to independent reviews every two years, NIST currently reviews center performance quarterly. Providing for probation periods and termination for underperforming centers, the process has a robust system of oversight and program management and helps ensure that all MEP centers are operating at a high level.

Several additional reforms to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the MEP program also are planned, including a robust strategic planning process, closer coordination with other agencies, new technology services, and an integrated knowledge management system.

The complete text of Under Secretary Bond’s statement on the MEP program may be found at

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


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Forum on Vehicle Scale Shipment Accuracy

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is sponsoring a forum on laws and regulations relating to commercial transactions that rely on net weights of commodities and/or service charges determined by vehicle scales. The free conference, to be held Sept. 28, 2004, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., will look at how truck cargo weights are determined. Such weights are calculated by subtracting a truck’s weight when full from its empty weight as recorded from previous measurements. However, additional material in the truck cab, new tires, or even mud and dirt can make the weight previously assigned to a delivery truck incorrect. Over time faulty calculations can boost or reduce the actual weight of total deliveries by thousands of pounds.

Industry representatives, consumers, scale owners and users, exporters, importers, retailers, federal and state representatives are invited to participate in the forum. Space is limited. Advanced registration is required. The registration deadline is 5 p.m. EDT, Sept. 1, 2004. Further information is available from Conference Coordinator Tom Coleman at or (301) 975-4868.

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


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NIST Assists Penn in Nano Breakthrough—University of Pennsylvania researchers recently relied on images produced at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to achieve a significant advance in materials science reported in the Aug. 12, 2004, issue of the journal Nature. The Penn team used transmission electron microscopy at NIST to define the arrangement of wedge-shaped molecules that could be used in the design of selective and stable artificial membrane pores for applications in filtration, medicine, nanomanufacturing and sensors. For the full journal article, see

September Event Focuses on Biometrics—The Biometrics Consortium Conference 2004, scheduled for Sept. 20-22, 2004, at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., will showcase recent advances in technologies and address issues facing the biometrics industry and end users in a variety of areas, including homeland security, law enforcement, identity theft and interoperability. Featured speakers include Asa Hutchinson, under secretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security; James Woolsey, former director of Central Intelligence; and David M. Wennergren, chief information officer for the Department of the Navy. Details and online registration are available at

Baldrige Award Winners Go on the Road—Senior leaders and others from 12 organizations that have received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award will share their exceptional practices at conferences in Oak Brook, Ill., on Sept. 10, 2004, and San Antonio, Texas, on Sept. 30, 2004. They include five of the seven 2003 recipients of the award: Medrad Inc. (manufacturing category), Caterpillar Financial Services Corp. U.S. (service), Stoner Inc. (small business), Community Consolidated School District 15 (education), and Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City (health care). For more information and online registration, go to


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Editor: Gail Porter

Date created: 08/13/04
Date updated:08/13/04