NIST TechBeat Blue/Yellow Banner NIST logo--go to NIST home page Search NIST web space go to NIST home page go to A-Z subject index Contact NIST skip navigation

May 18, 2005

  In This Issue:
bullet Quantum Computing Results May Help in Code Breaking

New Initiative will Map U.S. Measurement Needs

bullet World's First UV 'Ruler' Sizes Up Atomic World
bullet NIST Method Improves Timing in Oscilloscopes
bullet Rock On! Indiana Limestone: NIST's First and Latest SRM
  Quick Links:
bullet NIST Smoothness Web site Adds 3-D Analysis Tools
bullet NIST Showcase to Feature Nanotech and Bioscience

[NIST Tech Beat Search] [Credits] [NIST Tech Beat Archives] [Media Contacts] [Subscription Information]

blue divider

Quantum Computing Results May Help in Code Breaking

This colorized image shows the fluorescence from three trapped beryllium ions illuminated with an ultraviolet laser beam.

This colorized image shows the fluorescence from three trapped beryllium ions illuminated with an ultraviolet laser beam. Black and blue areas indicate lower intensity; red and white indicate higher intensity.

Credit: NIST
Click here for a high resolution version of this photo.

A crucial step in a procedure that could enable future quantum computers to break today’s most commonly used encryption codes has been demonstrated by physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

As reported in the May 13 issue of the journal Science,* the NIST team showed that it is possible to identify repeating patterns in quantum information stored in ions (charged atoms). The NIST work used three ions as quantum bits (qubits) to represent 1s or 0s—or, under the unusual rules of quantum physics, both 1 and 0 at the same time. Scientists believe that much larger arrays of such ions could process data in a powerful quantum computer. Previous demonstrations of similar processes were performed with qubits made of molecules in a liquid, a system that cannot be expanded to large numbers of qubits.

“Our demonstration is important, because it helps pave the way toward building a large-scale quantum computer,” says John Chiaverini, lead author of the paper. “Our approach also requires fewer steps and is more efficient than those demonstrated previously.”

The NIST team used electromagnetically trapped beryllium ions as qubits to demonstrate a quantum version of the “Fourier transform” process, a widely used method for finding repeating patterns in data. The quantum version is the crucial final step in Shor’s algorithm, a series of steps for finding the “prime factors” of large numbers—the prime numbers that when multiplied together produce a given number.

Developed by Peter Shor of Bell Labs in 1994, the factoring algorithm sparked burgeoning interest in quantum computing. Modern cryptography techniques, which rely on the fact that even the fastest supercomputers require very long times to factor large numbers, are used to encode everything from military communications to bank transactions. But a quantum computer using Shor’s algorithm could factor a number several hundred digits long in a reasonably short time. This algorithm made code breaking the most important application for quantum computing.

For further information, see

*J. Chiaverini, J. Britton, D. Leibfried, E. Knill, M.D. Barrett, R.B. Blakestad, W.M. Itano, J.D. Jost, C. Langer, R. Ozeri, T. Schaetz and D.J. Wineland. 2005. Implementation of the semiclassical quantum Fourier transform in a scalable system. Science. May 13, 2005.

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



blue divider

New Initiative Will Map U.S. Measurement Needs

An initiative to “roadmap” the nation’s future measurement needs was announced May 11 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Advances in such measurement capabilities are basic to technological innovation, U.S. industrial competitiveness, safety and security, and quality of life.

“The nation’s measurement system is a vital element of our innovation infrastructure,” NIST Acting Director Hratch Semerjian said during testimony before the House Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards. “The goal of this very important initiative, which will be undertaken in close cooperation with the private sector and other agencies, is to ensure that the nation’s highest-priority measurement needs are identified and met. We need to be certain that the U.S. measurement system is robust so that it can sustain America’s economy and citizens at world-class levels in the 21st century.”

Semerjian was testifying on the use of standards as barriers to export markets. Test and measurement methods are critical for businesses to demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements and standards, which are the specifications that define the features, performance levels, compatibility and other attributes of products. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has estimated that standards influence up to 80 percent of world trade.

The comprehensive, NIST-facilitated initiative, "Roadmapping America’s Measurement Needs for a Strong Innovation Infrastructure," will result in a first-ever evaluation of the breadth, depth and overall health of the U.S. measurement system. The final report, expected in early 2007, will identify priority measurement infrastructure needs across industry and the economy, recommend steps to address them and point out the consequences of inaction.

For further information, see

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


blue divider

JILA ultraviolet "ruler" is made by exposing xenon gas atoms to a special type of infrared laser light called a femtosecond frequency "comb."

The new JILA ultraviolet "ruler" is made by exposing xenon gas atoms to a special type of infrared laser light called a femtosecond frequency "comb." The laser light is bounced back and forth between highly reflective mirrors to increase its intensity. The process causes the highly excited xenon to emit ultraviolet light pulses spaced identically to the original infrared comb. The new comb improves the precision of measurements at the shorter UV wavelengths, just as a faster shutter speed improves the ability of a camera to "see" shorter-lived events.

Credit: JILA

Click here for high resolution version of this photo with text.

Click here for high resolution version of this photo without text.

World's First UV 'Ruler' Sizes Up Atomic World

The world's most accurate "ruler" made with extreme ultraviolet light has been built and demonstrated with ultrafast laser pulses by scientists at JILA, a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The new device, which consistently generates pulses of light lasting just femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second, or millionths of a billionth of a second) in the ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum, will be described in the May 20 issue of Physical Review Letters.*

The device is expected to become an important tool for ultraprecise measurements in many fields of science, including chemistry, physics and astronomy. A ruler made with shorter wavelengths of light makes it possible to “see” more precise differences than ever before in the energy levels of light emissions that identify specific atoms, in the timing of chemical reactions, or, if additional applications are developed, in the dimensions of certain nanometer-scale objects. The new device also can be compared to a camera with ultrafast shutter speeds and consistent shot-to-shot frame speed and stability, allowing scientists to take real-time “pictures” of finer structures and dynamics. By combining many such pictures at a high speed, scientists can gain a more detailed understanding of many phenomena.

“This ultraviolet light source has a spectacularly high resolution,” says Jun Ye, a NIST Fellow who leads the JILA research group. “On the technological side, the system we used to produce this light is simple and low cost, without active amplifiers.”

The new laser device generates a “frequency comb,” so-called because the frequency spectrum—a graphical representation of the pattern made by many successive laser pulses building on each other—looks like the evenly spaced teeth of a hair comb. (See graphic.) The new comb is a short-wavelength version of the optical frequency combs that in recent years have enabled demonstrations of optical atomic clocks, which are expected to be as much as 100 times more accurate than today’s microwave-based atomic clocks. A femtosecond comb, because of its high speed (or repetition rate), has the finest teeth of any optical ruler.

For further information, see

*R.J. Jones, K.D. Moll, M.J. Thorpe, and J. Ye. 2005. Phase-coherent frequency combs in the VUV via high-harmonic generation inside a femtosecond enhancement cavity. Physical Review Letters. May 20.

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




blue divider

NIST Method Improves Timing in Oscilloscopes

A new method for correcting common timing errors in high-speed oscilloscopes has been developed by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The method improves the accuracy and clarity of measurements performed in the development and troubleshooting of components for wireless and optical communications, military radar and other technologies.

Oscilloscopes display graphical representations of electrical and optical signals as waves, showing how the signals change over time. These instruments often have inaccurate internal clocks that distort output patterns, and they also can exhibit random timing errors called jitter. These errors may lead, for example, to false detection of failure in a communications module that is actually working, or to increased electronic "noise" interference with measurements of microwave signals from radar.

The NIST method, based on an approach developed in laboratory experiments and implemented in freely available software, constructs an alternative time base. The software analyzes an oscilloscope's measurements of both a signal of interest and two reference waves that are offset from each other. The reference waves are generated by an external device and are synchronized in time with the signal being measured. Measurements of the reference waves are compared with a calculation of an ideal wave to produce an estimate of total time errors due to distortion and jitter. These errors then can be corrected automatically for each measurement made by the oscilloscope.

The NIST correction method can be applied to older standard equipment, can correct time records of almost any length and can be applied to electromagnetic signals of almost any frequency. It also provides the user with an estimate of the residual timing error after the correction process has been completed. The Timebase Correction software package is available free of charge at

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



blue divider


Rock On! Indiana Limestone: NIST's First and Latest SRM

It may sound like sentimentality, but it’s coldly practical—the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has reissued one of its earliest Standard Reference Materials (SRMs), a mineral sample first distributed in 1910. Issue “d” of SRM 1 consists of a 70-gram sample of argillaceous (“containing clay”) limestone quarried in Putnam County, Ind. NIST certifies each sample for concentrations of 12 major chemical constituents and offers “informational” values for 32 other constituents and properties.

Standard Reference Materials are among the most widely distributed and used products from NIST. The agency prepares, analyzes and distributes well over a thousand different materials that are used throughout the world to check the accuracy of instruments and test procedures.

They range from industrial materials like SRM 1 or SRM 2172 (“S-7 Tool Steel”) to samples used in clinical chemistry (SRM 1951b—Lipids in Frozen Human Serum, SRM 2390—DNA Profiling Standard), environmental monitoring (SRM 1649—Urban Dust, SRM 1641—Mercury in Water), electronics (SRM 476—Linewidth Measurement, SRM 2543—Silicon Resistivity) criminal forensics (SRM 2379—Drugs of Abuse in Human Hair, SRM 2285—Arson Test Mixture), and dozens of others. About 350 SRMs support the auto industry, for example, from manufacture of sheet metal, windshields, tires, and transmission gears to final assembly and subsequent operation.

Prosaic limestone is a critical natural resource. In addition to being a building material, it is used in the manufacture of lime for agricultural and chemical processes, cement and concrete, and iron and steel. NIST researchers worked with the U.S. Geological Survey and six commercial laboratories in the mining, minerals, construction and analytical services sectors in the United States and Canada to produce SRM 1d. Details about SRM 1 and hundreds of other NIST Standard Reference Materials can be found at

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



blue divider

Quick Links

NIST Smoothness Web Site Adds 3-D Analysis Tools

A tiny irregularity in a product’s expected smooth surface can mean a multimillion dollar loss for manufacturers of everything from high-performance wind tunnels to precision optical devices. New features in a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Web site, however, should make quality assurance in such industries a bit less fretful.

The addition of three-dimensional surface analysis capacity to the feature menu of the free, interactive NIST Web site should be especially useful to the mechanical parts, semiconductor and optical industries where 3-D surface smoothness is key to high-efficiency performance. The NIST Web site enables manufacturers to check the accuracy of measurement software used to verify the smoothness of product surfaces. Until this month, the Web site, called “Surface Metrology Algorithm Testing System (SMATS),” was limited to two-dimensional surface analysis.

A new circular fit measurement feature on the 2-D page of the website also allows manufacturers of bearings and other cylindrical or spherical products to check for errors in software packages of the instruments they use.

The NIST virtual surface calibration Web site is available at

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



blue divider

NIST Showcase to Feature Nanotech and Bioscience

On Thursday, June 9, NIST will showcase its nanotechnology and bioscience resources (research, facilities, collaborative opportunities) to representatives of area businesses, venture capital firms, and other local and regional organizations. The all-day, NIST-hosted event, “Advancing the Frontiers of Bioscience and Nanotechnology,” is sponsored by the Maryland Technology Development Corp. and the Technology Council of Maryland, along with nearly 20 partner organizations.

Featured technologies range from microfluidics to nanomagnetics to interoperability standards for health care applications. For more information, see


blue divider

Return to NIST News Page)

Editor: Gail Porter

Date created:5/18/05
Date updated:5/18/05