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In This Issue: Tracking Construction Projects with Lasers Could Save Time and Money New Method Lets Pig Clean Out Natural Gas Pipeline NIST Produces New 'Internet in a Box' 'Giant Magnetoresistance' Coming to a Sensor Near You Scientists Find New Use for Imaging Technique Special NIST Offer--Titanic Video--Not Available in Stores Tech Trivia
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Tracking Construction Projects with Lasers Could Save Time and Money
Simply keeping track of things on a construction site can cost a small fortune. Many contractors say they expend the equivalent of three to six person years on large construction projects as they scramble to keep track of materials, machines and tools. Organized chaos is the norm as construction materials and equipment get moved around on a daily basis while the work proceeds.
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology will take a significant step toward bringing more order to the process this year in an experiment on an actual construction site at NIST's Gaithersburg campus. The project will use new, fast laser ranging technologies and three-dimensional analysis to scan the site and capture data for project planning and management purposes. Information from laser ranging sensors and other high-tech tracking devices can be gathered and accurately located using global positioning system instruments mounted on an all- terrain vehicle.
The research is being conducted by the Construction Metrology and Automation Group, which is part of NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory. The long-term goal of this group (and that of the associated computer-integrated construction environment research projects) is to bring the benefits of automation and information technology, which have greatly increased productivity in manufacturing settings, to the construction industry.
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
New Method Lets Pig Clean Out Natural Gas Pipelines
Strapping an ultrasound device to the back of a pig sounds like a strange kind of rodeo event. In reality, it's the best way for pipeline companies to inspect miles of oil and petroleum product transmission lines for dangerous flaws.
The pigs referred to are mobile platforms rigged with monitoring equipment that can be inserted into a pipe and then travel the length of the conduit, using ultrasound to assess the integrity of each section of wall along the way.
Unfortunately, the same technique does not work for natural gas pipelines. Gas molecules allow very little ultrasound energy to get through to the walls. Researchers with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., have solved the problem, demonstrating that they can detect thin cracks 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inch) deep within a gas pipeline wall.
The researchers used a high-pressure gas--nitrogen--and careful configuration of the monitoring equipment to overcome the losses of the ultrasound signal caused by natural gas. This made it possible to see the signal bounce back from inside the pipeline wall. How well did it work? The NIST system (which would be carried by a pig in an industrial version) successfully detected an ultrasound wave reflected from inside pipeline steel 13 millimeters (0.5 inch) thick.
Fred McGehan (Boulder), (303) 497-3246
NIST Produces New 'Internet in a Box'
Imagine trying to decide what kind of clothing to wear when you had no idea if the air outside would be freezing cold or overwhelmingly hot. Curiously, that is the dilemma faced by companies that want to develop advanced products and services for the Internet.
The Internet is simply unpredictable. Traffic can be light or heavy. Critical packets of information sent over the network can get lost or arrive out of order. The sheer unpredictability of the network makes it difficult to develop sophisticated new Internet technologies that will do well in every conceivable type of Internet weather.
Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have made it easier for the Internet industry to meet these challenges by developing a software tool that allows engineers to test their products under a wide variety of artificial Internet weather conditions.
The NIST Network Emulation Tool (NIST Net) enables extensive testing of the effects of Internet performance scenarios early in the product development cycle, allowing engineers to design products that work well in a variety of network conditions. NIST Net, sometimes called an "Internet in a box," can run on a personal computer, making the testing process inexpensive.
Many companies and universities are using the first version of NIST Net to test everything from business applications to Internet games. A new version of NIST Net that will support finer, more sophisticated testing scenarios, will be released in March.
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
'Giant Magnetoresistance' Coming to a Sensor Near You
After a decade as a laboratory curiosity, the giant magnetoresistance (GMR) effect is beginning to have an impact in the real world. GMR sensors designed by Nonvolatile Electronics Inc., of Eden Prairie, Minn., are being incorporated into a variety of products, from vehicle-counting systems on highways to devices for detecting land mines or counterfeit aircraft parts. And this is just a preview; the ultimate impact of GMR is expected to be, well, giant.
GMR devices (sandwiches of very thin magnetic and non-magnetic materials) exhibit an unusually large change in electrical resistance in the presence of a magnetic field. According to Nonvolatile Electronics, the GMR sensors outperform competing devices because they are smaller, consume less power, and offer greater sensitivity and range of operation.
The sensor applications are spin-offs of new materials, designs and techniques developed by Nonvolatile Electronics with co-funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program. In the three-year ATP project, which ended in 1994, Nonvolatile Electronics achieved the technical advances needed to demonstrate the first prototype GMR computer memory "cells" (components of integrated circuits or chips). Nonvolatile Electronics is now working with Motorola Inc. and others to commercialize GMR computer memory chips, which will retain data even when power goes off.
Michael Baum, (301) 975-5745
Scientists Find New Use for Imaging Technique
Molded parts made from composite materials are being used increasingly in a wide range of applications from cars to toys. However, industry needs a much better understanding of how to produce good-quality parts cheaper and more efficiently. That's because the liquid resins injected into the molds flow in complex patterns, and various flaws develop.
Consequently, it takes longer to produce good-quality parts, while workers use trial and error to perfect manufacturing methods. One way to improve the quality of the parts is to use models that predict the path the resin will take as it fills the mold.
Now a technique traditionally used for medical imaging is showing promise in visualizing how the resin permeates the bundles of glass fibers in some composite materials. Detailed images that reveal the permeation patterns and the formation of weakening flaws such as air pockets are essential to designing accurate computer models.
Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown that the technique, called optical coherence tomography, can be used to take high-resolution images of a composite part's cross section. A series of images then can be pieced together, yielding a three-dimensional reconstruction. A paper on the technique appeared in December in the journal Composites Part A: Applied Science and Manufacturing. The scientists plan to present new findings at the March meeting of the International Society for Optical Engineering.
Emil Venere, (301) 975-5745
Special NIST Offer--Titanic Video--Not Available in Stores
Metallurgist Timothy Foecke is well known for his recent findings showing that weak rivets may have contributed to the demise of the Titanic.
Foecke described his ongoing research during a public lecture in November at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. His talk, which focused on the science of forensic analysis, was colored with historical images and details. The audience of school children and adults alike listened with interest as Foecke added surprising tidbits about the giant ocean liner and its tragic history. The NIST scientist explained in clear language some of the challenges confronting researchers, who are still trying to learn exactly how Titanic sank so quickly. It's a race against time, he noted, as the wreckage quickly deteriorates on the floor of the North Atlantic. The ship's hulking remains are turning into rust at the rate of one ton a day and will collapse within 20 years.
To request a free copy of the one-hour educational video, entitled What Sank the RMS Titanic? A Talk by Dr. Tim Foecke, NIST Metallurgist, write to NIST Public Inquiries, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 3460, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-3460. Fax a request to (301) 926-1630 or send an e-mail message to email@example.com.
Emil Venere, (301) 975-5745
Remember all those wonderfully descriptive names for Crayola crayons? Well, many of them were taken from the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) Special Publication 440, Color: Universal Language and Dictionary of Names.
In 1948, National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) scientists were the first to develop protective ceramic coatings for jet engine parts made from molybdenum. The coatings allowed use of the parts at temperatures above the melting point of common heat resisting alloys.
In 1948, National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) scientists developed the first sky compass based on the polarization of light. It was intended for use over polar regions where magnetic compasses would not work.