In This Issue: NIST Improves Accuracy of Radioactive Prostate Seeds Charters of Freedom Slated for Move to Improved Cases Hacker Attacks Increasing with Easy-to-Use Internet Programs Ceramic Coatings Offer Promise of Superior Engines Get Ready for the mebi, gibi and tebi Genetic Bar Coding Speeds DNA Testing Tech Trivia
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NIST Improves Accuracy of Radioactive Prostate Seeds
Men who opt to treat prostate cancer with implanted radioactive seeds rather than surgery or external beam radiation now can be assured that their radiation dose is traceable to a new and improved standard at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Aside from skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men.
Radioactive prostate seeds minimize the risk of incontinence and impotence, and may be as effective as surgery or external beam radiation for men with localized prostate cancer. Rice-sized prostate seeds work by delivering radiation directly to a tumor. A doctor, guided by ultrasound imaging and taking into account the strength of the seeds, inserts them into the tumor to kill the cancer cells.
Now, NIST is the only laboratory in the world to offer this new calibration service to radioactive prostate seed manufacturers. The new and improved NIST standard is a radiation detector that is 100 times more sensitive than the detector used to establish the old standard. Regulators require that manufacturers trace the accuracy of their prostate seeds to radiation standards at NIST.
Linda Joy, (301) 975-4403
Charters of Freedom Slated for Move to Improved Cases
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have preserved the rights and freedoms of Americans for more than 200 years. Preserving these great documents, known collectively as the Charters of Freedom, has been the nearly 50-year task of helium-filled cases created by the National Bureau of Standards, predecessor to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Now, NIST and the National Archives and Records Administration have teamed to transfer the Charters of Freedom to state-of-the-art enclosures by 2003.
Examinations recently detected microscopic fissures in the glass plates that hold the document pages upright for viewing. Preservationists fear such cracks eventually will let in pollutants. Additionally, constant contact between the parchment and the glass may cause abrasions. Correcting these problems is currently impossible: the cases are soldered shut and cannot be opened without compromising the seal.
Archivists will be able to be open the new casesif its ever necessarywithout damage to the seal. The documents will be mounted so that glass never touches parchment. Ultra-smooth surfaces and using atomically larger argon gas rather than helium will minimize leakage.
Michael Newman, (301) 975-3025
Hacker Attacks Increasing with Easy-to-Use Internet Programs
Internet computer hacking attacks are becoming more common as they grow easier to commit. Many hacking web sites allow people to download the information and programs they need to launch assaults on other computers. A recent analysis of attacks that were published on the Internet found that they require much less technical skill than in the past. In short, we are moving into an era of point and click attacks. The Computer Security Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology conducted the analysis.
For example, most of the attacks previously employed by hackers required the use of sophisticated computers running Unix operating systems. But 29 percent of the hundreds of attacks recently published on the Internet can be launched from the Windows operating system found on many home and office computers. Additionally, attack toolkits are appearing on the Internet as well. These kits simplify the hacking process so much that even children can break into computer systems with the push of a button.
The study also noted that browsing the World Wide Web is not as safe as it once was. Some 3 percent of the attacks published on the Internet tell how to launch an attack from a web site against someone who simply wandered onto the site.
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
Ceramic Coatings Offer Promise of Superior Engines
Industry knows little about the complex microscopic behavior of ceramic coatings inside jet turbines and other types of engines. These thermal-barriercoatings extend the lifetimes of expensive metal engine parts by protecting them from ultra- high temperatures.
Scientists hope one day to produce ceramics capable of withstanding even greater temperatures, making it possible to design more powerful, efficient and cleaner-running engines. To that end, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are learning precisely what happens to ceramic microscopic structures when exposed to drastic temperature ranges inside engines.
It is thought that changes in microstructure dont occur until ceramics get within 50 percent of their melting point. But recent research findings have revealed that one widely used ceramic coating made of zirconium oxide and yttrium showed changes to its microstructure after being heated to only 800 degrees Celsius, far cooler than half of zirconias melting point, which is 2,750 Celsius. Because jet engines operate at roughly 1,150 Celsius, the temperature is actually hot enough to bring about changes in the microstructure of ceramic coatings. Those changes do not pose a danger. However, their discovery will help scientists understand more about the nature of ceramic coatings.
Emil Venere, (301) 975-5745
Get Ready for the mebi, gibi and tebi
Information technology is spinning off a lexicon of terms to describe new computer hardware, software and Internet services practically as fast as the latest modems. However, some of the new terms are just not precise enough. Take kilobytes, megabytes and gigabytes, for example. The kilo, mega and giga prefixes, borrowed from the International System of Units, the modern metric system, designate 1,000, 1 million and 1 billion respectively. Yet a kilobyte, as computer experts know, is actually 1,024 bytes, and a megabyte is really 1,048,576 bytes.
This discrepancy stems from the need to write electronic information in binary code, using only two digits, ones and zeros, while the metric system is based on 10 digits. To describe large numbers of bytes, programmers used the closest approximate metric prefixes available at the time. Now, the International Electrotechnical Commission, which writes international standards for electronic technologies, has adopted new prefixes to more accurately express the values of quantities used in information technology.
With significant input from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the IEC adopted kibi (Ki), mebi (Mi), gibi (Gi), tebi (Ti), pebi (Pi) and exbi (Ei) to represent exponentially increasing binary multiples. A kibibyte, therefore, equals 2 to the 10th power, or 1,024 bytes. Likewise, a mebibyte equals 2 to the 20th power, or 1,048,576 bytes. The new prefixes for binary multiples, which parallel the metric prefixes, will increase precision in expressing electronic information.
Linda Joy, (301) 975-4403
Genetic Bar Coding Speeds DNA Testing
Just as bar codes have helped speed up trips to the supermarket, a new technology developed with co-funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technologys Advanced Technology Program is helping scientists speed up identification of genetic variations.
Developed by Third Wave Technologies Inc. of Madison, Wis., the novel genetic screening technique provides a fast, inexpensive way to turn DNA samples into individualized bar code patterns that can be scanned quickly for specific mutations. The technique costs up to 79 percent less per sample than other methods, including automated DNA sequencing.
DNA sequencing laboriously identifies the precise order in which four chemical bases appear in a gene fragment. In contrast, Third Waves CFLP (cleavage fragment length polymorphism) method uses patented processing methods and enzymes to create and identify tell-tale folds in single-stranded DNA that indicate specific chemical sequences. If DNA sequencing is equivalent to reading every word of an organisms assembly instructions, then CFLP is a speed reading method that concentrates on critical junctures to infer the rest of the book.
CFLP generates a distinct bar code for every unique DNA sequence. Thus mutations can be detected by comparing a sample to a normal coding pattern. The method should have a broad range of applications for research, diagnosing
and treating infections and hereditary diseases, and accelerating drug development.
Michael Baum, (301) 975-2763
NIST, located in Gaithersburg, Md. since 1966, previously occupied the present site of the University of the District of Columbia. The agency, known as the National Bureau of Standards from 1901 to 1988, also has laboratories in Boulder, Colo.
NIST occupies a 578-acre site in suburban Maryland. The federal government purchased the site from the Diamond family for about $500,000 in 1956. Relocation of NBS staff to the Gaithersburg site was complete in 1969.
NIST chemists are relocating to NISTs newest building on its Gaithersburg site, the Advanced Chemical Sciences Laboratory. Special features in this facility will permit improved chemical measurements and standards for health care, the environment and industry.