In This Issue: Computer Networks Get Smart with Mobile Agent Technology Companies Work to Exterminate Y2K Bug with NIST Assistance Novel Optics Shed New Light on Medicine, Electronics Lunar Reflector Still on the Job After 30 Years Mystery Meat Makes Marvelous Measurement Metric Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? Tech Trivia
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Computer Networks Get Smart with Mobile Agent Technology
Computer scientists have created a new genre of programs that can roam from one computer to another. These traveling packets of small, specialized programs, called mobile agents, can travel autonomously on the Internet and other computer networks to carry out specific tasks. Mobile agent technology can be used in various ways, such as in electronic commerce, network management, distributed information retrieval and as personal assistants.
Computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed a prototype agent-based tool whose job is to monitor computer network security. The mobile agents can travel through computer networks doing a variety of tasks, such as checking for evidence of network intrusions. NIST scientists have developed small societies of agents that work together to protect and defend computer networks and to respond to network attacks. The project is one of several related to mobile agent security.
Another effort involves a joint under-taking with the Boeing Co. to make the mobile agent systems themselves more secure. The NIST projects are researching ways to improve security so consumers and businesses can take advantage of the benefits of mobile agent technology. Many computer scientists believe that the use of this new technology will become more widespread once adequate security mechanisms are in place.
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
Companies Work to Exterminate Y2K Bug with NIST Assistance
One percent doesn't sound like much. But to Michael T. Dunn of Canastota, N.Y.'s, Thermold Corp., a 1 percent failure of embedded systems could be a problem. Then again, it may not. He's just not willing to take that chance.
As purchasing and production control manager at the injection molding company, Dunn has taken the additional role of coordinating Thermold's year 2000 effort He sought help from the Central New York Technology Development Organization, Inc., in Syracuse, a Manufacturing Extension Partnership affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. After attending an MEP seminar on Y2K help and using the NIST MEP Y2K Self- Help Tool, Dunn said the center helped his company get a good handle on the Y2K problem.
Thermold Corp.'s Y2K success story is one of more than a dozen included in a newly available NIST fact sheet. MEP Y2K Success Stories can be found online at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/factsheet/mepy2k.htm. Copies also are available by faxing a request to NIST Public and Business Affairs, (301) 926-1630.
Jan Kosko, (301) 975-2767
Novel Optics Shed New Light on Medicine, Electronics
Many scientists once believed that the laws of physics would prevent the precise focusing of high-energy X-rays, a useful but hard-to-control form of radiation. They were wrong, as demonstrated by X-Ray Optical Systems, Inc., of Albany, N.Y.
With the help of co-funding from the Advanced Technology Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the small company developed processes to fabricate and predict the performance of "capillary optics" technology, which consists of bundles of tiny glass capillaries that can be curved to direct radiation in parallel beams or spots. The concept previously had been demonstrated in prototype lenses. The three-year ATP project, which ended in 1995, made the technology reliable, cost effective and safe enough to be commercially viable.
The capillary optics normally are used to control X-rays for manufacturing and analytical instruments, although they also work for low-energy neutrons. Spin-offs of the ATP project include an instrument that generates beams with 100 times the intensity of other compact X-ray sources. The new optics already are being used to accelerate the analysis of protein structure (a benefit in drug design) and the development of magnetic data-storage materials. Other applications under study include defect composition analysis for semiconductor manufacturing, X-ray lithography of high-density computer chips and digital mammography.
Michael Baum, (301) 975-2763
Lunar Reflector Still on the Job After 30 Years
One of the space program's longest-running and most cost-effective experiments--and one with a connection to the National Institute of Standards and Technology--celebrates its 30th anniversary this month by continuing to return data.
During their pioneering moon landing on July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts set up a special device that could reflect a powerful laser pulse aimed at it from telescopes on Earth. By measuring the round-trip travel time for the pulse (about 2.5 seconds), scientists have defined the Earth-Moon distance to better than 2.5 centimeters (1 inch). The lunar reflector's initial design was done by James Faller of JILA, a Boulder, Colo., research institute jointly operated by NIST and the University of Colorado.
The Apollo 11 instrument is a briefcase-sized aluminum panel studded with 100 reflectors, each about 3.8 centimeters (1.5 inches) across. It works just like a giant bicycle reflector, bouncing light back to its source.
The Apollo 14 and 15 missions, in 1971 and 1972 respectively, delivered two more Faller-designed reflector arrays, the latter having 300 reflectors. The trio of reflector stations still provides valuable data about the Earth-Moon system.
Collier Smith (Boulder), (303) 497-3198
Mystery Meat Makes Marvelous Measurement Metric
They're great on crackers, sandwiches and slathered with mustard. And now they've got their own measurement reference material from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. What are they? Processed meats.
At the request of the Food Safety Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, NIST chemists have developed a Meat Homogenate Standard Reference Material (SRM 1546). This new reference material will help food and nutrition laboratories verify the accuracy of the nutritional values they assign to canned and processed meats. Labs purchasing SRM 1546 will get four cans of blended pork and chicken with a certificate that tells just how much fat, protein and carbohydrate the meat contains. The certificate also provides exact values for various constituents of fats (individual fatty acids), calories, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in the meat. Food chemists will measure the nutrients in a portion of the meat reference material and then compare their results to the values listed on the certificate. This quality check allows labs to evaluate their own performance.
The meat homogenate reference material is one of several food-based Standard Reference Materials issued by NIST to help the food industry meet requirements of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990. The Meat Homogenate SRM is available through the NIST Standard Reference Materials Program for $305 by calling (301) 975-6776.
Linda Joy, (301) 975-4403
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Have you wondered about time? How do scientists determine what time it is? These questions and many more are answered in a new edition of a popular book from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, From Sundials to Atomic Clocks: Understanding Time and Frequency. Extensively updated from the first edition published in 1977, From Sundials to Atomic Clocks describes the history of timekeeping from prehistoric times to today, explaining in layman's terms how various kinds of clocks were invented and developed.
It describes how they operate, right up to the most advanced ultraprecise versions based on measuring the properties of atoms trapped in the grip of near-absolute-zero temperatures. Along the way, it explains how the search for better timekeeping, and its mirror-image, frequency control and measurement, has driven and been driven by many branches of science and technology from early astronomy through the age of exploration and navigation to today's telecommunications, navigation and information sciences.
From Sundials to Atomic Clocks (NIST MN 155, 1999 Ed.) (GPO stock number 003-003-03482-7) is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, phone: (202) 512-1800, fax: (202) 512-1800, Washington, D.C. 20402, for $19 postpaid. It is also scheduled to be re-published by Dover Publications, Inc., in 12 to 18 months.
Collier Smith (Boulder), (303) 497-3198
During WWI, NIST scientists investigated the inflammability of mixtures of hydrogen and helium for balloons with incendiary bullets.
In 1918, NIST analyzed and made specifications for shaving soap, shaving cream and laundry soap for the War Department.
The U.S. Shipping Board sought NIST help in finding a strong yet lightweight concrete for WWI war ships. Based on NIST tests, the Shipping Board used a shale aggregate in the concrete ships it constructed.
For questions or comments about Tech Beat, please contact Linda Joy, NIST Public and Business Affairs Division, 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 3460, NIST,Gaithersburg,MD 20899-3460, (301) 975- 4403, fax: (301) 975-1630.