In This Issue: Precast Concrete Stands Tall in NIST Earthquake Lab Neutron Beams Have the Power to Examine Batteries Literature Meets Electronics in E-Book Workshop 'Middleware' Lets You Write the Rules Cool New Web Site Offers Physics History Lesson Michigan Manufacturing Firm Is Ready for Y2K--Are You? Tech Trivia
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Precast Concrete Stands Tall in NIST Earthquake Lab
A new way to make tall buildings earthquake resistant will send shock waves through the construction industry this month. Work is getting under way on a 39-story, 420-foot apartment tower in San Francisco. When complete, the building will be the tallest precast concrete structure ever built in an active U.S. earthquake zone.
Builders prefer precast concrete to other materials in some circumstances because it offers better quality control and speeds up the construction process. In large buildings the use of precast concrete can, in some cases, save millions of dollars. Yet builders previously had shied away from using precast concrete to construct tall buildings in active seismic zones because of constraints imposed by building codes.
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology started working on innovative ways to use precast concrete in buildings in earthquake zones in 1987. By 1991 they were collaborating with researchers at the University of Washington and Charles Pankow Builders Ltd. of Altadena, Calif. Tests at NIST show the new design will perform as well as cast-in-place concrete construction.
The design uses beams made of precast concrete with high-strength "post tensioning" steel. These steel cables can stretch slightly during an earthquake, and then snap the building back into place. In addition, "mild" steel bars, which can stretch, will be used at connections between columns and beams. The mild steel is used to absorb the energy of an earthquake. The Pankow construction firm is managing the $128 million project.
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
Neutron Beams Have the Power to Examine Batteries
How important are batteries in our lives? Just ask the parents of any child whose favorite toy suddenly goes dead or the family in need of a flashlight when lightning plunges a home into darkness. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Center for Neutron Research is helping make sure that the next generation of portable batteries are more durable and reliable.
In many lithium-ion batteries, the anode (positive-charged pole) is made from "disordered carbon." This special material is very light and can take up and discharge large amounts of lithium ions, setting up the flow of electrons and generating electricity. Physicists and materials scientists at the NIST Center for Neutron Research are using scattered neutron beams to assess how different disordered carbons absorb and release lithium. One significant finding is that lithium ions are captured by hydrogen atoms on the edges of microscopic structures within the carbon materials.
With these data and other results from their investigations, NIST scientists hope to continue making measurements that help industry enhance the lithium-bsorbing and discharging ability of disordered carbons, making tomorrow's batteries even more useful.
Linda Joy, (301) 975-4403
Literature Meets Electronics in E-Book Workshop
The publishing industry will undergo enormous changes during the next few years as electronic books (e-books) become more common as reading appliances. E-books are hybrid products that combine features found in books and computers. For example, touch screen technology allows a reader to touch an unfamiliar word to get an immediate dictionary definition. Touching the screen elsewhere can make the print larger or smaller.
A fall workshop will examine factors affecting the nascent e-book industry. Topics will range from technologies that allow readers to download text from World Wide Web sites directly into their e-books to legal issues involving digital right management. Participants will include e-book manufacturers, authors, computer hardware and software executives, traditional publishers, educators, literary agents and others with an interest in the industry.
Speakers will include executives from American and Japanese companies and other organizations with an interest in e-books. Among the speakers will be representatives of International Business Machines, Microsoft, Toshiba and Japan's E- Book Consortium.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is teaming up with the National Information Standards Organization to hold the workshop, which will take place at NIST Sept. 21-22. NIST also held the world's first e-book conference last year. Detailed information is available at www.nist.gov/ebook99.
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
'Middleware' Lets You Write the Rules
Managing different tasks in a modern factory or business used to be a major job unto itself, because tools for integrating disparate software applications were narrow in scope, expensive and inflexible. But all that has changed thanks to Vitria Technology Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., which says its flexible "middleware" can cut the cost of systems integration and maintenance by at least 50 percent.
The "model-driven" software is based on novel concepts and technologies developed and demonstrated by Vitria with co-funding from the Advanced Technology Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The models, which are flexible sets of business rules, drive the functions of generic software "engines" designed to execute and analyze tasks. The rules are tailored to-and even written by-the user.
The two-year ATP project ended in 1997. Since its commercialization with non-ATP funding, the software has become popular with leading companies in a variety of fields, who say it has improved real-time knowledge of business operations and enhanced competitiveness. One major client is Federal Express. Vitria recently won an industry award based on customer references.
Michael Baum, (301) 975-2763
Cool New Web Site Offers Physics History Lesson
A new web site at the National Institute of Standards and Technology gives students some fascinating summer reading on physics and science teachers a new resource on the history of physics. "Marie Curie and the NBS Radium Standards" is a new exhibit prepared for the NIST Virtual Museum as a contribution to the NIST Centennial celebration, which will take place in 2001. The easy-to- navigate web site is illustrated with period photographs as well as certificates and photographs from the NIST archives.
Organized in chronological fashion, the site describes how the curie was selected as the basic unit for radioactivity in tribute to Pierre Curie, Marie Curie's late husband, and how the first curie radium standard was delivered to NIST (then known as the National Bureau of Standards) in 1913. By the early 1920s, NBS scientists were making more than 2,000 radium calibrations per year. This large demand was driven by the increasing use of radium and radon in radiation therapy.
Other pages in the exhibit describe Marie Curie's visits with Presidents Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover, as well as subsequent U.S. standards for radioactivity. To learn more, visit the NIST Virtual Museum exhibit at physics.nist.gov/Curie.
Linda Joy, (301) 975-4403
Michigan Manufacturing Firm Is Ready for Y2K-Are You?
With Y2K, every time you turn around there's something else."
Though Deb Stevens is confident that the systems at Nicholas Plastics are compliant, she remains ever vigilant for that "something else." Indeed, as software support specialist at the Michigan auto industry and office furniture supplier, Stevens says, Y2K-the year 2000 computer problem-has become part of her life.
To help herself anticipate the unimagined, Stevens has attended The Right Place Y2K Users Group, conducted by a partner of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, the local affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Aside from visiting web sites recommended in the group and testing the PCs at the office for the past 18 months, Stevens has focused considerably on contingency planning, one of the least cyber- related aspects of Y2K. "In a lot of ways, preparing for Y2K is like preparing for a snowstorm," she says. "We may have power outages regardless of Y2K. We have manual overrides and power generation just in case. If worse come to worse, we can even use typewriters."
MEP centers across the country are leading small manufacturers along the road toward Y2K compliance through one-on-one assistance, users groups, seminars, and other activities. For help in solving Y2K problems, check out the free Y2K Self-Help Tool on the web at y2khelp.nist.gov or call the Y2K Help Center for Small Business on 1-800-Y2K-7557.
Jan Kosko, (301) 975-2767
According to the New Yorker magazine, Henry T. Wensel, chief of the National Bureau of Standards Pyrometry Section from 1917 to 1946, reportedly applied thermodynamic formulas and measurements to Biblical text to determine that the temperature in Heaven was actually 80 degrees Celsius hotter than that in Hell.
One morning, President Wilson, an avid reader of mystery novels, sent an envelope bearing his seal to NIST. He had read that such a letter could be resealed without any sign of tampering. A day later he had his letter back, apparently intact, and containing the lead disks used to make the fraudulent seal.
NIST's first director, Samuel Stratton, was reluctant to hire women-he reportedly said they might be offended by the sight of his scientists in shirt sleeves-but when the draft decimated the ranks of men during WWI, he had no choice in replacing his laboratory assistants. Almost 100 women came to NIST during the war.