In This Issue: Advanced Encryption Standard Will Keep Your Secrets Safe Light-Speed Communications Rely on NIST Standards Vitamin Measurements Made More Reliable at NIST Researchers Are Having a Ball with Round Molecules 100 Millimeters Makes a Big Difference Business Heats Up for Thermagon with Help from Cleveland MEP Tech Trivia
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Advanced Encryption Standard Will Keep Your Secrets Safe
Cryptography has gone mainstream. Just a few decades ago the science of scrambling information was an esoteric field employed primarily by the diplomatic and military elites to protect state secrets. Today, millions of Americans use cryptography, often without realizing it. Most people who use automated teller machines have used cryptography. The secret personal identification numbers required by the machines typically are encrypted before being sent to a computer that makes sure the number matches the card. Other people use data scrambling when they shop over the Internet; their credit card numbers are encrypted when they place an order.
The security of future electronic commerce transactions will depend on safe scrambling methods. As a result, the National Institute of Standards and Technology invited the worlds finest cryptographers to enter an international competition to develop the best encoding techniques. After more than a year of study, NIST recently announced five finalists in the global contest. One or more of these sophisticated mathematical formulas will likely become the federal governments new Advanced Encryption Standard. The standard will be used throughout the government to protect sensitive data, such as tax information and social security records. American teams developed three of the five finalist codes. These include algorithms developed by International Business Machines Corp. of Armonk, N.Y.; RSA Laboratories of Bedford, Mass.; and Counterpane Systems of Minneapolis.
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
Light-Speed Communications Rely on NIST Standards
A communications revolution is taking place throughout the world. Thousands of miles of optical fiber cable are being laid under oceans, between cities, along streets, in office parks and factories, and among the groves of academia. Each year enough fiber is installed to reach around the world over 800 times. These hair-thin strands of glass give us high-quality phone, fax and television service and, especially, high-speed access to the Internet. The equivalent of 50 million simultaneous phone calls can be transmitted over a single optical fiber.
Standing behind and aiding this revolution is the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Since the 1970s, NIST has been providing measurement technology and standards to support the optical communications industry. Today, the specifications of almost all of the optical fiber produced in the world are traceable to NIST standards. NIST provides 12 types of Standard Reference Materials and a variety of calibration and special test services to help companies be certain that products meet specifications.
Major industry associations believe that investments in metrology are one of the keys to the continued expansion of the optical communications industry. NIST will continue to work with the industry to meet these needs.
Fred McGehan (Boulder), (303) 497-3246
Vitamin Measurements Made More Reliable at NIST
The old maxim says you are what you eat. A contemporary corollary currently under close scientific scrutiny is the question of whether vitamins and related compounds can help prevent cancer. In order to set dietary guidelines for good health, doctors need very accurate measurements of these compounds, not only in food but also in human tissue. Chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are helping labs worldwide improve their vitamin measurements.
Its not easy to make accurate measurements of vitamins. They are usually mixed in with other complex molecules in complex substances, like food or blood. Doctors and nutritionists actively studying the health benefits of vitamins, such as A, E and beta carotene, must compare results from different labs. Thats why the labs need a certified reference material for helping determine the accuracy of their own results. NISTs Standard Reference Materials Program offers a certified reference material for fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoids in human serum (SRM 968C) to allow them to do that.
Through its Micronutrients Measurement Quality Assurance Program, NIST also conducts interlaboratory comparison exercises for more than 60 laboratories worldwide. Summary reports are provided to the laboratories to help them assess the performance of their in-house measurement methods for several fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoid compounds.
Linda Joy, (301) 975-4403
Researchers Are Having a Ball with Round Molecules
A Koosh ball is very easy to catch. A dendrimer molecule looks like a Koosh ball, and its good at catching things. Dendrimers are relatively new polymers that soon may find a wide variety of uses. The stringy ends of the molecule supply attachment points for enzymes that can be used to detect trace levels of biological or chemical substances. The open areas in the middle of the molecule provide tiny cages for pharmaceuticals that then can be targeted at specific areas of the body. The molecule also can hold nanometer-sized metal clusters that can be spread across a surface to build novel materials for optical or magnetic devices. The compact, round shape allows dendrimers to pass through cell walls that would be impenetrable to ordinary, spaghetti-shaped polymers.
In a project supported in part by the U.S. Army Research Office, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology study the size, shape and interactions of dendrimers. The group works with dendrimer producers, users and university researchers. They have found that dendrimers range in size from about 1 to 15 nanometers and that when packed together they shrink like grapes turning into raisins. The research also shows that the highly reactive molecules at the ends of dendrimer structures primarily are pointing outward in all directions, rather than being tucked inside the molecule.
Anne Enright Shepherd, (301) 975-4858
100 Millimeters Makes a Big Difference
The semiconductor industry has taken a giant leap forward-100 millimeters, to be precise-in meeting a goal laid out by its road map, thanks to a manufacturing innovation that substantially reduces the cost of processing silicon wafers while increasing output. What's more, the technology is owned by an American company. Diamond Semiconductor Group Inc. of Gloucester, Mass., says its "ion implantation" advance probably would belong to the Japanese today if not for the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program, which co-funded the underlying research and development.
Since the ATP project, which ended in 1994, the technology has been licensed to Varian Associates, which developed it into a commercial product. The techlogy, which introduces selected impurities into wafers to achieve the desired electrical effects, can process wafers 300 millimeters in diameter, which yield 2.5 times as many integrated circuits as the standard 200 millimeter size. The process also reduces scrap due to processing errors by 93 percent because it handles wafers one at a time, in contrast to the conventional batch method of 13 to 17 wafers, all of which may be at risk if something goes wrong. According to DSG, the new technology has been purchased by all manufacturers setting up pilot plants to process 300-millimeter wafers.
Michael Baum, (301) 975-2763
Business Heats Up for Thermagon with Help from Cleveland MEP
In 1992, Carol Latham of Cleveland, Ohio, launched a company called Thermagon with little more than her own expertise as a chemist and a good idea for a new product. Latham's product, called T-flex, helps remove the heat that builds up in electronic components. Manufactured into sheets, T-flex is a thermally conductive material that can be cut into any shape and used in a variety of equipment in areas such as telecommunications, computers, power conversion and automotive. After several years of increasing sales, Latham encountered a problem common to successful small businesses: increasing demand for T-flex was creating production snags and delivery delays.
Latham turned to the Great Lakes Manufacturing Technology Center, an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership, for assistance in developing a new, faster way of producing T-flex. GLMTC helped Thermagon, which has 55 employees, develop new manufacturing equipment, build a prototype, and put the equipment into the production line. As a result, quality has improved; product yield has increased by 15 percent, and production time has been cut in half. Today, the company's customers include some of the largest and best-known electronics firms in the world, and revenues have zoomed from $2.5 million in 1996 to $8 million last year.
Jan Kosko, (301) 975-2767
Late in the summer of 1986, Major League Baseball asked NIST to suggest a way to determine if bats had been corked to give the ball longer flight. NIST's Materials Reliability Division used an X-ray technique to evaluate bats provided for testing and demonstrated that those that had been hollowed out and replaced with cork could be identified easily.
In the 1920s, NIST received so many letters from the public asking for devices to locate buried treasure that a form letter was composed to reply. In the letter, NIST suggested that it was "really cheaper to dig over the suspected region than to attempt to build such equipment."
Visitors to the NIST museum in Gaithersburg, Md., can see the first-ever publicly displayed neon sign. Made at NIST, it was shown at the Palace of Elecricity at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904.