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In This Issue:
bullet New Web Site Puts Atomic Time on Your Computer
bullet Two NIST Labs Help Chandra Explore the Universe
bullet Tiny Forces to be Reckoned With
bullet Telescope Mirror Born at NIST Goes Home to Ohio
bullet Vitamin D Measurements Aid Polar Bear Cubs
bullet Canton Cooperage Becomes the Toast of the Fine Wine Industry
bullet Tech Trivia

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New Web Site Puts Atomic Time on Your Computer

Back in 1970, the rock band Chicago musically asked the question “Does anybody really know what time it is?” Twenty-nine years later, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Naval Observatory have the answer—everyone with access to a personal computer connected to the Internet.

The official time in any United States time zone now can be obtained from the new Internet web site, www.time.gov, maintained by NIST’s Boulder, Colo., laboratories. This public service is provided jointly by NIST and USNO, the two agencies that supply time services for the United States. Both contribute time from their respective atomic clocks to an international pool that is used to define the official world time, Coordinated Universal Time (abbreviated UTC from its French name).

Most users of the new service will get a time reading accurate to within one second of the atomic time, depending on Internet delays. Because of the complexities of international time zones and daylight saving time, www.time.gov provides local time for U.S. locations only. For times outside the United States, links are offered to a UTC display and an international time zone web site (via the "About This Service" page).

Media Contact:
Collier Smith (Boulder),  (303) 497-3198Up


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Two NIST Labs Help Chandra Explore the Universe

When the orbiting Chandra X-Ray Observatory took its first image in August, the world’s astronomers were astounded. Chandra, the largest and most sensitive X-ray telescope ever built, had captured what might be the first view of a neutron star or black hole.

Sharing in NASA’s latest success are two National Institute of Standards and Technology units: the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory and the Physics Laboratory. MEL measurements confirmed the accuracy of a key element in Chandra’s spectrometer, the device that analyzes the light reaching the telescope. The critical work marked an agency milestone as these were the first practical measurements made by the NIST-developed Molecular Measuring Machine (known as M3 ). M3 has a measurement range some 250,000 times greater than most scanning tunneling microscopes (which are capable of glimpsing individual atoms).

NIST’s Physics Laboratory designed, built and tested a double-crystal monochromator that was used preflight by NASA to calibrate Chandra’s X-ray optics and detectors. The unique NIST device helped define the sensitivity and energy response of the telescope to incoming X-ray photons. Thanks to this calibration, NASA scientists are assured of correctly interpreting Chandra’s data.

Media Contact:
Michael E. Newman,  (301) 975-3025Up


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Tiny Forces to be Reckoned With

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology give more than a fig about newtons—the international unit for measuring force. A new five-year initiative aims to develop an electronic method that can accurately measure the feeblest of forces, down to billionths of a newton (nanonewton).

A nanonewton is roughly equal to the force required to sever a single chemical bond between two atoms. Much of the push for tools to measure such “micro forces” comes from the data-storage industry and two fast-developing areas: nanotechnology—the realm of almost infinitesimal devices—and microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS—semiconductor-like hybrids that combine electronic and mechanical devices on a chip. Both technology areas will leverage slight forces with great effect, propelling tiny robots, for example, that inspect pipes or remove plaque from veins and arteries.

However, small unwanted forces may wreak havoc. Larger-than-anticipated stresses could cause surface cracks that disable a device or knock a MEMS machine out of service.

NIST researchers say they might be able to push current capabilities to measure forces down to 10 millionths of a newton. But their goal is to deliver highly accurate measurements of forces that are about 10,000 times smaller. Preliminary work points to a promising method for standardized measurements of micro forces: developing the electronic equivalent of a nanonewton by comparing a known electric current in a coil with the mass of an object in a gravitational field.

Media Contact:
Mark Bello,  (301) 975-3776


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Telescope Mirror Born at NIST Goes Home to Ohio

The old adage that “you can’t go home again” doesn’t apply to the first large telescope mirror built in the United States, a 177-centimeter (70-inch) diameter reflector created in 1927 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. After a 38-year absence, the 1,724-kilogram (3,800-pound) mirror recently was put on permanent display at its original home at the Perkins Observatory at Ohio Wesleyan University.

The NIST connection began in 1923 when the will of retired OWU professor Hiram Perkins provided for the building of “an all-American telescope.” The technical skills for casting a large optical mirror did not exist in the United States at the time, so the university empowered NIST to accomplish the task. European glass makers would not reveal their trade secrets, so NIST invented its mirror recipe from scratch.

Four borosilicate glass disks were poured between 1924 and 1927 with all four cracking during the cooling process. The fifth mirror, cast in May 1927, was cooled at a rate of one degree Celsius per day for seven-and-a-half months. It stayed intact and was sent out for three years of polishing and silvering in January 1928.

When it was installed at OWU in 1931, the NIST mirror was the third largest in the world. It was moved to the Lowell Observatory in Arizona in 1961 and served astronomers for four years before being donated to the Ohio Center for Science and Industry.

Media Contact:
Michael E. Newman,  (301) 975-3025Up


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Vitamin D Measurements Aid Polar Bear Cubs

A vitamin deficiency in two polar bear cubs hand-raised at the Denver Zoo triggered an investigation that found some answers in an unexpected place: the National Institute of Standards and Technology. At age one month, cubs Snow and Klondike, abandoned at birth, developed rickets and bone fractures due to a vitamin D deficiency. Zoo veterinarians quickly modified their diet, and the cubs, who are now full-grown and thriving at Orlando’s Sea World, began to heal. But the zoo vets kept working on the vitamin D problem in order to better understand the bears’ nutritional needs.

The puzzle amounted to figuring out the best sources of vitamin D in the arctic food chain and how much polar bears ingest and supply to their cubs. To help solve this puzzle, the Denver Zoo turned to NIST’s National Biomonitoring Specimen Bank. This bank holds tissue specimens from seals, sea lions and whales collected on native Eskimo subsistence hunts by the Alaska Marine Mammal Tissue Archival Project (sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Resources Division). The banking of marine mammal tissues, which has been taking place since 1987, will help scientists monitor changing levels of pollutants over time. Helping solve the vitamin D puzzle was an unanticipated benefit of the tissue banking project. NIST provided tissue samples to the Denver Zoo for analysis of vitamin D content.

Media Contact:
Linda Joy, (301) 975-4403Up


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Canton Cooperage Becomes the Toast of the Fine Wine Industry

As premium winemakers know, fine wines need fine white oak barrels. New wine absorbs vanillin and tannin from fresh wood barrels in an aging process that takes one to three years. Canton Cooperage USA of Lebanon, Ky., makes such barrels but acknowledges that the romance and craftsmanship of this old industry needs to keep up with modern manufacturing techniques in order to remain competitive. In order to improve its processes, Canton Cooperage turned to the Kentucky Technology Service, an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Faced with increasing costs and em-ployee turnover, Canton sought to correct a recurring product defect. Three manufacturing specialists assessed operations and presented recommendations to Canton. An inexpensive solution, just $25, instantly reduced defects that cost $10 to $15 each. The Kentucky Technol-ogy Service worked with Canton Cooperage for more than a year to set up a system for identifying and measuring the types of repairs on components, subassemblies and product. “Not only have we seen tangible benefits ... but, our production management people have increased their skill level,” says Henry Work, general manager for Canton. For more information on the NIST MEP network, see www.mep.nist.gov.

Media Contact:
Jan Kosko, (301) 975-2767


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Tech Trivia

In 1995, NIST was asked by a brewer in Lebanon, N.H., for the exact mass of various amounts of water at 100 kilopascals (1 atmosphere) and certain temperatures. Researchers made the calculations and the relevant internationally agreed upon standards for water now reside in the 1996 Edition of “Brewing Lager Beer” published by Brewers Publications in Boulder, Colo.

camera linkDavid Walker, an electronics engineer in NIST’s Boulder, Colo., laboratories, set a world record on Aug. 21, 1999, for the longest non-stop ride on a high-wheel bicycle—326 km (203 miles). The 14-hour, 41 minute journey was made on a 147 cm (58 inch) 1885 Rudge Light Roadster.

Truck safety was an issue as far back in 1936, when NIST began testing commercial truck- weighing scales. Inspectors consistently reported three out of four scales with errors exceeding the agreed-on allowable tolerance and, partly as a result of these errors, a dangerous prevalence of overloaded trucks.


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Editor: Linda Joy
HTML conversion: Crissy Robinson
Last update: October 13, 1999Back to Top of Page

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