In This Issue: When It's Too Hot, Firefighters Turn to NIST NIST Scales the Washington Monument ... Again NIST Chemists Hit the Dirt Proteins Hold Key to Curing Diseases Bose Einstein Models Make Beautiful, Superfluid Images Vehicles Measure Up Thanks to NIST Tech Trivia
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When It's Too Hot, Firefighters Turn to NIST
About 100 American firefighters die in the line of duty every year, and another 5,000 or more are seriously burned. The number of deaths and injuries has held steady for two decades despite significant improvements in the protective clothing firefighters wear. Many firefighters report that they do not realize how seriously they are being injured until after they get out of their protective gear. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is investigating this problem with a new device that measures the effects of fire and heat on protective clothing. Researchers at NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory developed the apparatus after extensive interviews with firefighters. It enables precise measurements of temperature changes that take place in the three layers of protective clothing-the outer shell, moisture barrier and thermal liner.
The thermal test apparatus is believed to be the first of its kind in the world. Manufacturers of protective gear have made measurements with the new apparatus and have donated clothing for the extensive tests now taking place in NIST's fire research facility. NIST researchers believe the testing will lead to improved standards for protective gear and better training methods to help firefighters assess when they are in danger of receiving serious burns.
Philip Bulman , (301) 975-5661
NIST Scales the Washington Monument ... Again
While many people have been to the top of the Washington Monument, only a few have stood there on the outside. But it's old hat for the National Institute of Standards and Technology whose staff have made the trip twice this century.
This past August, NIST engineers used the scaffolding in place during the monument's current restoration to ascend to the top. There, they placed a specially designed metrology stand on the summit, ensuring the accuracy of height measurements taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For the latest assessment, Global Positioning System satellite technology was used instead of conventional surveying. The NIST device helped pinpoint the GPS signal. Although the official value for the Washington Monument's height has not been released, the preliminary estimate of 169.31 meters (555 feet, 5.9 inches), is only 2 centimeters (0.8 inches) off from the previously declared figure.
This year's work was a bit of deja vu for NIST. In 1934-the last time the monument's tip was accessible-NIST metallurgists perched atop an open platform to evaluate 50 years of wear (the monument opened in 1884) on the copper lightning rods and aluminum cap up there.
Michael E. Newman , (301) 975-3025
NIST Chemists Hit the Dirt
Sometimes you have to get dirty in order to help clean up the environment. That's what chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology did in order to prepare a new measurement tool for environmental pollutants. The new tool-NIST Standard Reference Material 1944-was made from sediment that scientists collected from New York and New Jersey waterways. The sediment, available freeze-dried in 50-gram bottles, will help environmental scientists assure the accuracy of their measurements of harmful chemicals such as dioxin, chlorinated pesticides, fuel combustion byproducts and toxic metals.
NIST chemists with assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers collected sediment samples that were likely to contain chemical pollutants near urban areas in New York and New Jersey. They then carefully measured the levels of more than 150 pollutants in the sediment using cutting-edge measurement methods. Environmental labs purchasing this reference material from NIST receive a 50-gram bottle of the sediment and a certificate that reports values for the pollutants which NIST measured. The labs measure the chemicals in the sediment and then compare their results to the NIST values. This quality check allows the labs to evaluate their own performance. Laboratories that monitor environmental pollutants can purchase SRM 1944 from NIST for $362 by calling (301) 975-6776.
Linda Joy , (301) 975-4403
Proteins Hold Key to Curing Diseases
Although much of your destiny may lie in your genes, don't forget about your proteins. They may hold the key to overcoming many harmful effects caused by those genes. The importance of proteins has been made abundantly clear by CuraGen Corporation, a New Haven, Conn., company that has created a novel set of technologies designed to gain a better understanding of the role proteins have in diseases.
CuraGen's goal is to better explain, prevent and treat complex diseases, such as neurologic and metabolic disorders. A number of CuraGen's technologies are based on hardware and software developed in projects co-funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program from 1995 to 1998. A new ATP project is under way.
The ATP-funded research has led to three new processes, an array of new patents and more than $100 million worth of research collaboration and technology access deals with six companies. One new CuraGen technology is able to detect greater than 90 percent of the differences in gene activity in humans, animals, plants and pathogens. The technologies already have provided substantial information for development of products for improving the health of humans, animals and plants. The ATP projects have led to three automated processes that are now being commercialized.
Michael Baum , (301) 975-2763
Bose Einstein Models Make Beautiful, Superfluid Images
Science or art? The question has plagued medicine, meteorology and many other fields since the times of Aristotle. But the two need not be mutually exclusive, as shown by recent research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to improve understanding of Bose Einstein condensates.
A Bose Einstein condensate, or BEC, is an unusual form of matter, a collection of about 1 million atoms all at exactly the same energy level, behaving exactly alike. BEC atoms are to a cloud of atoms, what a laser is to a light bulb. Since BECs were first observed in 1995 at JILA by NIST and University of Colorado scientists, physicists worldwide have devised experiments to probe their unique properties. One question to be answered: Are BECs superfluid-a sort of liquid/gas that flows without friction?
NIST theorists proposed a test of superfluidity in BEC. The NIST test would spin a BEC in an elliptically shaped trap. If BEC behaved as a classic fluid (such as water), it would form a single vortex in the center of the trap as it spins. However, if it were a superfluid (such as liquid helium), it would resist rotating completely until the angles forced on it by the elliptical trap gave rise to an even number of well-organized quantum vortices. A NIST simulation of the experiment performed through the wonder of mathematical modeling clearly produced these vortices, and with the help of NIST scientific visualization specialists, serendipitously created an image that is as beautiful as it is informative. What remains is for experimentalists to pick up the gauntlet and test the theory in the laboratory. The JILA team has already produced BEC vortex states under different circumstances.
Linda Joy , (301) 975-4403
Vehicles Measure Up Thanks to NIST
If you knew how many measurements it took to put together the car in your garage, your head would spin. So, don't think about it while you're driving. The National Institute of Standards and Technology conducts research and provides measurement services that underpin many stages of auto manufacturing from the production of basic materials like sheet metal for body panels to monitoring the final quality of the vehicle assembly. Auto manufacturers purchase about 350 different NIST Standard Reference Materials-the equivalents of certified "rulers" that companies use to check the accuracy of their measurements. These SRMs support the production of steel, metals, glass, solder, paint, fasteners, bearings, lights, wheels, tires, transmission gears, drive trains, ignition wiring systems, emission controls, air conditioning and hydraulic systems.
NIST work extends beyond the car itself to include the accuracy of gas pumps at filling stations, the composition of fuel and oil, the production of roadway materials and the strength, durability and earthquake resistance of bridge materials and construction techniques.
Linda Joy , (301) 975-4403
The U.S. Army lists 58,000 different types of equipment requiring regular calibration. To ensure the accuracy of items ranging from voltmeters to torque wrenches to postal scales, the Army's 300 calibration specialists rely on measurement references and services supplied by NIST. "Accuracy," says a 1997 U.S. Army dispatch, "may mean the difference between life and death."
Electronic price scanners have been in use since the 1970s. The first checkout scanner was installed in a supermarket in Troy, Ohio, in 1974. The first product scanned? A pack of Wrigley's gum. Today, almost $2 trillion is spent in retail stores annually, a large portion of which is totaled by electronic price scanners.
A new exhibition opening at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., "On Time," details the history of timekeeping from before there were national time standards to our present ability to measure time more accurately than any other quantity.