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Blog Entries from June 2011

Materials Scientist at Commerce’s NIST to Receive Prestigious Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology

John Cahn

John Cahn, an emeritus senior fellow and materials scientist at the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), was recently named to receive the prestigious Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology. Cahn's numerous major contributions to materials science include developing a fundamental theory that describes the behavior of mixtures of different materials and how they tend to separate at the microscale. The theory established an entire branch of materials research and is particularly important to the rational design of new alloys.

The Cahn-Hilliard equation supplied that basic framework for understanding how an alloy's phase separation and related changes in microstructure play a key role in determining the physical engineering properties of the bulk composite alloy—things like strength, toughness, ductility, magnetic strength and thermal conductance. The equation describes, quantitatively, how the components of a binary mixture that becomes unstable when cooled will separate through a process called "spinodal decomposition." Cahn proceeded to elaborate the theory, showing how basic thermodynamic principles could be used to design alloys that, under spinodal decomposition, would form desired microstructures. His work laid the foundation for the rational design and manufacture of new materials using the Cahn-Hilliard equation as well as for the related "phase-field" method, which uses similar thermodynamic considerations to model the behavior of complicated interfaces in materials.

Like many other fundamental theories, spinodal decomposition has proven relevant to a broad range of seemingly disparate fields. The Cahn-Hilliard equation, among other things, describes how galaxies began forming out of the primal material of the Big Bang in the early stages of the universe.

NIST has posted a video of Dr. Cahn explaining his work and a computer animation of the equation at work.

Make It and Move It

steel girder rails

Cross-posted on the NIST MEP blog

Without manufacturing, transportation would mean walking barefoot. Without transportation (and manufacturing), there would be no global economy. Fortunately for us, there are trains, trucks, planes, bikes and cars (and shoes!), all of which need to be made. So do bridges, roads, terminals, safety signs and tracks. All these seemingly disparate things work in concert to create the economic systems that keep America buying and selling and building and moving.

And, fortunately for our country, most, if not all, of the transportation infrastructure and supporting transportation equipment can and perhaps should be manufactured here. Transportation is not an end in itself. It’s a means to achieving American manufacturing and economic prosperity — a very big and very important means.

I know that American manufacturers can make anything and everything. The problem is matching manufacturing capability with long-term, predictable business opportunities that make sense.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) teamed up to address some of the issues that have hampered the matching of opportunity with ability. The partnership was set up to find domestic manufacturing capacity for steel girder rails. Yes, steel girder rails. There are 60 cities in the United States that are planning, designing or constructing systems for street cars.  Yes, street cars. (If your mind just wandered off to the scene in Meet Me in St. Louis when Judy Garland sang, “the Trolley Song,” you’ve got the picture.)

Broadband and the Latino Community: Let's Keep the Momentum Going!

Chart showing the Internet subscribership rate among Hispanics is only 45 percent

Guest blog by Anna M. Gomez, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information

Yesterday I was happy to participate in a panel discussion about broadband at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) annual conference in San Antonio. NALEO members recognize that broadband Internet is one of the tools necessary to help their communities thrive in today's economy. In fact, I think that any conference focused on building stronger communities should include a discussion of broadband - it's a critical ingredient for job creation, economic growth, and improving education, health care, and public safety.

I talked about challenges and opportunities. NTIA's data show that although 90-95 percent of Americans live in areas with access to broadband, only 68 percent of households subscribe to the service. In fact, more than 28 percent of Americans do not use the Internet in any location, which means they are cut off from countless educational and job opportunities.

Make It In America

Whip Hoyer discusses the Make It In America agenda with employees at Antenna Research Associates, Inc., a manufacturer in Maryland's fifth district.

Guest post by Rep. Steny Hoyer, Minority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives

American manufacturing helped make this the most prosperous country on earth—and it helped build a strong middle class. As we continue to focus on job creation and economic growth, I believe a key part of that effort must be rebuilding our manufacturing strength. That’s why House Democrats have created the Make It In America agenda: it’s about creating the conditions for American businesses to innovate here, create jobs here, make products here, and sell them to the world—and about making sure we have a workforce qualified for well-paying jobs. I believe strongly that when we make more products in America, more families will be able to Make It In America, as well.

Even as much of our economy has struggled, the manufacturing sector has consistently added jobs—it’s been a bright spot for our recovery. But the news isn’t all good. Manufacturing employment is still near its lowest point since World War II. And more worryingly, the index of manufacturing activity—a measure of the sector’s productivity and growth—fell sharply last month, to its lowest point since fall of 2009.

Whether or not you work in manufacturing, that ought to concern you for a number of reasons. Manufacturing stimulates more activity across our whole economy than any other sector—so a fall in manufacturing activity is felt across the economy, which is bad for all of us. It’s also bad for the middle class because manufacturing jobs pay better-than-average wages, and it’s bad for America’s competitiveness because China has overtaken us as the world leader in the dollar value of manufacturing output. Last but not least, a decline in manufacturing is bad for American innovation.  As assembly lines move overseas, innovation often follows to be closer to production.  That’s resulted in America losing the innovative lead in a number of technological fields, from precision optics to photovoltaic cells to computer chips—we can’t afford to lose ground elsewhere.

Spotlight on Commerce: Jim Stowers, Director of Legislative Affairs

Jim Stowers, Director of Legislative Affairs

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Guest blog by Jim Stowers, Director of Legislative Affairs.

As Director of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Commerce, I serve as a senior advisor in the Office of the Secretary on legislative matters before Congress and other federal departments. 

My journey to this point in my career began about 25 years ago when I was growing up in Benton County, Arkansas and had the good fortune one Saturday evening to hear Senator Dale Bumpers speak at the annual Little Flock Picnic.  I don’t recall everything Senator Bumpers said in his speech that night, but I do recall being star struck by an exceptionally gifted speaker and inspired by his pursuit of the common good through public service. 

That moment - combined with my growing awareness of the political process and its importance – inspired me to pursue an internship in Senator Bumpers’ Washington office while I was in college and later serve for 12 years in the office of U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln.  Today, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to continue my public service in the Obama Administration at the Department of Commerce.   

Assistant Secretary Fernandez To Mayors: "Manufacturing Goes Hand-in-Hand with Innovation"

Assistant Secretary Fernandez Tells Mayor's "manufacturing goes hand in hand with innovation"

Guest Blog by John Fernandez, Assistant Secretary for Economic Development.

I had the pleasure of addressing the National Conference of Black Mayors 2011 Legislative Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. today. I focused on what the Obama administration is doing to grow local economic ecosystems and help create jobs, particularly in manufacturing.

The summit of almost 40 mayors from across the nation was a great opportunity for intergovernmental collaboration and provided an excellent platform to share best practices and discuss the challenges of creating jobs and increasing competitiveness. 

As a former mayor myself, I understood the pressing issues facing these leaders. They are the same issues the Obama administration is aggressively tackling at the federal level. And they all boil down to creating more jobs, particularly in manufacturing.

The manufacturing sector currently employs over 11 million Americans, providing good-paying jobs for millions of families. Preparing Americans to enter into the manufacturing sector will not only strengthen the economy and put folks back to work, it’s critical to our nation’s success as we compete in a 21st century global economy. 

Growing Exports with the New Market Exporter Initiative

NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons tours Muscatine Foods in Iowa with the chairman of the company, Gage Kent.

Guest blog by Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the Department of Commerce are working together to achieve President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2014. The New Market Exporter Initiative (NMEI) will make it easier for manufacturers to identify new markets, find new customers for their products and grow their business.

Exports are a key part of any competitiveness agenda. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States. With the right tools and resources, manufacturers can increase their exports and find new customers.

Many of these manufacturers don’t have the resources to conduct extensive research on new possible export markets. Small and medium-sized firms, for example, account for 95 percent of all exporters in the U.S., yet only about one-third of all exports. The NMEI helps small and medium-sized manufacturers that are currently exporting to one or two countries expand their export sales to new markets. 

U.S. Companies and Technology on Display at the 2011 Paris Air Show

Boeing 777

Guest Blog by Francisco Sanchez, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade

This week I have had the privilege of attending the 2011 Paris Air Show, the largest aerospace industry show in the world. Since arriving on Sunday, I’ve participated in numerous industry events, met with CEOs, governors, ministers, members of congress and association representatives.

Yesterday, I presided over the opening ceremony for the U.S. Pavilion with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood, Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye, Alabama senator Richard Shelby, and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley.  More than 200 U.S. companies are displaying their innovative and forward-thinking technology here.

The U.S. aerospace industry is a strategic contributor to the economy, national security, and technological innovation of the United States The industry contributed $78 billion in export sales to the U.S. economy in 2010 and is important to achieve the goals of the President’s export initiative.

The aerospace sector in the United States supports more jobs through exports than any other industry.

Earlier today I witnessed a signing ceremony between Boeing and Aeroflot, Russia’s state-owned airline. Aeroflot has ordered eight 777s valued at $2.1 billion, and the sales will support approximately 14,000 jobs in the United States.

Resources for Aerospace Manufacturers and Their Suppliers

Shuttle Piggybacking on an Airplane

From the first thread of upholstery for seat cushions to the final gallon of paint for the exterior, American manufacturers, large and small, are contributing to the construction of an airplane. While many Americans see an airplane as one item, it is really a feat of modern engineering and planning with thousands of parts being assembled all across America to create the single airplane. In fact, according to a 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, aerospace supports more jobs through exports than any other industry.  The U.S. aerospace industry directly supports about 430,000 jobs and indirectly supports more than 700,000 additional jobs.

This week at the Paris Air Show, civil and military aircraft manufacturers and those engaged in the burgeoning space vehicle market will show off their products to buyers from all over the world. Selling internationally is vital for America to meet the President’s goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015 in order to support millions of jobs. The aerospace industry contributed $78 billion in export sales to the U.S. economy in 2010.  The industry’s 2010 positive trade balance of $44 billion is the largest trade surplus of any manufacturing industry and came from exporting 42% of all aerospace production and 72% of civil aircraft and component production.

For manufacturers looking to break into this market, ITA has also worked with Boeing’s Supplier Management Office to produce a webinar for U.S. aerospace companies that discussed how to participate in Boeing’s global supply chain.  In addition, ITA organized a webinar with Airbus procurement officials and over 200 companies where Airbus officials discussed the company’s procurement strategy and how U.S. companies can become part of its supply chain.

For all manufacturers, ITA has the Manufacture America Initiative that connects U.S. manufacturers with resources to help them be more competitive in the global marketplace, regardless of market. Boeing has been an active participant in the Manufacture America Initiative for the aerospace industry and the MAS Aerospace Team website is full of resources and contacts for U.S. aerospace manufacturers and their suppliers.