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Blog Category: National Institute of Standards and Technology

Commerce Department Achieves FY 2013 Small Business Federal Contracting Goal

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) today announced that the federal government met its small business federal contracting goal for the first time in eight years – awarding 23 percent, or $83.1 billion, of all federal small business eligible contracting dollars to small businesses in fiscal year 2013.

The Commerce Department played a significant role in that achievement – exceeding its goal of awarding 39 percent of funds to small businesses and receiving an overall “A” rating from SBA for the fourth straight year in a row. In FY13, the Department also surpassed overall federal government and statutory goals for prime contractors who are small disadvantaged businesses, women-owned small businesses, and service disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

U.S. small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and the Commerce Department works to both support those businesses and ensure they know about our many services that can help them grow.

For example, just a couple months ago, Commerce awarded five small businesses with a contract that is expected to save up to $25 million in taxpayer dollars over the next five years. In addition to saving money, contracts that make our work more efficient and effective enable Commerce to focus more resources on our primary mission, including making investments that help businesses of all sizes create jobs and help grow our economy.

To that end, the Department offers a wide array of services to our small businesses and entrepreneurs. For example, Commerce’s National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has a Manufacturing Extension Partnership program with centers based around the country who work with small and medium-sized manufacturers to transform their business plans, access new technology and increase exports. As part of the department’s ‘Open for Business Agenda,’ we are working to make more of our data accessible to more people, which supports start-ups and powers small companies.

NIST Announces New Competition for Advanced Manufacturing Planning Awards

NIST Announces New Competition for Advanced Manufacturing Planning Awards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced a new competition for planning awards to support industry-driven consortia in developing research plans and charting collaborative actions to solve high-priority technology challenges and accelerate the growth of advanced manufacturing in the United States.

NIST's AdvancedManufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Program anticipates awarding a total of $5.6 million in two-year grants during the young program's second competition. Awards will range between about $250,000 and $500,000, subject to the availability of funds. Applications are due Oct. 31, 2014, and selections will be announced during the first half of 2015.

Teaming and partnerships that include broad participation by companies of all sizes, universities and government agencies, driven by industry, are encouraged. Nonprofit U.S. organizations as well as accredited institutions of higher education and state, tribal and local governments are eligible to apply for the program.

AMTech's goal is to spur consortia-planned and led research on long-term, precompetitive technology needs of U.S. manufacturing industries. The program aims to help eliminate barriers to advanced manufacturing capabilities and to promote domestic development of an underpinning technology infrastructure, including high-performing supply chains.

AMTech is designed to address a serious weakness in the nation's innovation ecosystem, an issue identified by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, among other bodies.

Commerce's NIST Leads Nationwide Effort to Provide Tools and Guidance to Help U.S. Communities Become More Disaster Resilient

Commerce's NIST Leads Nationwide Effort to Provide Tools and Guidance to Help U.S. Communities Become More Disaster Resilient

Guest Blog Post by Stephen Cauffman, NIST Lead for Disaster Resilience

When disaster strikes . . .

No other phrase may be more ominous, conjuring images of powerlessness, destruction, and an aftermath of painful, costly recovery. Think Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy; the Oakland firestorm of 1991; the Joplin, Mo., and Moore, Okla., tornadoes; or last year’s floods in Colorado and much of the Midwest.

Although communities cannot dodge hazardous events like these, they can take concrete actions in advance to minimize the toll that natural—and even human-caused—hazards inflict and to speed up the pace of recovery. Communities can make themselves more resilient to disasters.

Providing tools and guidance to help U.S. communities become more disaster resilient is the goal of a collaborative, nationwide effort led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Carried out under the President's Climate Action Plan, this recently launched national initiative will yield a comprehensive, disaster resilience framework that will help communities develop plans to protect people and property before disaster strikes and to recover more rapidly and efficiently.

Focusing on buildings and infrastructure systems, such as communications and electric power, the framework will identify performance goals; document existing standards, codes, and practices that address resilience; and identify gaps that must be addressed to bolster community resilience.

As we prepare the draft framework, NIST is soliciting input from a broad array of stakeholders, including planners, designers, facility owners and users, government officials, utility owners, regulators, standards and model code developers, insurers, trade and professional associations, disaster response and recovery groups, and researchers.

Commerce's NIST to Host Next Meeting on Developing a Collaborative Nationwide Disaster Resilience Framework

Disaster Resilience Workshop

As part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is leading a collaborative nationwide effort to develop a framework that U.S. communities can use to prepare for, resist, respond to, and recover from hazard events more rapidly and at a lower cost. 

On July 30, NIST will host the second in a series of regional workshops devoted to developing a community-centric "disaster resilience framework" to minimize the impacts of hazards and quickly restore vital functions and services in the aftermath of disasters.  

The workshop will begin with a session on resilience lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 "superstorm" that affected many states along the Atlantic seaboard. Sandy killed more than 150 people, caused an estimated $65 billion in damage, and left millions without power for extended periods. The devastation also underscored the complex web of interdependencies and vulnerabilities of buildings and infrastructure systems.

In breakout sessions, participants will help to develop sections of the framework, which will focus on communities, buildings, and infrastructure lifelines. Topics will include buildings and facilities, transportation systems, energy systems, communication and information systems, water and wastewater systems, and social vulnerabilities.

NIST seeks input from a broad array of stakeholders, including planners, designers, facility owners and users, government officials, utility owners, regulators, standards and model code developers, insurers, trade and professional associations, disaster response and recovery groups, and researchers.

NIST’s Net-Zero House Provides All Energy Needs for Family, Saving Thousands in Utilities

Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) in the snow

The net-zero energy test house at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in suburban Washington, D.C., not only absorbed winter's best shot, it came out on top, reaching its one-year anniversary on July 1 with enough surplus energy to power an electric car for about 1,440 miles.*

The 2,700 square-foot (252-square-meter) test house is built to U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum standards—the highest standard for sustainable structures. Its features include energy-efficient construction and appliances, as well as energy-generating technologies, such as solar water heating and a solar photovoltaic system.

Despite 38 days when the test house's solar panels were covered with snow or ice, the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility's (NZERTF) sun-powered generation system produced 13,577 kilowatt hours of energy. That's 491 kilowatt hours more than used by the house and its occupants, a computer-simulated family of two working parents and two children, ages 8 and 14.

In terms of energy consumed per unit of living space—a measure of energy-use intensity—the NIST test house is calculated to be almost 70 percent more efficient than the average house in Washington, D.C., and nearby states.

In relation to cost, the NZERTF's virtual residents saved $4,373 in electricity payments, or $364 a month. However, front-end costs for solar panels, added insulation, triple-paned windows, and other technologies and upgrades aimed at achieving net-zero energy performance are sizable, according to an analysis by NIST economist Joshua Kneifel.

Creating More Options to Improve Privacy and Security Online

Creating more options to improve privacy and security online

Guest blog post by Jeremy Grant, Senior Executive Advisor for Identity Management, National Institute of Standards and Technology

It’s well established that diversity of thought and backgrounds strengthens organizations of all kinds and that diversity is a key component of a strong economy. At the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) National Program Office (NPO), we believe diversity is also the key to establishing a vibrant marketplace of options to replace outdated passwords with reliably secure, privacy-enhancing and convenient ways to prove who you are online.

The Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (IDESG) was launched under the auspices of the NPO but is a privately led group laying the groundwork for that marketplace through policy and standards development. The group held its ninth plenary meeting this week at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. The meeting brought together a broad coalition of individuals and representatives from industry, privacy and civil liberties advocacy groups, consumer advocates, government agencies, and more, focused on giving people choices when they conduct secure transactions online.

Instead of giving up lots of personal information every time you go online, you could choose who gets what information about you by allowing a trusted third-party to verify your online identity and then assert specific attributes on your behalf—only as needed for a transaction.

At the IDESG meeting, we heard from pilot participant ID.me, which is collaborating with vendors such as Under Armour to provide discounts to military families and first responders. ID.me is in the process of receiving higher level certification for its solution so that users can access government services and medical records.

The Internet’s Next Big Idea: Connecting People, Information, and Things

Internet of Things (graphic credit: ©XtravaganT - Fotolia.com)

By Chris Greer, Senior Executive for Cyber-Physical Systems at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In the early 1990s, a Web page consisted of crude, rainbow-colored, text-filled boxes that “hyperlinked” to more text. Today, your Internet-enabled smartphone not only gives you access to libraries’ worth of information, but also helps you navigate the physical world.

Cyber-physical systems, also called the Internet of Things, are the next big advance for our use of the web. They allow complex systems of feedback and control that can help a robot coordinate with a dog or human in a search-and-rescue operation or help health care providers evaluate the recovery of patients after they leave the hospital.

The Internet of Things is still in its infancy. To mature, it will require public-private collaboration across disciplines and economic sectors. Today, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., an event conceived by Presidential Innovation Fellows Sokwoo Rhee and Geoff Mulligan from the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is demonstrating what’s needed to make the Internet of Things a reality. At the event, 24 teams representing more than 100 organizations from academia, industry and government who responded to the fellows’ SmartAmerica Challenge are demonstrating how the Internet of Things can improve health care, emergency response, transportation and more while fostering jobs and economic growth. Some of the teams also showcased their ideas at the White House yesterday.

In addition to smart emergency responses, we could soon have smart manufacturing that brings production right to your neighborhood, getting you the parts you need faster while supporting local jobs. Affordable technologies could create smart homes that include automated safety alerts and a community awareness network to protect the elderly and other vulnerable populations. And smart vehicles could not only communicate with one another and traffic signals, but also with pedestrians to prevent collisions. These are just a few of the projects led by the SmartAmerica Challenge teams.

As a next step, we hope these teams and others across the United States and around the world will join NIST and collaborating organizations for the SmartAmerica/Global Cities Challenge. We’ll ask them to work together in creating the building blocks of smart cities. Our goal is to cut in half the time and money it will take for cities to deploy advanced engineering and information technologies to better manage their resources and improve everything from health and safety to education and transportation. Progress will require standard ways for all of these devices and systems to communicate, and that will take coordination among the people building the information technology, physical devices and communities.

Several SmartAmerica teams also announced today that they plan to continue their collaborations, expand deployments of their new technologies, and introduce new products. One team is even supporting a local version of the SmartAmerica challenge in Austin, Texas. This demonstrates the amazing power of a nation that is truly “open for business.”

It’s not a coincidence that these are public-private partnerships. The components of our everyday lives are becoming ever more interconnected. The smoke detector you buy from a private company may soon connect directly to your municipal fire department, just as heart-rate monitors now can communicate with your doctor’s office.

Such collaboration accelerates innovation and it means the Internet of Things will not need decades to mature as the Web did. It’s already bringing rapid changes to the way we live and work. And best of all, it’s bringing economic opportunity with it.

The Apprentice: A Tale of Life, Love and Much Else

Guest blog post by Stacey Wagner, crossposted from the NIST Manufacturing Innovation Blog.

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by apprenticeships – really!  I was an avid reader of history, ancient and otherwise, and apprenticeships always meant adventure.  One could apprentice with Greek philosophers, British knights, Teutonic alchemists, and farmers, tradespeople and barbers (who were also doctors).  You could apprentice in a household or a business.  And once your apprenticeship was complete, you commanded respect as a trained and educated person with skills to play a useful role in society.

Apprenticeships have always been a stepping stone for both a good job and a great story.  Those tantalizing tales I read as a kid centered, mostly, on a young person’s indenture to some mysterious craftsperson and it always lead to mischief: wild chases, first-time love affairs, and messy screw-ups.  But they also led to the apprentice learning about life, love and labor – specifically the skills to be someone you weren’t before, but better.

The master-storyteller, Walt Disney, even got into the act when he produced the iconic movie, “Fantasia,” with a scene called The Sorcerers’ Apprentice, which to this day still spooks me.  There are also plenty of modern-day books about apprentices: “The Apprentice” (Lewis Libby), “The Apprentice” (Tess Gerritsen), “The Apprentice Series” (James Bryan Smith) and “Rangers Apprentice” (John Flanagan), to name just a few, and a TV show by that name as well (I know I don’t need to tell you who stars in that!). In the modern vernacular, the term sorcerers’ apprentice, was immortalized by “The Sorcerers’ Apprentice,” a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe written in 1797.

Countdown to Net Zero: NIST Test House Pursues Energy Surplus in Final Month

Countdown to Net Zero: NIST Test House Pursues Energy Surplus in Final Month

Heading into the final stretch of a year-long trial run, the experimental net-zero energy house at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md., must overcome an energy deficit of 154 kilowatt hours—equivalent to about $20—during the month of June.

The facility was designed to produce at least as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year. At the end of May, the research residence still owed on its total energy bill, which averaged less than $2.00 a month over the first 11 months. In contrast, the monthly expenditure for electric power alone averaged $129 for Maryland households in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

So, the "countdown to net zero" is on. For those interested in keeping score, NIST is posting a running daily tally of net energy use through June 30. Each day's results will be reported on NIST's NZERTF web page, under Recent Research Results, and highlighted on NIST's Twitter account (use the hashtag #Countdown2NetZero). 

Better Materials for Safer Sports: Time to Use Our Heads

A simple example of making a material fail "better": By fine-tuning the thickness of the connecting spokes in a sheet of acrylic, we can change how it transmits force when fractured. With thick spokes (left), fractures propagate in a straight line and concentrate the impact. Thin spokes (right) divert the fracture across the sheet, diffusing the impact.

Guest blog post by Dr. Laurie E. Locascio, Director of the Material Measurement Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology

On Thursday, the White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit, President Obama highlighted both the need for greater national awareness of the risks our young athletes face from traumatic brain injuries and the need for increased research on how to combat these potentially life-altering injuries.

In 2009, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency departments in the United States treated more than 250,000 sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, among children and adolescents—a figure that’s risen by 60 percent in the past decade.

At the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), we recognize that the use of advanced materials in protective equipment, such as helmets, can play a critical role in this effort. For that reason, NIST is investing $1 million per year for 5 years on tools to accelerate the development of advanced materials that can provide better protection against concussions for the athlete.

Sports equipment often leads the way in adopting new advances in materials—think of carbon nanotubes in high-end tennis rackets and golf clubs. But modern materials science offers the possibility of specifically designing new materials, from the ground up, that are tailored to the special needs of helmets and other protective equipment.

As an example, “shear-thickening suspensions”—specially designed particles suspended in a liquid polymer—can be a high-tech shock absorber that instantly adapts to offer greater resistance to stronger shocks. You’ve encountered a sheer-thickening suspension if you’ve ever tried to stir cornstarch in water quickly.

Other possibilities include micro- or nanostructured materials that either absorb shocks by crumpling in specific ways, rather like some automobile components are designed to protect passengers in a crash, or that selectively deform to channel the energy of shocks away from highly sensitive areas, like the skull. Self-healing polymers and shape-memory metal alloys can both provide reinforcement and extend the longevity of the equipment.