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Blog Category: National Institute of Standards and Technology

It’s About Time – But Also Much More

JILA’s experimental atomic clock based on strontium atoms held in a lattice of laser light is the world's most precise and stable atomic clock. The image is a composite of many photos taken with long exposure times and other techniques to make the lasers more visible. Credit: Ye group and Baxley/JILA

DOC Guest Blog by JILA and University of Colorado Student Ben Bloom with JILA/NIST Fellow Jun Ye.  JILA is a joint institute of NIST and the University of Colorado Boulder.

40° 0.435', -105° 16.116' -- that’s where I work.  I know this because my smart phone says so. The same phone that woke me up in the morning, reminded me to give my dog his heartworm medication, and that I routinely use as a flashlight. But how does this small, everyday piece of technology know where I am? Sixty years ago when somebody set out to build atomic clocks, surely they had different goals in mind, something big and of a national scale you would think. Nobody could have imagined a handheld box for every citizen good for watching cat videos and also for advanced communications of all sorts.

My phone (and yours!) knows exactly where on Earth it is and how to drive to the nearest gas station because of atomic clocks. The Global Positioning System (or GPS) is an intricate dance of many atomic clocks floating in the space above our heads, declaring to the world what time they read. By listening to a few of these clocks, your phone can pinpoint your exact location. But the most amazing part of all of this is the fact that those atomic clocks whizzing by, orbiting our planet, are already dinosaurs in the context of today’s technology.

Research results published today showcase a new type of atomic clock built by a team of NIST and JILA researchers in Boulder, Colorado. I am privileged to be part of that team, led by Jun Ye. The new type of atomic clock is 10,000 times more precise and stable than the clocks used in space today. By creating a clock based on a few thousand strontium atoms, a metallic element, trapped by laser light, we have been able to demonstrate a radically different alternative to standard atomic clocks that define the international unit of time, the second. These new experimental clocks will allow for a new set of applications that could excite technology enthusiasts and serve the nation. Applications we can only dream of today.

Imagine being able to understand the composition of the ground underneath you by flying an atomic clock over a landmass, “teleporting” huge amounts of information across a quantum network supported by these clocks, or maybe even listening to the subtle gravitational waves emitted by a binary star as the wave sweeps by an array of these clocks. A network of these clocks will be the ultimate probe of the still mysterious space-time of our universe, and will help explore the frontiers of the bizarre quantum world. I don’t know if or when our clocks will re-define the second, be used in a new GPS that could pinpoint my location to an inch, or be some integral piece to a quantum computer, but one thing is for sure: I can’t wait to find out.

25 Years of Supporting U.S. Manufacturing

Logo for MEP

Guest blog post by Dr. Patrick Gallagher, NIST Director and Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology

The year’s end is a natural time to look back on past accomplishments. This year, we’re reflecting on 25 successful years of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Holling’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). MEP is a public-private partnership that helps mostly small and mid-size manufacturers enhance productivity and technological performance, and strengthen their global competitiveness. Through a network of more than 400 centers in every state and Puerto Rico, about 1,300 MEP experts help make these businesses—and the U.S. economy—stronger.

Manufacturing in the U.S. has seen some significant changes during the past two and a half decades. Today’s manufacturing is robotics, 3-D printing, and nanotechnology. And today’s manufacturing produces everything from large-scale industrial equipment, to medical devices, to handcrafted, consumable products we use every day. Our latest data show that for every dollar spent in manufacturing, another $1.48 is aded to the economy – the highest multiplier of any sector. Manufacturing also supports good jobs—with starting salaries 38 percent higher than other sectors.

Innovation is crucial for ensuring the U.S. remains competitive in the global economy–and manufacturing is a key indicator of our nation’s innovative capacity. A recent MIT study points out that innovation occurs not only at the point of invention, but at every stage of product development and delivery, which is why it is so important that we help companies “Make it in America.” The Commerce Department’s recently unveiled “Open for Business Agenda” also prioritizes supporting American manufacturing at all stages of the product life cycle.

NIST Investigation of Joplin, Mo., Tornado Details Proposed Measures for Saving Lives and Property

Destruction caused by the Joplin, Missouri, tornado that struck on May 22, 2011 causing 161 fatalities and more than 1,000 injuries. The tornado was the deadliest single tornado since official U.S. recordkeeping began in 1950.

The Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a report today on the impacts of the May 22, 2011 tornado that struck Joplin, Mo. Nationally accepted standards for building design and construction, public shelters and emergency communications can significantly reduce deaths and the steep economic costs of property damage caused by tornadoes were among the key conclusions of the two-year technical investigation.

The recommendations are featured in a draft report issued for public comment today and announced at a press briefing held at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. The NIST study is the first to scientifically assess the impact of a tornado in four major categories: tornado characteristics, building performance, human behavior and emergency communication—and the impact of each on life-safety, the ability to protect people from injury or death. It also is the first to recommend that standards and model codes be developed and adopted for designing buildings to better resist tornadoes.

The NIST report includes a number of recommendations for future research and development of technologies and strategies to advance tornado wind measurements, strengthen emergency communications, increase warning time, derive more accurate tornado hazard maps and significantly improve public response during tornado events.

NIST welcomes comments on the draft report and recommendations—available online at http://www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=914787 — which must be received by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Comments may be submitted via email todisaster[at]nist[dot]gov or mailed to NIST Technical Investigation Joplin, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 8611, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-8611.

Secretary Pritzker Announces Winners of the 2013 Baldrige National Quality Award

Three U.S. Organizations Honored with the 2013 Baldrige National Quality Award

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker today announced that three U.S. organizations will receive the 2013 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation's highest Presidential honor for performance excellence through innovation, improvement and visionary leadership. All of this year's winners are from the health care and education sectors.

The 2013 Baldrige Award recipients—listed with their category—are:

The Baldrige program has had a tangible impact on the success of thousands of organizations worldwide and our nation's economy, and the winners announced today will undoubtedly continue that legacy and serve as role models for their peers in the health care and education sectors.

The 2013 Baldrige Award recipients were selected from a field of 22 applicants that were evaluated rigorously by an independent board of examiners in seven areas defined by the Baldrige Criteria: leadership; strategic planning; customer focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; operations focus; and results. An organization may compete for the award in one of six categories: manufacturing, service, small business, health care, education and nonprofit (including government agencies).

Commerce Achieves Record Veteran Hiring Numbers in 2013

Veterans Day 2013 - Honoring All Who Served

In honor of Veterans Day, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the Department of Commerce’s commitment to hiring veterans. In Fiscal Year 2013, 13.2 percent of new Commerce hires were veterans and 3.6 percent were disabled veterans, the highest numbers of veterans the Department has employed in over 20 years.

The Department of Commerce (DOC) Veteran Employment Council, made up of volunteer human resources (HR) specialists, advisors, and program managers, plays a major role in hiring and retaining veterans and works with the individuals once they come on board.

“Here at Commerce, we take hiring veterans very seriously,” said Kevin Mahoney, Commerce’s Chief Human Capital Officer and Director, Office of Human Resources Management. “I would like to thank the DOC Veteran Employment Council for their hard work throughout the year, and we look forward to seeing even higher numbers next year.”

This year, the Department of Commerce trained over 3,100 hiring managers and human resources specialists on veterans’ preference and special appointing authorities for veterans and disabled veterans. Top performing agencies in the Department of Commerce for veteran hiring include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at 31.8 percent, the Office of the Secretary (OS) at 20 percent, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at 16.2 percent and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) at 13.2 percent.

New Spectrometry Standard for Handheld Chemical Detectors Aids First Responders

Christopher Neary of the NIST Environmental Management Group demonstrates the use of a handheld Raman spectrometer to determine the identity of an unknown sample.

When it comes to detectors for dangerous chemicals, toxins or nefarious germs, smaller and faster is better. But size and speed must still allow for accuracy, especially when measurements by different instruments must give the same result.

The recent publication of a new standard—a culmination of years of research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—provides confidence that results from handheld chemical detectors can be compared, apples-to-apples.

Such detectors are used by emergency responders to check for the presence of explosives or toxic chemicals that threaten public safety. Quality control managers in the pharmaceutical industry use them to verify the identity of chemicals going into their production lines.

NIST Releases Preliminary Cybersecurity Framework, Will Seek Comments

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today released its Preliminary Cybersecurity Framework to help critical infrastructure owners and operators reduce cybersecurity risks in industries such as power generation, transportation and telecommunications. In the coming days, NIST will open a 45-day public comment period on the Preliminary Framework and plans to release the official framework in February 2014, as called for in Executive Order 13636—Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity

In February 2013, President Obama directed NIST to work with stakeholders to develop a voluntary framework for reducing cyber risks, recognizing that U.S. national and economic security depends on the reliable functioning of critical infrastructure. Through a request for information and a series of workshops held throughout 2013, NIST engaged with more than 3,000 individuals and organizations on standards, best practices and guidelines that can provide businesses, their suppliers, their customers and government agencies with a shared set of expected protections for critical information and IT infrastructure. 

The Preliminary Framework outlines a set of steps that can be customized to various sectors and adapted by both large and small organizations while providing a consistent approach to cybersecurity. It offers a common language and mechanism for organizations to determine and describe their current cybersecurity posture, as well as their target state for cybersecurity. The framework will help them to identify and prioritize opportunities for improvement within the context of risk management and to assess progress toward their goals. 

Obama Administration Awards $20.5 Million In Make It In America Challenge Grants

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, along with U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, and Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, today announced the 10 winners of the Make it in America Challenge, an Obama administration initiative to accelerate job creation and encourage business investment in the United States. The 10 grantees will receive a total of $20.5 million for projects supporting regional economic development, advanced skills training, greater supply chain access and other enhancements. The programs are designed to encourage U.S. companies to keep, expand or re-shore their manufacturing operations—and jobs—in America, and to entice foreign companies to build facilities and make their products here.

The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Labor Department’sEmployment and Training Administration (ETA), and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) are providing funding for the winning proposals. Additionally, Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP) plans to make awards in early FY2014.

“Given our competitive advantages in energy costs, research and development, labor productivity, and intellectual property protection, there is no better place to do business than the United States," said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. The Make it in America Challenge grants support innovative, regionally-based strategies that will encourage businesses to capitalize on those advantages.”  Full release

United States Department of Commerce Plan for Orderly Shutdown Due to Lapse of Congressional Appropriations

Annual funding for the government expired on September 30. The Administration strongly believed that a lapse in funding should not occur. The Department is prepared for a lapse in funding that would necessitate a significant reduction in operations. Prior to a potential lapse in funding, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) required the Department to submit a draft plan for agency operations (PDF) in the absence of appropriations (a “shutdown plan”).

The plan may be modified with additional guidance from the Office of Personnel Management and OMB, and may be changed by the Department, as circumstances warrant. This plan (PDF) complies with the guidance provided by the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce. All employees who are Presidentially Appointed, Senate Confirmed will remain on duty.

In compliance with the restrictions of the Anti-Deficiency Act, the Department of Commerce will maintain the following services and activities during a lapse in FY14 appropriations:

• Weather, water, and climate observing, prediction, forecast, warning, and support
• Law enforcement activities for the protection of marine fisheries
• Fisheries management activities including quota monitoring, observer activities, and regulatory actions to prevent overfishing
• Essential natural resource damage assessment activities associated with the Deepwater Horizon incident
• Water level data for ships entering U.S. ports, critical nautical chart updates and accurate position information.
• Patent and trademark application processing
• Operation of the national timing and synchronization infrastructure as well as the National Vulnerability Database
• Maintenance, continuity and protection of certain research property and critical data records
• All services of the National Technical Information Service
• Export enforcement – the ongoing conduct of criminal investigations, and prosecutions, and coordination with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies in furtherance of our national security
• Budget operations required to support excepted activities under a shutdown, such as tracking of obligations and funds control.

The following services and activities will not be available during a lapse in FY14 appropriations:

• Most research activities at NIST and NOAA (excluding real-time regular models on research computers used for Hurricane and FAA flight planning)
• Assistance and support to recipients of grant funding
• Technical oversight of non-mission essential contracts
• Services and activities provided by:
−Bureau of Economic Analysis
−Economic Development Administration
−Economics and Statistics Administration
−Minority Business Development Agency
−Bureau of the Census
• Most services and activities provided by the International Trade Administration

Commerce’s NIST Awards Grants to Improve Online Security and Privacy

NIST Awards Grants to Improve Online Security and Privacy

The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced more than $7 million in grants to support the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC).  The funding will enable five U.S. organizations to develop pilot identity protection and verification systems that offer consumers more privacy, security and convenience online.

These new pilots build on the successful launch of five NSTIC pilots awarded in 2012Launched by the Obama administration in 2011 and housed at NIST, NSTIC is an initiative that aims to support collaboration between the private sector, advocacy groups and public-sector agencies. The selected pilot proposals advance the NSTIC vision that individuals and organizations adopt secure, efficient, easy-to-use, and interoperable identity credentials to access online services in a way that promotes confidence, privacy, choice and innovation.

The grants announced today will support privacy-enhancing technologies that help make Internet transactions more secure, including better protection from fraud and identity theft, and are an important step toward giving American companies and consumers greater confidence in doing business online.  Release