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Blog Category: National Institute of Standards and Technology

NIST Research/Collaboration Efforts Key to Innovation and Economic Growth

Computer scientist Murugiah Souppaya investigates security techniques for protecting cloud computing systems from cyber attack  (Photo © Nicholas McIntosh)

Innovation drives economic growth and creates skilled, high-wage jobs. To maintain a high standard of living for its citizens, the United States must continue to produce new, high quality products and we must sell them in the global marketplace.  As Secretary John Bryson said recently, the U.S. must “Build it here and sell it everywhere.”

Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) helps U.S. companies innovate and improve their global competitiveness by providing world class laboratory results and services, business and technology assistance, and research grants.

As we look to the start of a new calendar year, here are just a few numbers that describe how NIST helps U.S. industry and science to create and retain jobs through an innovation-based economy:

  • 8 billion:  The number of times per day that computers across the United States and the world were synchronized with NIST official time over the Internet by the end of FY2011 using the automated NIST Internet Time Service. This number is continually growing. NIST official time is essential for everything from time stamping electronic financial transactions to operation of the U.S. electrical grid to precision timing of computer networks.
  • $8.3 billion:  The amount of new and retained sales generated in FY2010 through business and technology assistance from the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership according to an FY2011 survey of participating U.S. companies. Through a network of local centers providing services in every state and Puerto Rico, the program helps companies nationwide to create and retain jobs, increase profits, and save time and money.
  • Up to $5 billion: The amount of money the federal government may be able to save by 2015 by using cloud computing services and consolidating or closing 962 data centers as a result. In FY 2011, NIST issued a technology roadmap (PDF) to help speed the U.S. government’s adoption of cloud computing services. More than 1500 individuals from the public participated during FY2010 and FY2011 in NIST workshops to propose ways the government can exploit the cost advantages of cloud computing reliably and securely.
  • 19.1 million, 32,864, and 18,195:  The number of data sets downloaded from the Web, Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) sold and calibrations provided by NIST to help companies and researchers worldwide produce the highest quality products and scientific measurements. To name just a few examples, NIST data, SRMs and calibration services help high tech companies make computer chips with “wires” only 10s of billionths of a meter wide; build  aircraft engines made of high strength, corrosion resistant alloys; and ensure the safety of drinking water, medical tests, and pharmaceuticals.
  • 2900:  The number of guest researchers, facility users, and other associates hosted by NIST in FY 2011 from industry, academia, and government agencies. State-of-the-art technical knowledge shared through collaborations like these supports billions of dollars in sales of U.S. products that depend in some way on advanced technologies, data, and measurements. In FY 2011, NIST also had numerous patents available for licensing, had 103 formal Cooperative Research and Development Agreements in place with companies and scientific organizations, and published about more than 1,200 research papers in the open scientific literature.

Protecting Personal Computers at Start-Up: NIST Offers Guidelines

A new draft computer security publication from Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides guidance for vendors and security professionals as they work to protect personal computers as they start up.

The first software that runs when a computer is turned on is the "Basic Input/Output System" (BIOS). This fundamental system software initializes the hardware before the operating system starts. Since it works at such a low level, before other security protections are in place, unauthorized changes—malicious or accidental—to the BIOS can cause a significant security threat.

"Unauthorized changes in the BIOS could allow or be part of a sophisticated, targeted attack on an organization, allowing an attacker to infiltrate an organization's systems or disrupt their operations," said Andrew Regenscheid, one of the authors of BIOS Integrity Measurement Guidelines. In September, 2011, a security company discovered the first malware designed to infect the BIOS, called Mebromi. "We believe this is an emerging threat area," said Regenscheid. "These developments underscore the importance of detecting changes to the BIOS code and configurations, and why monitoring BIOS integrity is an important element of security." NIST release

Powerful NIST Detectors on Hawaiian Telescope to Probe Origins of Stars, Planets and Galaxies

A composite image of the Whirlpool Galaxy (also known as M51).

The world’s largest submillimeter camera—based on superconducting technology designed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—is now ready to scan the universe, including faint and faraway parts never seen before.

Mounted on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the NIST technology will help accelerate studies of the origins of stars, planets and galaxies.

The new 4.5-ton SCUBA-2 camera, which contains more than 10,000 of NIST's superconducting sensors, is far more sensitive than its predecessor SCUBA (the highly productive Submillimeter Common-Use Bolometer Array), and will enable astronomers to map the sky hundreds of times faster and with a much larger field of view. SCUBA-2 will produce better images and sky maps, image new targets, and support deeper and broader surveys.

The product of an international research collaboration, SCUBA-2 will image objects ranging from comets in the Earth’s solar system to galaxies at the far ends of the universe. The camera is sensitive to objects associated with very cold gas and dust clouds, which absorb visible light (and therefore look black to optical telescopes) but emit the barest whiffs of submillimeter radiation—at wavelengths below 1 millimeter, between the microwave and infrared bands. Submillimeter light oscillates at terahertz frequencies, hundreds of times faster than cell phones.

“The submillimeter is the last frontier in astronomical imaging,” says NIST physicist Gene Hilton, who developed the fabrication method for the NIST instrument. “It’s been very difficult to develop cameras that work at this wavelength, so the submillimeter is largely unexplored. We’re excited to see what SCUBA-2 will reveal.”  Watch this video on how NIST is making a difference in viewing young stars, planets and galaxies.  Release

Commerce Veteran Hiring at 16-Year High

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Commerce is proud to announce that in the last year, veteran hiring reached a 16-year high, raising the total representation of veteran new hires to 12.5 percent.

Two years ago, on November 9, 2009, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13518: Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government. This Executive order charged all Cabinet-level departments with establishing a Veterans Employment Office, developing an operational plan, and providing mandatory annual training to hiring managers and senior human resources practitioners on veterans preferences and special appointing authorities for veterans.

In response to the President’s Executive Order, Commerce hired Sean Lenahan, former U.S. Coast Guard officer, as their Veterans Employment Program Manager to head the Veterans Employment Team and lead all Department-level veterans hiring initiatives. The Department’s Veterans Employment Team consists of members from the Census Bureau, the Patent and Trademark Office, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

“Our Veterans Employment Team has worked tirelessly to enhance employment opportunities for veterans throughout the Department,” said Bill Fleming, Director of Human Resources, Department of Commerce.  Mr. Fleming, a U.S. Army veteran, is one of the many veterans that hold key senior leadership positions within the Department.  Michael Phelps, Director, Office of the Budget, and Barry Berkowitz, Director, Office of Acquisition Management, are both highly decorated, retired officers of the U.S. Air Force.

NIST: Presidential Memorandum Outlines Commerce's Role in Speeding Tech Transfer

Young scientist works on a collaborative project

Accelerating innovation is the key to creating more high-wage jobs. And the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will play a significant role in helping federal labs and U.S. industry speed up the innovation process under a new Presidential Memorandum issued Oct. 28.

Through its existing role coordinating the Interagency Workgroup on Technology Transfer, NIST will help lead agencies with federal laboratories to develop plans that establish performance goals to increase the number and pace of effective technology transfer and commercialization activities in partnership with non-federal organizations. The group also will be responsible for recommending opportunities to improve technology transfer from federal labs and for refining how tech transfer is defined, to better capture data on all of the ways it happens.

NIST will coordinate development and analysis of appropriate metrics and will continue to report and analyze results through its annual report on technology transfer, which covers 11 federal agencies.

NIST has had its own success transferring technology, for example, one licensed technology is helping build a new confinement structure at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and another is treating heart arrhythmias and uterine conditions—and generating millions of dollars in revenue for the licensee. Free software from NIST, Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES), is helping architects, engineers and the construction industry select environmentally-preferred and cost-effective products.

Read more about NIST’s role in tech transfer in the latest issue of TechBeat.

NIST Releases Draft Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap for Comments

VanRoekel on podium

The U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released for public comment a draft "roadmap" that is designed to foster federal agencies' adoption of cloud computing, support the private sector, improve the information available to decision makers and facilitate the continued development of the cloud computing model.

In February 2011, the government issued the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy that describes cloud computing as a "profound economic and technical shift (with) great potential to reduce the cost of Federal Information Technology (IT) systems while. . . improving IT capabilities and stimulating innovation in IT solutions."

As part of that strategy, NIST has been assigned "a central [role] in defining and advancing standards, and collaborating with U.S. government agency CIOs, private-sector experts and international bodies to identify and reach consensus on cloud computing technology and standardization priorities." U.S. Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap, Release 1.0 is designed to support the secure and effective adoption of the cloud computing model by federal agencies to reduce costs and improve services. The public comment period is open through Dec. 2.  Read the full NIST release

Commerce and Transportation Departments Forge Partnership to Boost Domestic Manufacturing Across America

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Partnership will help revitalize the domestic railway manufacturing sector, support Obama Administration’s historic investments in transportation and create jobs

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank today announced a partnership to encourage the creation of domestic manufacturing jobs and opportunities for U.S. suppliers through transportation investments. 

The Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) will help to ensure manufacturers meet the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) strict “Buy America” and “Buy American” standards, connecting U.S. manufacturers and suppliers for work on highways, railways and transit projects, and in the process help to create jobs.

“Investment in transportation is a critical piece of President Obama’s American Jobs Act,” said Secretary LaHood.  “Not only are we improving how we move people and goods, but we are strengthening our economy by providing opportunities for American companies and their employees to build our transportation system here at home.”

With a network in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, MEP serves more than 34,000 American suppliers, helping them to retool their manufacturing capabilities to meet demand, compete in the global marketplace and sell American-made products all over the world. 

“This initiative is a win for workers and communities across America,” said Acting Secretary Blank. “The Manufacturing Extension Partnership will connect U.S. manufacturers and suppliers with hundreds of millions of dollars in upcoming highway, railway, and airport projects, providing new job opportunities in every corner of the country.”

MEP will leverage over 1,300 expert manufacturing assistance field staff in over 350 locations to provide knowledge of local manufacturing capabilities from across the nation. MEP will identify suppliers’ production and technical capabilities to match them up with viable business opportunities that may have otherwise gone to foreign suppliers, ensuring maximum economic benefit for taxpayer-funded transportation investments across all modes.

NIST Colleagues Congratulate Shechtman on Nobel Chemistry Prize

Meeting at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 1985 just months after shaking the foundations of materials science with publication of his discovery of quasicrystals, Daniel Shechtman, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, discusses the material’s surprising atomic structure with collaborators.  From left to right are Shechtman; Frank Biancaniello, NIST; Denis Gratias, National Science Research Center, France;  John Cahn, NIST; Leonid Bendersky, Johns Hopkins University (now at NIST); and Robert Schaefer, NIST.

Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) colleagues of Dan Shechtman joined others in the scientific community today in congratulating him on winning the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Shechtman made his astonishing discovery of a quasicrystal—an arrangement of atoms thought to be forbidden by nature—while working as a guest researcher at NIST (then known as the National Bureau of Standards) in 1982.

Shechtman is currently a professor at the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion).

“We are thrilled that Dr. Shechtman’s pioneering work has been recognized with this well-deserved prize,” said NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. "This discovery completely changed the thinking of scientists about unusual arrangements of atoms within crystals and ultimately helped them to fabricate a wide range of new types of materials.”   Read the NIST release

NIST: In Unique Fire Tests, Outdoor Decks Will Be Under Firebrand Attack

Image of fiery NIST "dragon" (© DVARG/Shutterstock)

Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will unleash its Dragon—a NIST invention that bellows showers of glowing embers, or firebrands—at a unique wind tunnel test facility in Japan, where researchers will evaluate the vulnerability of outdoor deck assemblies and materials to ignition during wildfires, a growing peril that accounts for half of the nation’s 10 most costly fires.

In a new report, NIST researchers summarize suggestions for test designs and objectives offered by experts at a recent workshop convened in Los Angeles, Calif., with support from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and input from the Office of the California State Fire Marshal. This input is now being formalized into plans for experiments that will be conducted in early 2012 at Japan’s Building Research Institute (BRI) in Tsukuba.

There, NIST and Japanese researchers have merged two technologies, NIST’s Firebrand Generator (the “Dragon”) and BRI’s Fire Research Wind Tunnel Facility, which is devoted to studies of how wind influences fire. The combination gives them the singular capability to replicate a firebrand attack and expose structures to wind-driven showers of embers under experimentally controlled conditions.  NIST TechBeat story  |  Video clip of the "NIST Dragon"

Accurate Measures: Foundation for a Strong Economy

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Every day we consciously buy products whose performance depends on one or more measured quantities — the wattage and lumens of light bulbs, that 12-ounce cup of coffee, the fill up at the gas station. Many of us take for granted that we are getting our money’s worth, and in large part we are, because the accuracy of these measurements traces back to calibrations and standards from the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

But measurement and other precise specifications also play a much broader, largely invisible economic role. All the sophisticated technologies we depend on daily require equally sophisticated measurement capabilities to ensure performance, quality, and safety. The diameters of optical fibers as thin human hair must match up perfectly to carry telecommunications data and video over thousands of miles. CAT scan machines must deliver the minimum X-ray dose for clear images while protecting patients from unnecessary radiation. The frequencies of cell phone systems must be finely tuned so that you receive clear reception of your calls, and only your calls, without crosstalk from stray signals.

Moreover, virtually every product or service one buys today is a complex technology system (computers, automobiles, even clothes washers). The components of these “systems” can only work together if the physical and functional dimensions of the interfaces between them are precisely specified.

NIST provides the precision measurement and interoperability tools industry needs now while pushing the boundaries of the underlying science to create the enabling infrastructure for the technologies of tomorrow.