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Blog Category: National Institute of Standards and Technology

Innovating Our Way to a Smoother, Safer Ride

Visitors watch a Rutgers bridge repair robot go through its paces at a NIST meeting

Guest blog by Marc Stanley, National Institute of Standards and Technology (Ret.)

When someone says “innovation,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? 3D printing? Smart phones? Smart phone apps?

Last Thursday I took a break from retirement to address a small but inspiring gathering of innovators at the Civil Infrastructure Showcase hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These are people who think about distinctly unglamorous things that are not usually associated with innovation. Like filling potholes or watching bridges rust.

Unglamorous, but really important. You can't have missed coverage of the disastrous bridge failure in Minneapolis in 2007 that killed 13 people and injured over a hundred more, but headlines like that are just the lowlights of a bad situation. Roadbed deterioration — things like potholes — cost U.S. motorists an estimated $67 billion a year in car repairs and costs. California’s farmers are suffering a disastrous drought, but nationwide we lose about 6 billion gallons of clean water a day to leaky pipelines. These are failures of infrastructure maintenance.

The hard-pressed municipal, county and state transportation agencies face many challenges, not the least of which is constrained budgets. They absolutely need to prioritize repair work, but how do you best do that? The most recent U.S. Department of Transportation figures show well over 28,000 “structurally deficient” bridges currently in use.

Several of the 12 research groups that gathered at NIST last week have some ideas about that. How about small instrument packages that can be mounted around questionable bridges to monitor strain and other key values and report back wirelessly to a data monitoring system? Rural bridges usually don’t have wall outlets, so engineers from Mistras Group, Virginia Polytechnic, and the Universities of South Carolina and Miami sweated to get power requirements down to where the boards could be run by little bridge-mounted windmills—which they also developed.

Over 6 Months, NIST Zero-Energy House Gives Back to the Grid

Over 6 Months, NIST Zero-Energy House Gives Back to the Grid

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently announced results from the first six months of a virtual family of four living in an energy efficient home and how the house has performed.  During the first six months, a prototypical family of four earned about $40 by exporting 328 kilowatt hours of electricity into the local grid, while meeting all of their varied energy needs. The goal of this experiment is to demonstrate that a net-zero energy house—one that produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year—can fit into any neighborhood. Following the year-long experiment, the facility will be used to test existing and new energy efficient technologies and develop methods of test that better reflect how those technologies will perform in a real home, rather than a laboratory.  

To date, these virtual residents of the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) located on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), about 20 miles north of Washington, D.C., didn't have to skimp even a bit on any of the creature comforts of 21st century living. Their amenities ranged from indoor temperatures maintained between 21.1 and 23.8 degrees Celsius (70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) to a complete array of modern-day kitchen and laundry appliances, and from personal computers, a video gaming system, and two TVs to a pair of stereos, a hairdryer, and curling and clothes irons.

Both a laboratory and a home, the 2,700-square-foot (252-square-meter) NZERTF is a two-story, four-bedroom, three-bath house that incorporates energy-efficient construction and appliances, as well as energy-generating technologies such as solar water heating and solar photovoltaic systems. There, NIST scientists and engineers and their collaborators will develop and validate measurement and test methods for evaluating energy-efficient designs, materials and technologies.

Department of Commerce releases FY 2014-2018 Strategic Plan

Plan priorities are in direct alignment with the Department’s “Open for Business Agenda”

Today the Department of Commerce released its Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2014 to 2018. The five-year plan, along with the recently released FY15 budget, provides the pathway for meeting the Department’s long-term goals and objectives. The plan, summarizes the key strategies and initiatives that will drive progress in the Department’s five priority areas:

  • Trade and Investment. Expanding the U.S. economy through increased exports and foreign direct investment that leads to more and better American jobs.
  • Innovation. Fostering a more innovative U.S. economy—one that is better at inventing, improving, and commercializing products and technologies that lead to higher productivity and  competitiveness.
  • Data. Improve government, business, and community decisions and knowledge by transforming Department data capabilities and supporting a data-enabled economy.
  • Environment. Ensuring communities and businesses have the necessary information, products, and services to prepare for and prosper in a changing environment.
  • Operational Excellence. Delivering better services, solutions, and outcomes that benefit the American people.

The creation of the strategic plan was a collaborative effort involving staff from every Department of Commerce bureau and serves as a foundation for economic growth and opportunity. The plan is in direct alignment with the  “Open for Business Agenda,” which reflects the Department’s role as the voice of business, and the Administration’s focus on economic growth and job creation. Department leaders and employees will use this plan to transform strategies into actions, and actions into results.

Read a summary of the plan or the entire plan.

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Spotlight on Commerce: George E. Jenkins, National Institute for Standards and Technology

George E. Jenkins, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by George E. Jenkins, National Institute of Standards and Technology

I was born in Savannah, Georgia to parents whose myriad personal sacrifices, strong sense of excellence, and loving devotion to our family were tremendous examples for how to succeed to me and my brothers.

I was the valedictorian of my high school class, captain of three sports teams, a member of the Georgia Allstate Chorus for three consecutive years and a selected participant in the Governor’s Honors Program for Music. I subsequently received an undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Bridgeport and a Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. I am also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Upon graduating from college, I was hired by the international accounting firm of Ernst & Ernst (now Ernst & Young). I was a senior accountant with responsibility for the audits of multibillion dollar Fortune 500 companies. Afterward, I joined the faculties of Cheney State University, Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University, where I taught accounting and finance courses. Teaching and mentoring students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) was an enriching and rewarding experience. In fact, I later hired several of my mentees within the CPA firm that my brother and I owned and operated in Montgomery, AL for many years.

Our CPA firm delivered accounting and auditing services to professional athletes in all of the major sports, as well as, to a variety of large private corporate and government clients.

I began my federal service with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS).  While working at CMS, I held the position of Deputy Director for the Financial Management Systems Group, which was responsible for over 40 financial management systems. I also played an integral part in the development and implementation of the Healthcare Integrated General Ledger Accounting System (HIGLAS), which was one of the largest Oracle implementations in the world at the time, processing approximately 5 million Medicare claims daily.  I was an Associate Regional Administrator for Financial Management in Seattle, WA with oversight responsibilities for five western states. I received numerous awards such as the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award and the CMS Administrator’s Award on several occasions. 

Collaborating with State and Local leaders on Cybersecurity

Collaborating with state and local leaders on cybersecurity

Guest Blog Post by Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Patrick D. Gallagher

Protecting our nation’s valuable information assets from hackers and other threats is often dependent on better collaborations—both public-private partnerships and state, local, and federal efforts.

NIST’s National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence is all about such partnerships. And that’s why I was honored to join U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Montgomery County Maryland Executive Isiah Leggett and Maryland’s Secretary of Economic Development Dominick Murray Tuesday to celebrate a new agreement that  extends public collaboration on this important topic. These same organizations joined me in Feb. 2012 to launch the center’s efforts to address various industries’ cybersecurity challenges and to accelerate the adoption of technologies that are based on standards and best practices. Since that time, the center has been bringing together experts from industry, government and academia to demonstrate integrated cybersecurity that is cost-effective, repeatable and scalable.

Eighteen IT industry leaders have joined our efforts through the National Cybersecurity Partnership initiative. Additional companies—both large and small—have worked with us on specific projects focused on health IT, energy, and financial services, with more to come, including efforts to support the recently released Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.

The agreement signed by NIST, Maryland and Montgomery County provides the center a new home with an expanded footprint, both physical and programmatic, not far from NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus. It encourages technology transfer of government-developed technologies to companies for licensing and from one government agency to another. This collaboration also will help the state and county departments of economic development support new security technology companies and products, as well as to identify future workforce needs and provide opportunities for high school, college and graduate students.

Senator Mikulski Tours Auto Lightweighting Center at NIST

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher hear a presentation from NIST researcher Mark Iadicola as part of tour of the NIST Center for Automotive Lightweighting.

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

Doubling automobile fuel economy by 2025. Reducing the weight of automobiles by up to half a ton each while maintaining or improving safety. Saving millions of dollars annually in redesign and re-tooling costs. These are some of the ambitious auto industry goals supported by the Center for Automotive Lightweighting at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Yesterday we were honored to host a visit by U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to the lightweighting center. As chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mikulski came to the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Md., as part of her continuing “Jobs Tour” in the state.

She also gave a talk to NIST staff about the recently enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. The act provides $850 million in appropriations for NIST work through October 2014. Included is a $30 million increase in funding for advanced manufacturing research. Such research provides manufacturers with the data and measurement tools and technologies they need to continually improve their products and compete in the global marketplace.

Established in 2006, the lightweighting center helps the auto industry stay competitive by developing new measurement methods and collecting critical data on the properties of lighter weight automotive alloys and composites. During the tour, Senator Mikulski was shown samples of new high-strength steels and aluminum and magnesium alloys that weigh up to 65 percent less and yet are stronger than the traditional mild steels that have been used in vehicles for the past 100 years.

NIST-developed research instruments installed at the center twist, press, stretch and squeeze the new lightweight materials to better understand how they will perform when shaped into automotive parts, including predicting safety during crash tests. The resulting data and analysis of the materials behavior help companies reduce expensive trial and error testing. By sharing fundamental materials properties data like this, the NIST center allows individual manufacturers to use more of their own scarce research dollars to leapfrog to better company-specific solutions and improved products.

More than 30 companies and research universities, including five automakers, have expressed interest in a new NIST Automotive Lightweighting Consortium now being formed.

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).