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Blog Category: National Institute of Standards and Technology

Spotlight on Commerce: Dr. Willie May, Associate Director for Laboratory Programs and Principal Deputy, NIST

Dr. Willie May, Associate Director for Laboratory Programs and Principal Deputy, NIST

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 Willie May, Associate Director for Laboratory Programs and Principal Deputy, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Sometimes even the most difficult circumstances lay the foundation for very positive outcomes. I grew up in Birmingham, Ala., in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It goes without saying that any aspirations for becoming a scientist and  a senior leader of a world class scientific agency with a $1 billion dollar budget and four Nobel Prizes would never have occurred to me. 

But like most people I had some advantages hidden among the more visible obstacles to success.Advantage number one: my mother and father. They made sacrifices for me and my two younger sisters and expected us to rise above our surroundings and  go to college. I was also expected to get good grades even though in my community it was more important to be a good athlete than it was to be a scholar. I actually was able to do both.

Advantage number two: I had excellent, smart, and very committed teachers. Opportunities were limited for people of color in mid- 20th century Alabama. Most African Americans like me were laborers in the mines and steel mills. Professional jobs were teacher, preacher, lawyer, doctor and undertakers; and their client base was limited to the black community. The best minds of my neighborhood went to college and became teachers. And they came back to teach us everything they possibly could.  

In my case that included college-level chemistry in high school. Mr. Frank Cook, my high school chemistry teacher, selected five of us for his own experiment. Starting in 10th grade he taught us the same material he had learned just the summer before at Alabama A&M University. That head start gave me the confidence I needed for college. Besides me and my lifelong friend, Marion Guyton (former Attorney with the Justice Department), others who benefitted from  these highly regarded public school teachers include  former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski, chief of the Census Bureau’s Statistical Research Division, Tommie Wright and  Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president, Shirley Jackson. 

Advantage number three started with heartbreak. Guyton and I were always competing with each other. As high schoolers, we both applied to Howard University, the Harvard of the black community. Marion got a full scholarship and he was more than happy to flaunt and badger me about it. When no letter came for me, I inquired about my application. It was nowhere to be found.  I later learned from my principal, R.C. Johnson (Colin Powell’s father-in-law) that the application had been lost in his office. To make up for the error, he personally arranged for me to get a scholarship to Knoxville College.

NIST and Forest Service Create World’s First Hazard Scale for Wildland Fires

Wildland Ember Exposure on a Community Using the WUI Fire Hazard Scale

Two federal agencies have teamed to create the first-ever system for linking accurate assessments of risk from wildland fires to improved building codes, standards and practices that will help communities better resist the threat. The proposed Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Hazard Scale addresses fires that occur where developed and undeveloped areas meet, and is described in a report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

"Structures in areas susceptible to other natural hazards, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados, can be built to address the potential risks from these disasters because we have measurement scales that define that risk—the Richter for quakes, the Saffir-Simpson for hurricanes and the Enhanced Fujita for tornados," says NIST's Alexander Maranghides, who created the new wildfire hazard assessment tool with William Mell of the USFS. "Now, we have proposed a scale specifically for wildland fires that will allow us to link exposure to improved codes and standards, and as a result, save lives, property and dollars."

The problem of WUI fires, particularly in the western and southern regions of the United States, has been growing more prevalent as housing developments push into wilderness areas. According to the Bureau of Land Management's National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the 10 years since 2002 saw an annual average of nearly 71,000 WUI fires recorded and 1.9 million hectares (4.7 million acres) burned. Through the end of October 2012, the number of WUI fires for the year is below the average at slightly more than 54,000, but the amount of damage is nearly double with 3.7 million hectares (9.1 million acres) having burned—approximately 1,000 times the total area of Rhode Island. The monetary toll from the destruction is staggering; the NIFC estimates that federal agencies spend an average of $1.2 billion per year on WUI fire suppression alone, with state and local agencies contributing millions more.  Full NIST release

New York Taps NIST's Sunder for Post-Sandy Review of Critical Systems and Services

S. Shyam Sunder

S. Shyam Sunder, director of the Engineering Laboratory at Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has agreed to serve on the New York State Ready Commission, formed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to recommend ways to ensure critical systems and services are prepared for future natural disasters and other emergencies.

The expert commission is one of three that Cuomo launched in the aftermath of recent major storms, including Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, that devastated parts of the state and revealed weaknesses in New York’s transportation, energy, communications and health infrastructures. The Ready Commission will review critical systems and services and recommend measures to prepare for future natural disasters and other emergencies.  Full release

Acting Commerce Secretary Blank Announces 2012 Winners of Nation’s Highest Presidential Honor for Performance Excellence

Acting Commerce Secretary Blank Announces 2012 Winners of Nation’s Highest Presidential Honor for Performance Excellence

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank today named four U.S. organizations as recipients of the 2012 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest Presidential honor for performance excellence through innovation, improvement and visionary leadership. The winners in this, the 25th anniversary year of the award, represent four different sectors, one repeat recipient and a health network recognized for the same honor earned previously by its flagship hospital.       

The 2012 Baldrige Award recipients—listed with their category—are:

  • Lockheed Martin Missile and Fire Control, Grand Prairie, Texas (manufacturing)
  • MESA Products, Tulsa, Okla. (small business)
  • North Mississippi Health Services, Tupelo, Miss. (health care)
  • City of Irving, Irving, Texas (nonprofit)

"The four organizations recognized today with the 2012 Baldrige Award are leaders in the truest sense of the word and role models that others in the health care, nonprofit and business sectors worldwide will strive to emulate,” said Acting Secretary Blank. “They have set the bar high for innovative practices, dynamic management, financial performance, outstanding employee and customer satisfaction, and, most of all, for their unwavering commitment to excellence and proven results.”

This year marks the silver anniversary of both the award and the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP) that supports it. To date, more than 1,500 U.S. organizations have applied for the Baldrige Award, and there are Baldrige-based award programs in nearly all 50 states. Full Release

NIST's David J. Wineland Wins 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics

Photo of Wineland

David J. Wineland, a physicist at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics. The honor is NIST’s fourth Nobel prize in physics in the past 15 years.

Wineland shared the prize with Serge Haroche of the Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. In announcing the winners today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Wineland and Haroche "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems."

Wineland got the call at about 3:30 a.m. today at his home in Boulder, Colo. “I was a little sleepy. My wife got the call. I haven’t actually asked her yet what they said, but she gave the phone to me,” Wineland recalled shortly afterwards. “It’s kind of overwhelming. This could have gone to a lot of other people. It’s certainly a wonderful surprise. The fellow I shared it with–he and I have been friends for a long time, so it’s nice to share it with him.”  NIST release  |  Nobel citation

NIST Director Gallagher Participates in Dedication of New Facility for Coral Reef Research

The new NSU Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystem Research in Hollywood, Fla. (Photo: Nova Southeastern University)

Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Directory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Dr. Patrick Gallagher today is helping dedicate the new Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research (CoECRER) at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Hollywood, Florida.

Gallagher joins state and local officials, including Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and other guests, including former Vice President Al Gore and Dr. Paul Sandifer, Senior Science Adviser to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in the opening celebration for the “only research facility in the nation dedicated entirely to coral reef ecosystems science.”

Among the unusual features of the festivities was a morning media tour, by snorkel, of one of the center’s off-shore coral “nurseries.”

The new research facility was funded in part by a $15 million grant from NIST as part of a competitive program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support the construction of new scientific research facilities at academic institutions and non-profit research organizations. (See “NIST Awards $123 Million in Recovery Act Grants To Construct New Research Facilities,” Jan. 8, 2010).

Acting Secretary Blank Announces $40 Million Initiative to Challenge Businesses to Make it in America

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank Announces $40 Million Initiative to Challenge Businesses to Make it in America (Photo: Roberto Westbrook and STIHL Inc.)

Yesterday, Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank traveled to Virginia Beach, Va., where she toured the STIHL manufacturing plant and announced a new initiative to strengthen the economy by supporting American businesses as they make things here in America and create jobs. The Make it in America Challenge is designed to accelerate the trend of insourcing, where companies are bringing jobs back and making additional investments in America. The competition, which is being funded by the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, will build upon the administration’s bottom-up approach to strengthening the economy and creating jobs by partnering with state, regional and local economies.

The national competition will help provide the critical infrastructure, strategic planning, capacity building, technical assistance, and workforce skills training necessary for American communities to be the desired home for more businesses. The Make it in America Challenge builds on the administration’s efforts to encourage companies—large and small, foreign and domestic, manufacturers and services firms—to increase investment in the United States.

Acting Secretary Blank also highlighted two ongoing efforts by the Department of Commerce to attract foreign direct investment. SelectUSA, a program the president launched last year, continues to showcase the United States as the world’s premier business location and to provide easy access to federal-level programs and services related to business investment. Also, Commerce’s Commercial Services officers have been trained to help foreign investors who want information about how to invest in the U.S and who want to link up with local and state economic development leaders to create jobs in America.

Jacob Taylor, NIST Physicist, Receives Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for Public Service

On Thursday evening, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) physicist Jacob Taylor received a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies) for his advanced scientific research, which has potential for advances in health care, communications, computing, and technology. Presented the award by Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, Taylor was one of just nine winners chosen from nearly 400 nominees for awards honoring excellence in public service.

A fellow at the Joint Quantum Institute, Taylor has already developed a number of original theories on the cutting-edge of theoretical physics. One such idea is a way to allow magnetic resonance imaging to more effectively be utilized on the molecular level. This holds the promise of providing more detailed health information, better diagnoses, more targeted medical treatments, and more rapid discoveries of new drugs.

Taylor also has a pending patent on a process that would increase the quantity of data that could be sent through the Internet while using less energy, and his theory on computing has the potential to advance scientists much closer to the goal of achieving quantum computing—an extraordinary development in the field of physics that would allow for unprecedented increases to calculation speed.

NIST Unveils Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility to Improve Testing of Energy-Efficient Technologies

Grass seed falls from a ribbon as officials celebrate the opening of the Net-Zero Residential Test Facility on NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus.

In a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) unveiled a new laboratory designed to demonstrate that a typical-looking suburban home for a family of four can generate as much energy as it uses in a year. Following an initial year-long experiment, the facility will be used to improve test methods for energy-efficient technologies and develop cost-effective design standards for energy-efficient homes that could reduce overall energy consumption and harmful pollution, and save families money on their monthly utility bills. 

The unique facility looks and behaves like an actual house, and has been built to U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum standards—the highest standard for sustainable structures. The two-story, four-bedroom, three-bath Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility incorporates energy-efficient construction and appliances, as well as energy-generating technologies such as solar water heating and solar photovoltaic systems. Full release  |  Video

Acting Secretary Blank Delivers Remarks at National Automobile Dealers Association Conference

Acting Secretary Blank Addresses the National Association of Auto Dealers

This morning, Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank delivered remarks at the National Automobile Dealers Association Legislative Conference. In her remarks, the Acting Secretary discussed how the Obama administration is working to strengthen the U.S. automobile industry, grow the economy and create jobs.

New car sales are beating expectations, having just seen the best August sales since 2009—nearly 1.3 million cars and trucks were sold last month. So far this year, sales for new cars are up 20 percent and sales for light-duty trucks are up more than 10 percent. Blank noted that, compared to the lowest point in 2009, the number of people employed in auto dealerships has risen by more than 85,000.

She also highlighted Cash for Clunkers, a $3 billion investment that stimulated our economy at a critical time when we needed consumers to go ahead and buy new cars, instead of holding back.  Not only did Cash for Clunkers help auto dealers get through a tough patch, but it also helped auto manufacturers and suppliers who were struggling to keep their workers employed and put safer, cleaner cars on the road.