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Analytic technique offers arson investigators faster, more accurate results

June 18, 2014 9:04 am | by James Burrus, NIST | News | Comments

A research group at NIST has demonstrated a new method for detecting ignitable liquids that could change the way arson fires are investigated. The new process for analyzing debris for traces of fire accelerants is faster and more accurate than conventional methods and produces less waste.

NIST technique could make sub-wavelength images at radio frequencies

June 17, 2014 11:14 am | by Laura Ost, NIST | News | Comments

Imaging and mapping of electric fields at radio frequencies (RF) currently requires the use of metallic structures such as dipoles, probes and reference antennas. To make such measurements efficiently, the size of these structures needs to be on the order of the wavelength of the RF fields to be mapped. This poses practical limitations on the smallest features that can be measured.

NIST: The clumping density of many things seems to be a standard

June 11, 2014 7:37 am | News | Comments

Particles of soot floating through the air and comets hurtling through space have at least one thing in common: 0.36. That, reports a research group at NIST, is the measure of how dense they will get under normal conditions, and it’s a value that seems to be constant for similar aggregates across an impressively wide size range from nanometers to tens of meters. NIST hopes the results will aid climate researchers.

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A battery revolution on the cheap?

June 5, 2014 11:14 am | by Michael Baum, NIST | News | Comments

Whip together an industrial waste product and a bit of plastic and you might have the recipe for the next revolution in battery technology. Scientists have combined common ingredients to make an inexpensive, high-capacity lithium-sulfur battery that can be cycled hundreds of times without losing function.

Rice Univ. produces carbon-capture breakthrough

June 4, 2014 7:14 am | News | Comments

A porous material invented by the Rice Univ. lab of chemist James Tour sequesters carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, at ambient temperature with pressure provided by the wellhead and lets it go once the pressure is released. The material shows promise to replace more costly and energy-intensive processes.

Countdown to net zero

June 3, 2014 9:27 am | by Mark Bello, NIST | News | Comments

Heading into the final stretch of a year-long trial run, the experimental net-zero energy house at NIST in Gaithersburg, Md., must overcome an energy deficit of 154 kWhr—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.

Rush a light wave and you’ll break its data

May 30, 2014 10:44 am | News | Comments

Scientists at NIST and the Joint Quantum Institute have shown how attempts to "push" part of a light beam past the speed of light results in the loss of the quantum data the light carries. The results could clarify how noise might limit the transfer of information in quantum computers.

Laser system mimics sunlight to test solar cell efficiency

May 28, 2014 10:34 am | News | Comments

Researchers at NIST have developed a laser-based instrument that generates artificial sunlight to help test solar cell properties and find ways to boost their efficiency. The novel NIST system simulates sunlight well across a broad spectrum of visible to infrared light. More flexible than conventional solar simulators, the laser instrument can be focused down to a small beam spot and shaped to match any desired spectral profile.

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AFM systems take a tip from nanowires

May 23, 2014 12:32 pm | News | Comments

In response to requests from the semiconductor industry, a team of researchers at the Physical Measurement Laboratory has demonstrated that atomic force microscope probe tips made from its near-perfect gallium nitride nanowires are superior in many respects to standard silicon or platinum tips. They also found a way to use the tips as LEDs to illuminate sample regions while scanning.

Chip produces, detects specialized gas for biomedical analysis

May 23, 2014 8:27 am | News | Comments

A chip-scale device that both produces and detects a specialized gas used in biomedical analysis and medical imaging has been built and demonstrated at NIST. Described in Nature Communications, the new microfluidic chip produces polarized (or magnetized) xenon gas and then detects even the faintest magnetic signals from the gas.

Automated guided vehicles ripe for standardized performance tests

May 22, 2014 10:40 am | News | Comments

Automated guided vehicles—or AGVs—are robotic versions of draft animals, hauling heavy loads and navigating their way in factories, distribution centers, ports and other facilities. These modern beasts of burden are evolving so rapidly in capabilities and electronic intelligence that the need for the equivalent of standardized performance testing has become apriority for the fast-growing AGV industry and its customers.

Capillary device significantly improves manufacture of quality liposomes

May 22, 2014 9:29 am | News | Comments

Widespread application of manufactured liposomes as artificial drug carriers has been hindered by factors such as inconsistency in size, structural instability, and high production costs. Researchers have designed a new liposome production system from bundled capillary tubes. It costs less than a $1 to make, requires no special fabrication technology, and consistently yields large quantities of uniform and sturdy vesicles.

Why quantum dots suffer from “fluorescence intermittency”

May 22, 2014 8:12 am | News | Comments

Researchers have found that a particular species of quantum dots that weren't commonly thought to blink, do. So what? Well, although the blinks are short, even brief fluctuations can result in efficiency losses that could cause trouble for using quantum dots to generate photons that move information around inside a quantum computer or between nodes of a future high-security internet based on quantum telecommunications.

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Metal-organic framework shows new talent

May 21, 2014 8:15 am | News | Comments

This gift from science just keeps on giving. Measurements taken at NIST show why a material already known to be good at separating components of natural gas also can do something trickier: help convert one chemical to another, a process called catalysis. The discovery is a rare example of a laboratory-made material easily performing a task that biology usually requires a complex series of steps to accomplish.

FIB doesn’t lie: New NIST microscope sees what others can’t

May 7, 2014 2:33 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at NIST have recently built the first low-energy focused ion beam (FIB) microscope that uses a lithium ion source. Although the new microscope's resolution isn't yet as good as a scanning electron microscope or a helium ion microscope (HIM), it can image nonconductive materials and can more clearly visualize the chemical composition on the surface of a sample than the higher-energy SEMs and FIBs.

Electromagnetically induced transparency in a silicon nitride optomechanical crystal

April 10, 2014 8:45 am | News | Comments

Researchers from the NIST Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology have observed electromagnetically induced transparency at room temperature and atmospheric pressure in a silicon nitride optomechanical system. This work highlights the potential of silicon nitride as a material for producing integrated devices in which mechanical vibrations can be used to manipulate and modify optical signals.

No compromises: JILA’s short, flexible, reusable AFM probe

April 9, 2014 10:00 am | News | Comments

Researchers at JILA in Colorado have engineered a short, flexible, reusable probe for the atomic force microscope (AFM) that enables state-of-the-art precision and stability in picoscale force measurements. Shorter, softer and more agile than standard and recently enhanced AFM probes, the JILA tips will benefit nanotechnology and studies of folding and stretching in biomolecules such as proteins and DNA.

NIST gives astronomers better ruler in search for extrasolar planets

March 26, 2014 2:14 pm | News | Comments

As a planet orbits, its gravity makes its parent star wobble a tiny bit, resulting in slight color changes in the star's light due to the Doppler effect. A high-quality reference spectrum allows scientists to make a comparison to find planets. Now, NIST has made extensive new measurements of thorium, a heavy element often used in emission lamps that help provide that fixed ruler. The work has more than doubled the number of spectral lines.

Scientists develop 3-D SEM metrology for 10-nm structures

March 24, 2014 9:55 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at NIST have devised an idea for determining the 3-D shape of features as small as 10-nm wide. The model-based method compares data from scanning electron microscope images with stored entries in a library of 3-D shapes to find a match and to determine the shape of the sample. The work provides a powerful new way to characterize nanostructures.

NIST zero-energy house gives back to the grid

March 14, 2014 7:50 am | News | Comments

Over the first six months in their special, new, four-bedroom home in suburban Maryland, the Nisters, a prototypical family of four, earned about $40 by exporting 328 kW-h of electricity into the local grid, while meeting all of their varied energy needs. These virtual residents of the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) on the campus of NIST didn't have to skimp the creature comforts of 21st century living, either.

Assessing the chemical composition of a MOF with nanoscale resolution

March 12, 2014 8:38 am | News | Comments

Researchers have applied a novel microscopy technique to characterize metal-organic framework (MOF) materials, potentially opening a pathway for engineering the chemical properties of these materials at the nanoscale. MOFs are composed of metal ions connected by organic linker molecules to form 3-D-crystalline networks of nanopores with high surface areas, leading to applications in catalysis, chemical separation and sensing.

Physicists discover “quantum droplet” in semiconductor

February 26, 2014 3:25 pm | News | Comments

JILA physicists used an ultrafast laser and help from German theorists to discover a new semiconductor quasiparticle, a handful of smaller particles that briefly condense into a liquid-like droplet. Quasiparticles are composites of smaller particles that can be created inside solid materials and act together in a predictable way.

Microanalysis technique makes the most of small nanoparticle samples

February 24, 2014 10:31 am | News | Comments

Researchers from NIST and the FDA have demonstrated that they can make sensitive chemical analyses of minute samples of nanoparticles by, essentially, roasting them on top of a quartz crystal. The NIST-developed technique, "microscale thermogravimetric analysis," holds promise for studying nanomaterials in biology and the environment, where sample sizes often are quite small and larger-scale analysis won't work.

NIST atomtronic study may pave the way for new devices

February 20, 2014 9:04 am | News | Comments

While pursuing the goal of turning a cloud of ultracold atoms into a completely new kind of circuit element, physicists at NIST have demonstrated that such a cloud, known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, can display a sort of "memory." The findings pave the way for a host of novel devices based on "atomtronics," an emerging field that offers an alternative to conventional electronics.

Technology decodes more information from single photons

February 12, 2014 1:02 pm | News | Comments

It's not quite Star Trek communications—yet. But long-distance communications in space may be easier now that researchers have designed a clever detector array that can extract more information than usual from single particles of light. Described in a new paper, the NIST/JPL array-on-a-chip easily identifies the position of the exact detector in a multi-detector system that absorbs an incoming infrared light particle, or photon.

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