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Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have devised a novel, accurate, easy-to-operate, time- and labor-saving way to provide calibrated scale-bar standards for testing the performance of terrestrial laser scanner (TLS) systems.

TLS technology is widely employed to create detailed, high-resolution, 3D digital images of terrain, buildings, vegetation, construction projects, crime-scene forensics and—increasingly—very large objects such as airframe components that must be fitted together with precision, often on the scale of a few hundred micrometers (millionths of a meter; a human hair is about 100 micrometers thick).

“Of course, for geodesy and surveying and most forensic uses, you don’t really need micrometer resolution,” says NIST project scientist Vincent Lee. “But TLS systems are now often used in aerospace and ship building, where big components have to be joined very meticulously, like a wing onto a fuselage. That’s where measurements from a few hundred micrometers to a millimeter really matter.” And that’s where careful system testing really matters. (See video three below.)

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Unlike diamonds, solar panels are not forever. Ultraviolet rays, gusts of wind, and heavy rain wear away at them over their lifetime. 

Manufacturers typically guarantee that panels will endure the elements for at least 25 years before experiencing significant drop-offs in power generation, but recent reports highlight a trend of panels failing decades before expected. For some models, there has been a spike in the number of cracked backsheets—layers of plastic that electrically insulate and physically shield the backsides of solar panels.

The premature cracking has largely been attributed to the widespread use of certain plastics, such as polyamide, but the reason for their rapid degradation has been unclear. By closely examining cracked polyamide-based backsheets, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and colleagues have uncovered how interactions between these plastics, environmental factors, and solar panel architecture may be speeding up the degradation process. These findings could aid researchers in the development of improved durability tests and longer-lived solar panels. 

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Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to grow the economy and improve our lives, but along with these benefits, it also brings new risks that society is grappling with. How can we be sure this new technology is not just innovative and helpful, but also trustworthy, unbiased, and resilient in the face of attack? We talked with NIST’s Information Technology Lab director Chuck Romine to learn how measurement science can help provide answers.

How would you define AI? How is it different from regular computing?

One of the challenges with defining AI is that if you put 10 people in a room, you get 11 different definitions. It’s a moving target. We haven’t converged yet on exactly what the definition is, but I think NIST can play an important role here. What we can’t do, and what we never do, is go off in a room and think deep thoughts and say we have the definition. We engage the community.

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A new research effort at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) aims to address a pervasive issue in our data-driven society: a lack of fairness that sometimes turns up in the answers we get from information retrieval software.

A measurably “fair search” would not always return the exact same list of answers to a repeated, identical query. Instead, the software would consider the relative relevance of the answers each time the search runs—thereby allowing different, potentially interesting answers to appear higher in the list at times.

Software of this type is everywhere, from popular search engines to less-known algorithms that help specialists comb through databases. This software usually incorporates forms of artificial intelligence that help it learn to make better decisions over time. But it bases these decisions on the data it receives, and if those data are biased in some way, the software will learn to make decisions that reflect that bias, too. These decisions can have real-world consequences—for instance, influencing which music artists a streaming service suggests, and whether you get recommended for a job interview.

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The U.S. Department of Commerce announced today that six organizations will be presented with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Baldrige is the nation’s only presidential award for performance excellence, recognizing U.S. organizations and businesses that have shown an unceasing drive for innovative solutions to complex challenges, visionary leadership, and operational excellence.

“With an emphasis on efficiency and best practices, the Baldrige public-private partnership generates $1 billion per year in economic impact for the U.S. economy,” says Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “The Baldrige Award embodies the competitive spirit and commitment to excellence that fuels our economic resurgence and drives our country forward.”

The 2019 honorees are as follows:

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Just as a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, the deformations and fractures that cause catastrophic failure in materials begin with a few molecules torn out of place. This in turn leads to a cascade of damage at increasingly larger scales, culminating in total mechanical breakdown. That process is of urgent interest to researchers studying how to build high-strength composite materials for critical components ranging from airplane wings and wind-turbine blades to artificial knee joints.

Now scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and their colleagues have devised a way to observe the effects of strain at the single-molecule level by measuring how an applied force changes the three-dimensional alignment of molecules in the material.

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Ordinarily, you won’t encounter a radiation thermometer until somebody puts one in your ear at the doctor’s office, or you point one at your forehead when you’re feeling feverish. But more sophisticated and highly calibrated, research-grade “noncontact” thermometers—which measure the infrared (heat) radiation given off by objects without touching them—are critically important to many endeavors besides healthcare.

However, even high-end conventional radiation thermometers have produced readings with worryingly large uncertainties. But now researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have invented a portable, remarkably stable, standards-quality radiation thermometer about 60 cm (24 in.) long that is capable of measuring temperatures to a precision of within a few thousandths of a degree Celsius.

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(NIST: Gaithersburg, MD) -- Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have created a chip on which laser light interacts with a tiny cloud of atoms to serve as a miniature toolkit for measuring important quantities, such as length, with quantum precision. The design could be mass-produced with existing technology.

As described in Optica,1 NIST’s prototype chip was used to generate infrared light at a wavelength of 780 nm, precisely enough to be used as a length reference for calibrating other instruments. The NIST chip packs the atom cloud and structures for guiding light waves into less than 1 sq cm, about one ten-thousandth of the volume of other compact devices offering similar measurement precision.

“Compared to other devices that use chips for guiding light waves to probe atoms, our chip increases the measurement precision a hundredfold,” says NIST physicist Matt Hummon. “Our chip currently relies on a small external laser and optics table, but in future designs, we hope to put everything on the chip.”

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(NIST: Gaithersburg, MD) -- The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a nonregulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has announced the fiscal year 2019 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I Notice of Funding Opportunity. The program encourages domestic small businesses to engage in federal research and development that has the potential for commercialization. 

The mission of the federal SBIR program is to “support scientific excellence and technological innovation through the investment of federal research funds in critical American priorities to build a strong national economy.” This year, NIST has expanded the scope of this mission by broadening research topic areas rather than requesting very specific technology solutions. The goal is to encourage more small businesses to participate and allow for greater innovation and creativity.  

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A new measurement approach proposed by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) could lead to a better way to calibrate computed tomography (CT) scanners, potentially streamlining patient treatment by improving communication among doctors. 

The approach, detailed in a research paper in the journal PLOS One, suggests how the X-ray beams generated by CT can be measured in a way that allows scans from different devices to be usefully compared to one another. It also offers a pathway to create the first CT measurement standards connected to the International System of Units (SI) by creating a more precise definition of the units used in CT—something the field has lacked.

“If the technical community could agree on a definition, then the vendors could create measurements that are interchangeable,” says NIST’s Zachary Levine, a physicist and one of the paper’s authors. “Right now, calibration is not as thorough as it could be.”