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Credit: Andrey Suslov/shutterstock.com

Meltem Sonmez Turan, Mathematician, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Logic puzzles, brain teasers and mathematical riddles fascinated me throughout my childhood, so I feel lucky that I ended up with a career that never lacks for mathematical challenges. Part of my job at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) involves reviewing the cryptographic algorithms developed to protect our information and identifying possible weaknesses that make them less secure. Searching for these weaknesses reminds me of the process of solving hard mathematical riddles. Although it can sometimes be frustrating, I find it very rewarding.

Over the last couple of years, my focus has been on cryptographic algorithms that are designed to increase the security of small devices like embedded microcontrollers, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags or sensors. These now ubiquitous devices, found in home automation, smart city technologies, digital assistants and health-care applications, are constrained in terms of their processing power and storage capabilities. Since these devices usually collect, store and process so much important information, users are concerned about their privacy and security. Moreover, due to the lack of suitable cryptographic solutions that perform well in these devices, most of these products do not offer sufficient protection or use proprietary, nonstandard security algorithms that can be reverse-engineered and broken in practice. …


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N. Hanacek/NIST

Shaneé Dawkins, Computer Scientist, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

What do first responders do? It’s an easy question, and I used to think I knew the answer. Firefighters put out fires; police officers enforce the law; EMS workers treat injuries; 911 operators answer 911 calls and dispatch first responders to the scene. Simple, right?

I am a computer scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducting research focused on human-centered computing and human-computer interaction. I have worked in the field for over a decade, researching ways to help people with their real-world technology problems. My research, by nature, requires me to learn about different communities in order to assess their technological needs. For public safety, I thought I had a pretty decent grasp of the community. …


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Credit: N. Hanacek/NIST

Mark Esser, Writer/Editor, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

2020 has been a challenging year, but we at NIST have worked as hard as we can to fulfill our mission for the American people: to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our researchers have continued to publish their work, to (virtually) meet, and, to the extent that is safely possible, to continue their experiments on NIST’s campuses in Gaithersburg, Maryland; Boulder, Colorado; and Charleston, South Carolina. …


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Burning plastic cart carrying a fax machine, a laptop computer and a 3-ring binder. Credit: FCD/NIST

Matthew Bundy, Mechanical Engineer, Leader, National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Several centuries ago, scientists discovered oxygen while experimenting with combustion and flames. One scientist called it “fire air.” Today, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), we continue to measure oxygen to study the behavior of fires. The NIST National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL) has four progressively larger canopy hoods that are used to research the behavior of fires. The hoods, like massive lungs, suck in fresh air to give life to the fire under our watchful eyes. We carefully document these unique experiments using multiple cameras and up to several hundred measurement sensors. …


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In the lab making an adjustment to the Reference Transmittance Spectrophotometer (RTS). The RTS is the national reference instrument for regular spectral transmittance measurements of non-fluorescent samples at room temperature. Credit: G. Cooksey/NIST

Catherine Cooksey, Research Chemist, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

New employees at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are often surprised to learn that our agency is part of the Department of Commerce. How could this be? On the surface it seems that the missions of the two organizations couldn’t be more different. The Department of Commerce would appear to be concerned with, well, commerce, while NIST is well known for its Nobel Prize-winning scientific and technological work. But the connection can be explained through our agency’s mission statement: “to promote U.S. …


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Credit: Yurchanka Siarhei/shutterstock.com

Dustin Moody, Mathematician, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

I consider myself a quiet guy — on a Friday night you can usually find me at home doing crossword puzzles. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to me, and I’ve never really liked it. Like many people, I get really nervous. So, how did I find myself standing at a podium in front of hundreds of people in Fukuoka, Japan?

I had never traveled that far away from home before. I was also pretty jet-lagged, as I had flown to Fukuoka the day prior. But there I was, giving the opening talk at PQCrypto 2016, the latest in a series of conferences in post-quantum cryptography (PQC). …


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Simultaneous trapping of cancer liver cells (HepG2, red) and endothelial cells (green), each on opposite sites of a porous membrane, for the rapid assembly of tissue/organ on a chip type of microphysiological system. The system has electronic measurement capabilities via integrated electrodes fabricated on the membrane. Credit: B. Nablo/NIST

Darwin R. Reyes, Biomedical Engineer, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

It may sound like science fiction, but “organ on a chip” systems — devices capable of imitating the interaction of cells in a specific organ such as the lungs or liver — have begun to be used to test the effectiveness of drugs in the past few years. We use these systems to quantify the physical properties of cells, which provide information regarding the cells’ health before and after treatment with drugs. This is a critical step when determining the usefulness of a therapy.

The methods generally used for this purpose require the cells to be modified with molecules that emit light when exposed to another specific color of light. Differences in the light emitted by cells before and after treatment provide a readout that correlates with the level of the cells’ health. However, light measurements are difficult to reproduce between experiments. In addition, the molecules that are used to make the cells emit light change their interior, producing a somewhat quantifiable but “unnatural” measurement. …


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Credit: Colorado Springs Fire Department

Rik Johnsson, Mechanical Engineer, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Wildfires don’t stop where the wilderness ends. They burn through communities and neighborhoods, destroying property and taking lives. In 2018, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection alone reported 7,948 wildfire incidents, burning almost 2 million acres across the state and resulting in 100 confirmed fatalities and 24,226 structures damaged or destroyed. NIST researchers are at the forefront of studying how fires like these spread, generating insights that can be used to limit the harm that they cause.

Wildland fires are a complex phenomenon, involving interactions among the different types and quantities of trees, bushes, grass and other fuels; the local topography; and the weather. In extreme cases, they can create their own weather. For example, on August 15, 2020, an advisory from the National Weather Service warned that a pyrocumulonimbus (a cloud that forms above a source of heat) from the Loyalton, California, wildfire was “capable of producing a fire induced tornado and outflow winds in excess of 60 mph.” These conditions influence the likelihood that a wildfire will start and the rate at which it spreads. When homes and other structures are added to the mix, things become more complicated still. Their varying sizes, shapes and orientations; the differences in how easily the materials they’re made of ignite; and the fact that, once ignited, they become sources of fire themselves, make the situation difficult enough to require its own field of study. Fires that involve both wildlands and communities are known as wildland-urban interface fires — WUI fires for short. …


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Credit: N. Hanacek/NIST

Nader Moayeri, Senior Research Scientist, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

I am part of a grassroots effort at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that is developing an exposure notification system for pandemics in general, though we hope it could be used in at least a limited fashion during the current COVID-19 pandemic. We are fortunate at NIST to have all the expertise required to tackle this multidisciplinary problem, solutions to which have the potential to save many lives and hasten economic recovery by helping to reopen our nation.

Contact tracing has been used to blunt the spread of pandemics since the 19th century. In its usual form, health workers conduct interviews with folks who have tested positive for the infectious disease to find out whom they have been in contact with during a certain period before testing. They also learn the length of time people were together and how close they got to one another. The health worker then traces those contacts to let them know they may have been exposed so that they can self-isolate or get tested. This process can be slow and labor-intensive and may not identify every contact. It relies on the infected person remembering all their contacts and the health worker being able to locate those individuals in a timely fashion to stop them from further spreading the disease. …


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Credit: Shutterstock

Davina Pruitt-Mentle, Lead for Academic Engagement, National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE)

National Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week is Nov. 9–14, 2020 — a weeklong campaign to call attention to the innovative contributions cybersecurity practitioners have made to society. The week focuses on building awareness about the wide range of cybersecurity career opportunities, how cybersecurity plays a vital role in the lives of Americans, and how building a national cybersecurity workforce enhances America’s national security and promotes economic prosperity — all priorities of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) program led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In celebration of National Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week, we challenge you to engage and inspire others to learn more about opportunities in cybersecurity. …

About

National Institute of Standards and Technology

NIST promotes U.S. innovation by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

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