Image for post
Image for post
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. …


Image for post
Image for post
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. …


Image for post
Image for post
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. …


Image for post
Image for post
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. …


Image for post
Image for post
Credit: N. Hanacek/NIST

Alper Kerman, Security Engineer and Project Manager, National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Huh? What? At least that was my response the first time I heard the words “zero trust” when I started working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) in the fall of 2018. Mind you, I was also making a fresh start with an enormous jump to cybersecurity from a career track that had generally been in software engineering. Sure, I did design and develop secure software solutions and even put together secure systems and platforms at times throughout my career, but zero trust seemed like a different ballgame to me. …


Image for post
Image for post
Credit: B. Hayes/NIST

Jennifer Cawthra, Principal Investigator for Health Care Projects, National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

“Telehealth” refers to a wide range of technologies to connect patients to health care services through videoconferencing, remote monitoring, electronic consultations and wireless communications. Just like you would expect your virtual conversation with your doctor to be private and secure, you would also want to be sure that all your other health information that is transmitted over the internet or cellular networks is also protected.

In October 2018, the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) launched a project focusing on the cybersecurity and privacy challenges surrounding monitoring the health of patients remotely via telehealth. When we started the project, telehealth was for the most part only available to patients in rural areas or in a health care setting, but has since exploded to become more accessible. …


Image for post
Image for post
Greta Dalle Luche collecting a remote dart biopsy from a breaching humpback whale to monitor reproduction in the species. The plug of blubber collected using a dart is equivalent to a mosquito bite for a person and can tell researchers if the animal is pregnant. Credit: G. Dalle Luche/NIST

Ashley Boggs, Research Biologist, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

It’s usually pretty straightforward to explain how my work on clinical measurements is a benefit to society, but sometimes I get confused looks when I tell people about my work on whales, alligators and fish, to name a few.

At the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), I work on measurement science for endocrinology. Endocrinology is the science of hormones such as the commonly known testosterone and estrogens. At NIST I develop new measurement methods and produce reference materials that help other laboratories to conduct their measurements as accurately as possible. This can be challenging because hormones are in such low concentrations in your body. In blood, concentrations of estradiol-17β, the main estrogen hormone for reproductive-age women, is around 15 to 350 picograms (trillionths of a gram) per milliliter in women, and even lower for men. In other words, concentrations can be as low as approximately one drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool. …


Image for post
Image for post
Credit: S. Stavis/N. Hanacek/H. Sonmez/K. Kolosov/shutterstock.com

Samuel Stavis, Leader, Nanostructure Fabrication and Measurement Group, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

In his 1959 lecture “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” Richard Feynman invited us to enter a new field of physics. He envisioned, with remarkable prescience, making, measuring and using new technology at the nanometer scale. The exact effect that his predictions had on future science is uncertain, but he certainly inspired science fiction writers, and their stories captured my imagination as an undergraduate student. Was it possible to create machines so small and put them to work?

I wanted to learn more and would soon have the opportunity, starting graduate school in the early years of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. After my coursework, I got to choose between the clean room or the machine shop to get going in the laboratory. I chose the clean room and put on a bunny suit, expecting to step into the machine shop of the future. Instead, I entered the lithography bay of a submicron facility from the late years of the disco era. I had to figure out how to make devices with a production tool called a wafer stepper, donated by the semiconductor industry after it was obsolete and stripped down for use by novices. And this stepper, which was just a few years younger than I, seemed like a modern marvel in comparison to the etcher that another graduate student had made for the facility. Despite my green misunderstanding of the when and how of nanotechnology, the stepper focused light to pattern a stencil, the etcher ignited a plasma to engrave the pattern, and I was forming structures that were smaller than I could see. …


Image for post
Image for post
Credit: EtiAmmos/shutterstock.com

KC Morris, Leader, Information Modeling and Testing Group, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The COVID pandemic has highlighted the role that manufacturing plays in our society. Manufacturing is important not only for improving our quality of life but also for the necessities of life, from food to toilet paper to transportation and safe and secure housing. As our society has evolved, we have learned better ways to manufacture and are able to create an amazing variety of products. …


Image for post
Image for post
Credit: Giovanni Cancemi/shutterstock.com

Catherine (Katie) Zander, Scientific Program Manager, Standards Coordinating Body for Regenerative Medicine

I’m a scientific program manager at the Standards Coordinating Body (SCB), a private nonprofit organization devoted to advancing standards for regenerative medicine, an emerging field that includes cell therapies, immunotherapies, tissue engineering and other next-generation treatments. Presently, or rather, until the coronavirus intervened, we share office space on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

A few months ago, I was searching for experts who worked with organ-on-a-chip systems, which use cells flowing through tiny channels to simulate organs and organ systems, for the SCB-coordinated Microphysiological Systems project, which, among other things, is seeking to create a common vocabulary for describing these devices’ capabilities. I was chatting with the NIST researcher next door. When she asked what I was working on, I told her. She laughed and said, “Well, that’s what I do!” …

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.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store