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October 14, 2004

  In This Issue:
bullet Super Slow Light May Help Speed Optical Communications
bullet NIST Fire Data/Simulations Aid Chicago Fire Investigation
bullet Protecting Industrial Networks from Cyber Attacks
bullet Baldrige Award for Non-Profits Approved
bullet Mass Metrology CD-ROM Now Available in Spanish

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Super Slow Light May Help Speed Optical Communications

Light waves that travel very slowly without distortion could eventually help simplify and reduce the cost of high-speed optical communications.

Light is so fast that it takes less than 2 seconds to travel from the Earth to the moon. This blazing fast speed is what makes the Internet and other complex communications systems possible. But sometimes light needs to be slowed down so that signals can be routed in the right direction and order, converted from one form to another or synchronized properly.

Now, physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have proposed a new way to slow light down to almost one-millionth its usual speed—to the mere speed of a jet aircraft. As described in the Oct. 1 issue of Physical Review Letters,* the method eventually could help simplify and reduce the cost of high-speed optical communications. The paper presents mathematical calculations proving the existence of a new class of "soliton," a solitary light wave that can propagate over long distances without distortion even when moving very slowly through an ultracold gas.

Solitons first were discovered in the 1800s when a naval engineer observed a water wave travel more than a mile within a canal without dissipating. Light wave solitons generated within optical fibers are now the subject of intense research worldwide. Their very short, stable pulse shapes might be used to pack more information into fiber-optic communication systems. But when previously known forms of optical solitons are slowed down, attenuations and distortions (and therefore losses of data) occur quickly, before the light has traveled even 1 millimeter.

NIST physicists showed it is possible to use a very stable pulsed laser to create a soliton that travels slowly through a cryogenic gas of rubidium atoms for more than 5 centimeters without noticeable distortion. The scientists now plan to translate the theory into practical experiments. Currently, 300 kilometers of fiber are required to delay an optical signal for one thousandth of a second, whereas only a few centimeters of fiber might be needed using the new class of soliton.

The research was supported in part by the Office of Naval Research.

Media Contact:
Laura Ost, laura.ost@nist.gov, (301) 975-4034

*Y. Wu and L. Deng, 2004, Ultraslow Optical Solitons in a Cold Four-State Medium, Physical Review Letters, Vol. 93. Issue 14, published online Sept. 28.


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NIST Fire Data/Simulations Aid Chicago Fire Investigation

Had automatic sprinklers been present in a storage room in Chicago's Cook County Administration Building on Oct. 17, 2003, they likely would have controlled and probably limited the spread of a fire that killed six people. That's the conclusion recently reached by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) fire researchers who provided technical support to the Illinois governor's select panel investigating the events that took place on the12th floor of the 35-story Cook County facility.

In their report to the investigation panel (headed by James Lee Witt, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency), the NIST researchers detailed their re-creation of the Chicago fire in controlled tests at NIST's Gaithersburg, Md., headquarters and their use of the NIST-developed Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) computer modeling system to visualize the fire growth and smoke movement in the Cook County building. The FDS simulation allowed the NIST experts to virtually add sprinklers to the scenario, examine their computer-predicted impact on the fire and estimate that had the sprinklers actually been present, a tragedy might have been prevented.

A fact sheet on NIST's technical support to the Cook County Administration Building fire investigation is available at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/factsheet/cook_county_admin_bldg_fire.htm. The complete NIST report, Cook County Administration Building Fire, 69 West Washington, Chicago, Illinois, October 17, 2003: Heat Release Rate Experiments and FDS Simulations (NIST Special Publication 1021) is available at www.fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/NIST_SP-1021.pdf. The investigation panel's final report is available at www.wittassociates.com.

Media Contact:
Michael E. Newman, michael.newman@nist.gov, (301) 975-3025


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Protecting Industrial Networks from Cyber Attacks

A 500-member forum of industry, government and academic technical experts, led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has released a new draft set of cyber security requirements for industrial control systems.* These security requirements, developed by the Process Control Security Requirements Forum (PCSRF), are intended to be used in procurement documents for new industrial control systems or components. The implementation of these requirements will help protect the nation’s critical industrial infrastructure from cyber attacks.

The new requirements also should protect against other criminal efforts to remotely access and control production and distribution processes. The proposed requirements should be of special interest to computer security and process control personnel in the electric power, oil, gas, water, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, metals and mining, pulp and paper, and durable goods manufacturing industries.

Currently, network connectivity is virtually a prerequisite for an efficient industrial enterprise. Many of today’s systems were designed years ago to maximize performance, reliability and safety. Security was not a significant consideration since systems usually were confined to in-house use and were based on proprietary hardware and protocols. Today, however, process control systems often incorporate off-the-shelf products, use open protocols and connect to business networks—any of which could allow security to be compromised.

The forum’s draft report addresses security requirements needed throughout an industrial control system's lifecycle including design, implementation, configuration, maintenance and decommissioning. The draft deals with industrial control systems such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, Distributed Control Systems (DCS), and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Requirements for components of the control system such as industrial controller authentication and sensor authentication also are outlined.

Media Contact:
John Blair, john.blair@nist.gov, (301) 975-4261

*The PCSRF System Protection Profile for Industrial Control Systems (SPP-ICS) is available for download and review at http://www.isd.mel.nist.gov/projects/processcontrol/SPP-ICSv1.0.doc.


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Baldrige Award for Non-Profits Approved

On Oct. 5, President Bush signed into law legislation that authorizes the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to expand its Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Program to include non-profit and government organizations. Currently, the award has five categories: manufacturing, service, small business, education and health care. Most of the more than 40 Baldrige-based state and local quality award programs allow non-profit organizations to apply for their awards.

The Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, a private-sector organization, has raised an endowment of more than $18 million to help support the award program and will raise additional funds to support this new category assuming additional federal funds are provided. Federal funding for NIST's Baldrige National Quality Program in 2004 was $5.4 million. The program may begin to solicit applications for the award from non-profit organizations in 2006.

For more information on the Baldrige Award, see http://baldrige.nist.gov.

Media Contact:
Jan Kosko, janice.kosko@nist.gov, (301) 975-2767


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Mass Metrology CD-ROM Now Available in Spanish

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is distributing a Spanish-language CD-ROM providing training for the calibration of mass standards used for testing commercial measuring equipment. The free multimedia CD-ROM covers the same content taught in NIST's one-week basic mass metrology course for public and private sector metrologists. It duplicates an English language CD-ROM released last fall. Both CD-ROMs include interactive activities, knowledge quizzes, examples, video demonstrations, and specialty graphics and photos for specific products. The two CD-ROMs reflect NIST's commitment to advancing uniformity and harmonization in mass calibration measurements—critical to domestic and international commerce of everything from animal feed to automobile parts. Private and public sector metrologists interested in receiving the CD-ROM should contact owm@nist.gov with name and mailing information. Please stipulate “Spanish language Version” in the request. The English language version is also still available.

Media Contact:
John Blair, john.blair@nist.gov, (301) 975-4261


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Phoha Named New Director of NIST’s Information Technology Lab

Shashi Phoha has been appointed director of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Bringing university, government, and industry experience to her new position, Phoha comes to NIST after serving as professor of electrical engineering and head of the Information Science and Technology Division of the Applied Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University. Prior to going to Penn State in 1991, Phoha was the director of Information Systems Sciences at the Computer Science Corporation, department head of C3 Systems at ITT’s Defense Communications Division, and project leader of information research and development at The MITRE Corporation.

One of NIST’s seven laboratories, the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) conducts research and develops test methods and standards for emerging and rapidly changing information technologies. ITL achieves its goals by drawing on its capabilities in mathematical and computational sciences, advanced networking, computer security, information access, software and conformance testing, and statistical engineering. For more information on ITL, see www.itl.nist.gov.

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Editor: Gail Porter

Date created:10/12/04
Date updated:10/12/04
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov