Browsing: Mathematics and Statistics

I’ve worked with many valuable materials in my career. Precious metals like gold and platinum, rare engineered nanomaterials, and fragile gemstones nearly as old as the Earth itself. But the unassuming jars of fine gray-brown powder I found myself holding last year left them all in the dust, so to speak. I think I probably kicked up some dust, too, when my colleague Ed Garboczi called to ask if I wanted to help him make some measurements of particles that the Apollo 11 and 14 astronauts had collected during their lunar landings. After all, when you get a call like that, you don’t walk, you run. Ed, a NIST Fellow and researcher in the Material Measurement Laboratory, and Jay Goguen of…

Do we really need hot stuff? I’m not talking about Donna Summer’s disco hit of 1979 or global warming. I’m not talking about anything so lukewarm as the surface of our sun—a mere 6,000 kelvins. I don’t even mean something as hot as 1,000,000 kelvins. No, the kind of hot stuff I’m talking about is closer to an unimaginable 200,000,000 kelvins! What possible use could we have for something so hot? It should be of no surprise to anyone that we have an insatiable appetite for energy, and that appetite is only going to grow. But how are we going to feed this need for energy? One of the most promising potential ways to generate a practically inexhaustible supply of…

As a professional reference librarian and amateur history buff at NIST, I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with all kinds of extraordinary individuals. In particular, I have been struck by the number of women who made important contributions to the development of the earliest electronic computers. One of my favorites is Ida Rhodes. Rhodes, a NIST mathematician and computer expert from 1940-1975, designed the C-10 language used by one of the earliest computers, the UNIVAC 1. She also worked on computer translation of Russian, gave lectures to government agencies and private firms to promote the computers’ ability to make their work more efficient, and taught computer coding to people with physical disabilities. In 1977, she developed an algorithm…

Happy Pi Day! No, not pie day, Pi Day. That Greek character pi, π, that you’ve heard of but aren’t quite sure what the big deal is. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. As yawn-inducing as that may sound, it’s an important ratio because pi is the same no matter the size of the circle. This magical ratio, pi, is true for the circle describing the tire of an automobile or a circle going around the entire Earth. We can use pi to calculate a diameter. If the circumference of the Earth at the equator is 40,075 kilometers, which it is, then the diameter of the Earth is equal to the circumference divided by pi,…