Browsing: NIST General

Depending on whom you ask, May (or August or April, it would be great if someone were to standardize this … we’re going with May) is National Inventor’s Month. Lots of people have dreams of being a famous inventor. Even I’ve had “ideas” for inventions before. For instance, back in the 1990s, after finally finding my keys in the refrigerator more than once and spending more time looking for the remote than I care to admit, I thought it would be great if I could build a little alarm that you could attach to such easily misplaced items that would beep incessantly until you were able to find them. Owing partly to the technological limitations of the day, but mostly…

Put your hands together. Now move them back and forth to rub them against each other. Feel that heat? That’s from friction. No matter if it’s between siblings or the gears of an engine, we usually think of friction as a bad thing, and often it is. Whether we’re talking about relationships or engines, friction can cause things to heat up, wear down, and eventually break apart. To fight friction, we apply lubricants like oil (though I wouldn’t advise doing so to your siblings, it will probably just make things worse). Lubricants coat interacting surfaces and make it easier for them to slip past each other. There’s a whole scientific and engineering discipline dedicated to the materials science, chemistry, physics…

This article was written in response to the March 14, 2016, death of John Cahn, one of the world’s foremost materials scientists, who worked at NIST from 1977 to 2006. Cahn received the National Medal of Science in 1998 and the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology in 2011. I first met John Cahn in the late 1960s when he visited our department of metallurgy at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. Already a famous thermodynamics-of-materials scholar, John was our most important visiting scientist at the time. During that period I was studying for my master’s and then Ph.D. degrees, and John and I were talking science. John was interested in my work and in particular in the microstructure of…

Over the course of its 100-plus year history, NIST has had some colorful characters who were also pioneers in their fields. For computer scientist Karen Olsen, one who stands out was Ethel Marden. In the 1950s, Marden wrote programs for the nation’s first internally programmed digital computer: the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC). For 13 years, SEAC was a valuable tool used by various government agencies to do everything from accounting to checking calculations for the hydrogen bomb. It led to several innovations, including electric typewriters and the digital scanner, which was used to create the first digital image. “Marden inspires me because she and I are both computer scientists, but I was also intrigued that she and her husband…

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…

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